Haiti After the Earthquake
Briefly describe why the earthquake caused such a disastrous impact in Haiti? You can examine the state of infrastructure at the time and the related technical issues as well as the political, financial, governmental, economic and social problems behind it
The earthquake that hit Haiti on 12 January, 2010 killed more than 230,000 people and left more than a million homeless. Striking just 10 miles southwest of the capital Port-au-Prince, it destroyed thousands of buildings including the UN headquarters, the Catholic cathedral, and the Presidential Palace.
Haiti has never fully recovered. More than a million homeless are still displaced living in camps, and, in November, 2010, Hurricane Tomas aggravated the misery by destroying much what was left. To compound matters, a recent cholera outbreak aggravated the situation (Haiti: one year on). Presently, more than a year has passed and over one million people are still living in camps. Only 2% of the population has access to running water, and the death toll of the cholera epidemic has exceeded 2500. The country is facing mediate and immediate problems in rebuilding itself.
A review of the issues resulting in the impact of the earthquake and an analysis of the current situation may point us to strategies that may help resolve the problems and alleviate some of the misery of the Haitian people.
Overview of disaster
An earthquake can be disastrous for any region, but for Haiti, due to its host of financial, political, economic, and social problems, the situation is worsened. Approximately, 80% of the population lives below poverty line and Haiti, with no organized sewage system, has been a public health disaster causing intestinal worms to afflict people, adults and children alike, that result in physical and cognitive impairment
Over 200,000 inhabitants have HIV or AIDS and only about half of Haitian children are vaccinated against dipheria or measles. According to USAID, Haiti has the highest per capita tuberculoses in the Caribbean and Latin American region and diarrhea, malaria, and respiratory disease are common factors of mortality. Haiti, too, has the highest rates of infant and maternal morality in the Western hemisphere (Beckett, n.d.).
Environmental engineering system and construction variables have added to the situation too. Most of the 2 million residents of Port-au-Prince live in tin-roofed huts in unstable conditions on steep ravines. Lack of building codes and guidelines have created poor architectural standards where even concrete housing poses poor design and construction. In 2008, for instance, four hurricanes caused a concrete school building in Petionvile to collapse causing massive death.
Already before the earthquake, Haiti’s few hospitals and health-care institutions were already ill equipped and unable to deal with the crowd of people that needed their help; the earthquake (and subsequent crises) have worsened this predicament. Doctors without Borders who offered free health care in three clinics observed that health care in the city was nearly non-existent (they found only two public hospitals in sufficient condition following the earthquake (New York Times, Jan. 13, 2010)) and that, due to mismanagement, medical personnel, supplies and equipment was hard to come by (Haiti: one year on). Strikes impeded the situation.
The earthquake occurred over a 45 second span, but during that time buildings and organization that included schools, hospitals, houses, offices, hotels, businesses and the headquarters of the UN collapsed like packs of cards.
Presently, more than a year has passed and over one million people are still living in camps. Only 2% of the population has access to running water, and death toll of the cholera epidemic has exceeded 2500. The time has now come to rebuild.
b) in your opinion, what are the short- and long-term challenges faced in rebuilding the country? What are the possible solutions- technical and others- to these challenges?
Disaster and extreme vulnerability have combined to form a catastrophe that has caused such a terrific impact on the country. Whereas before, Haiti had at least something to build with, now it finds itself on ‘Ground zero’ and perhaps even lower than that since tornados and malaria as well as other plagues have further depleted their position.
Nongovernmental organizations, concerned with returning Haiti to at least its tottering former feet have formulated small-scale projects that have focused on the immediate term and have lacked coherence and integration. Nongovernmental intervention has also proved less generous than the media has touted it to be (Beckett, n.d. ). Part of the reason may be due to the fact that it has had long strained experience of intervention in the region with little outcome to show for efforts. Other reasons are undoubtedly due to the long experience that Haiti has had with other governments interfering in its control and destiny, and with Haiti, itself, having little say in the matter. Remaining aid-dependent and incapable of reacting to disasters, Haiti has remained a vulnerable and weak nation.
Haiti has to pull itself together, therefore, if it wishes to survive and rebuild — as well as it can its own social, political, and economic institutions. It may be that if already sympathetic nations and concerned individuals see Haiti apportioning money in a pragmatic and effective manner, more funds may be forthcoming to further help the country with its projects.
c) How would you implement the international aid in an effective manner to respond to the immediate and near future needs as well as the long-term needs of the Haitian people in a sustainable manner?
