Yurts for Haiti?

Wired magazine ran a piece today about the Hexayurt, a six-sided structure designed to be cheap, durable, and easily assembled. It’s not a new design; it was created years ago by Vinay Gupta and promoting it has been a longstanding project for him. However, the Wired article suggests a new and interesting use for the Hexayurt – emergency housing in Haiti.

It’s an interesting idea. More than a million people are homeless in Haiti. Aid agencies have actually given up handing out tents at this point. They are just focusing on building transitional structures, which cost about $3000 each. The Hexayurt, on the other hand, costs $100 to build and can be erected rapidly. They can last for years while permanent housing is rebuilt. Hexayurts are cheaper even than tents, and can be made of locally available plywood.

The idea is not without its flaws. So far, the Hexayurt has been field-tested in West Virginia and at Burning Man, neither of which actually compare to hurricane season in the Caribbean. However, the Hexayurt Project is currently fundraising to test the yurts for Haiti, so there should be a Haiti-appropaite design soon.

Another issue is that protocols for appropriate shelter are actually well-established, and organizations receiving funding from major government donors will be expected to follow existing guidelines. I think that a Hexayurt would meet SPHERE standards for appropriate emergency shelter, but would a conservative government bureaucrat think so?

I am really not sure if yurts are the solution to transitional housing in Haiti. But in an emergency of this magnitude, we may need to look outside the box – or the tent – in our response. Image: Hexayurt.