Mr. Sinclair said that design and construction were far worse than in other developing countries he had visited. “In Haiti, most if not all of the buildings have major engineering flaws,” he said.
Most houses and other structures are built of poured concrete or block, there being very little lumber available due to mass deforestation, said Alan Dooley, a Nashville architect who designed a medical clinic, built of reinforced concrete, in Petite RiviÃ¨re de Nippes, a fishing village 50 miles west of Port-au-Prince.
Concrete is very expensive – much of the cement for it comes from the United States, Mr. Dooley said – so some contractors cut corners by adding more sand to the mix. The result is a structurally weaker material that deteriorates rapidly, he said. Steel reinforcing bar is also expensive, he said, so there is a tendency to use less of it with the concrete.
Building codes are limited or nonexistent, so columns and other elements made from concrete are often relatively thin, designed without proper margins of safety. “We would double the design strength, just to give it a factor of safety,” Mr. Dooley said, referring to practices in the United States. “There they’d design it to what it would hold.”
Concrete blocks are often substandard too, said Peter Haas, executive director of Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, a nonprofit organization that is working on several projects in Haiti. Many of them are made in small batches at people’s homes, and the quality can vary. “When you’re buying blocks at the store you really have no idea of where they’re from,” Mr. Haas said. “And all it takes is for the block that was made at home to collapse.”