Permaculture Relief Corps Forming For Haiti Earthquake Response?

The Remarkable History (and Possible Future) Of Permaculture Disaster Relief

Devastation in Port Au Prince photo: Carel Pedre via twitter


Yesterday the island of Hispanola was hit with a devastating 7.3 magnitude earthquake near Port-Au-Prince the capital of Haiti .  Many multiple story buildings have completely collapsed including the major Hospital in the region.  Thousands may be killed or trapped in the rubble and aid is being mobilized from around the world.  With little to no backup power, sewage, water, housing, or food aid systems in place, Haiti, which is currently the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, is in a VERY DIRE SITUATION.  Without a doubt resources and expertise are moving en mass to Haiti, but beyond this temporary relief, what will sustain this nation of 10 million people when it’s left in an even poorer position than ever before?  This is where permaculture design comes in, with an adaptable and ever evolving tool kit that can be of vital assistance in disaster relief and the long recovery period to follow.

During the war in Kozovo back in 1999 when displaced refugees flooded into Macedonia Geoff Lawton and a crack team of eager permaculturalists secured international aid to design and implement the master plan for the Cegrane Camp Permaculture Rehabilitation Project, a large refugee camp that provided relief for over 43,000 people.

Permaculture Disaster Relief

Geoff created the design around water capture and storage.  The final design called for 7.2 km of swales, with an estimated water holding capacity of 30 million liters, greatly reducing the flood potential.  Many passive solar strawbale buildings were constructed by trained locals who quickly grasped the simplicity and efficiency of this natural building technique.  Large gardens, composting toliets, and chicken tractors all came together in a very short time span.  The skills and systems thinking acquired during this process may help secure sustainable employment and economic development for the entire region for years to come.

Another successful implementation of permaculture relief took place in Cuba during the early 90’s when Cuba was suffering from a crippling petroleum embargo.  Working with a grant from the Cuban government Austrailian permaculturalists, including Robyn Francis, traveled to Cuba to work with hundreds of Cubans on sustainable food systems design.  Robyn, a well traveled expert in permaculture education in the 2/3rds (developing) world, helped local organizers use permaculture design prinicpals and techniques in their urban agriculture efforts.  During this time, worker cooperatives were set up, market gardens and public transportation flourished, little to no pesticides or fertilizers were employed, and catastrophic famine was avoided.  This partnership has continued to be highly successful and now some of the most experienced urban permaculture experts in the world come from Cuba because of the courageous spirit of the Cuban citizenry.  Currently, the Cuba-Australia Permaculture Exchange (CAPE) is working on sustainable housing developments using natural building to compliment the work they began together with urban agriculture

Water Harvesting

There are numerous ways in which a full-time Permaculture Relief Corps could operate in Haiti in short and long-term time frames.

Short Term:

Building sewage systems, composting toilets, compost and recyclying centers, rocket and solar stoves, temporary shelters (perma-yurts), water catchment, and plant nurseries.

Long Term:

Permanent natural buildings, water storage, earth works, renewable energy, permaculture food forests, broad-scale reforestation, farms, aquaculture systems, health centers and schools.

In 2003 following a intense hurricane, a team including Eric Davenport, an American architect, and David Doherty, a Peace Corps Volunteer, worked for several months with the local community to rebuild a rural village after severe flooding. This team was then joined by Frederique Mangones, a renowned Haitian architect, and engineer Frantz Severe of ORE draw to the challenge of designing low-cost housing adapted to Haitian rural family activities. In the fall of 2003, a team of permiculturalists also offered their expertise to the village project.

Design for a new village

Today their team in collaboration with the local community and the Organization for the Rehabilitation of the Environment ORE  is working on:

– Low cost relief from floods
– Waste management & recycling to protect the environment
– Hygienic toilets to improve family health
– A community center to bring people together
– Privacy to reduce stress within families
– Green spaces to enhance quality of life
– Fruit trees to generate income
– Utilizing daily wind patterns, heat and cooling cycles
– Covenants to protect their community

Haiti is in desperate need of our assistance which can not come soon enough.  8 out of 10 Haitians live in abject poverty and need the long term commitment of folks working for a sustainable and abundant future.   Please check out the links below of organizations doing great work in this field.

If you are interested in the formation of a Permaculture Relief Corps like the one I’m proposing please email thejulianeffect(at) and I will keep you up to date on the latest developments.               [tweetmeme]

My heart goes out to all those working and living in Haiti right now,


Evan Schoepke (@gaiapunk)                                                      *CORRECTION*:  I had previously mixed up David Doherty (peace core volunteer                                                                                     with  Darren Doherty (broad scale permaculture designer), sorry about the confusion.

Principal of Gaia Punk Designs

Permaculture ACROSS boarders



Chi’Bagoda (bambitat perma-yurts


18 thoughts on “Permaculture Relief Corps Forming For Haiti Earthquake Response?

  1. I just watched “Garbage Warrior” last night. The documentary tells the story of Michael Reynolds, his trials, travails, and triumphs. He helped build experimental homes in the aftermath of the Tsunami, and in Mexico after Hurricane Rita. Through these efforts, after having had his architecture license revoked, he was able to get it back. It is great that these ideas will be used where needed most, but it is a shame that a disaster has to occur before widespread implementation. Still we must “keep on forming the new society within the shell of the old.” And it continues to show that the shell of the old is very very cracked.


  2. I was just wondering where a donation would make the biggest long term difference for Haiti. Clearly donating to a noble organization like the Red Cross can deal with the immediate problems but so much needed repair there even before this disaster. 98% deforestation is serious issue that needs to be addressed and permaculture can play a major role.


    • I am currently trying to secure a funding invite through for a Permaculture Relief Corps project in Haiti and should have something available in the next few days…. more updates on immediate permie mobilizations soon.

      You could also support groups such as:
      Permaculture Across Boaders
      The Organization For the Rehabilitation of the Environment in Haiti
      and others working in this sort of field


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  5. I was in Haiti doing aid work in 2002, Permaculture is definately very applicable there. My favourites for promoting were small scale food garden and broadacre landscape work with contour ditches and swales. These are more long term development than the relief corp type of thing. Dev projects need to deliver on both food security and income generation. Problems for me were the language – creole, and witnessing the incredible water poverty there. I ended up putting the food and ag work on hold and took on doing water supply work for their domestic needs. In the 90’s I supported and visited the permaculture work in Havana – what a striking comparison the two countries make sitting alongside each other. Haiti by far is the worst development story I’ve seen in my 20 years of international aid. Very happy to assist you if this gets off the ground.


  6. I don’t know about forming new groups. I think it’s more consistent with participatory development concepts and permaculture principles to work with existing organizations already on the ground rather than start yet another NGO. This year there is a major belt tightening in the non-profit sector occurring. There are a multitude of groups in Hati that work successfully on the types of projects you mention, MCC especially.


    • I took a look at your site, but it is not about permaculture that I can discern. There is a major difference between permaculture relief and other forms of relief. Permaculture promotes healthy lasting change from the land itself in the economic sector through jobs and protects the land by making use of everything, including the natural shape of the land and human waste. Special techniques that have been developed over many years are used to maximize passive water intake and encourage the rapid replenishment of the soil. This is really really different than what has traditionally been done, even in groups such as yours that do seek to establish independence.


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