To be most effective, international aid needs to be prudently, honestly, and efficiently used.
The Haitian government was on the right track when barely five months after the earthquake they deliberated on this same issue of how to most carefully and rationally expend this money offered for their salvation. They devised a seven-pronged goals that grouped itself under the heading of: “relaunching economic, governmental, and social activity, reducing Haiti’s vulnerability to natural disasters, and putting Haiti back on the road to development.” (Government of Haiti. (18 March, 2010) .
The seven factors consist of the following:
1. Bolstering the agricultural sector.
Despite the fact that more than half of Haiti’s workforce is involved in agriculture, the country is still unable to feed its population being compelled to use more than 80% of its export earning to pay for food import (FAD Haiti.). This fact makes the country even more vulnerable when disaster strikes. Haiti’s government intended to develop programs — such as providing farmers with reduced agricultural equipment, building roads that would connect the various areas, providing farmers and fisherman with credit, and funding the development of technology to preserve and process agriculture products.
2. Disaster Risk Management:
Conditions in Haiti made disaster response conditions, even before the quake, a challenge. Its annual rain and hurricane climate left annual destruction and the city responded in an ineffective manner worsening the situation.
The Haitian government’s plan was to recruit a civil safety manager for each municipality to garner local support to organize a pre-disaster response, and to institute parallel coordinators in the city government.
The Haitian government action plan estimated the damages and loss caused by the quake to total $7.9 billion USD. This is more than 120% over the country’s GDP and represents the highest-damage-to-GDP ratio for a natural disaster ever.
The Action Plan not only intends to restore Haiti’s former industrial and manufacturing actives, but also intends to place renewed concentration on encouraging entrepreneurship and on supporting the re-institution of micro-finance organizations.
Even before the quake, 35% of Haitian population was unemployed and 80% of the jobs were in the informal sector being very poorly paid (if at all) and with workers struggling to survive.
The present situation offers massive opportunity in job creation in both industrial and agricultural sectors with restoring physical conditions as well as implementing social infrastructure amongst other concerns.
5. Health care and education:
Very few Haitians could afford education and health care before the quake. The government had intended to rebuild and the quake has made this easier for them.
Short-term goals include improving the quality of health care centers and enabling more individuals to access them, as well as focusing on the easier intervention steps such as dealing with the problem of malnutrition for children. As long-term goals, the government is considering pairing up with the private sector and enhancing both education and health-care facilities. Short-term goals for education include reestablishing a payroll for teachers and getting education back on track. Long-term goals include free education to all with subsidized school lunches.
6. Infrastructure and shelter:
Over 300,000 homes were damaged and destroyed by the quake. These included many prominent building including hospitals, educational institutions, public administration buildings, law courts, and health centers.
The government’s resolution is to move from crisis to recovery and to provide the country with safe permanent housing in hygienic setting with an improved plumbing system.
80% of an already malfunctioning justice sector was further destructed byt the quake. The city’s courts, prisons, police system, and paperwork was almost totally wiped out. Haitian government intended to restore this system of law and order by reconstructing all of these legal institutions and to protect their vulnerable population whilst strengthening their administrative control and public services (FMS4Experts. Inside Disaster. The action plan).
d) a note to the relevant U.N. And local government officials, offering them advice on how to proceed to resolve the problems in Items (b) and (c) above, and how to alleviate the current misery of the suffering people of Haiti.
The government has wisely resolved to move from crisis to recovery, but the challenges here seem substantial. In fact, they seem so incorrigible and overwhelming that the government may well be stopped in its tracks from the mere enormity of their poverty and destruction, on the one hand, and their goals on the other.
The government has drafted an ambitious Activity Plan, but many times the situation may seem so overwhelming and depressing that words are easier to draft than actions to take. This seems to be the case here, since despite their best intentions, unemployment, for instance, continues unabated and little efforts seem to have been accomplished (Beckett, n.d.).
Hope, therefore, seems to be a first step.
But hope is insufficient. Haiti, as too many researchers show (e.g. Beckett, n.d.), has, for too long, been puppeted by other states that have devised its system and attempted to help it out of its crises, but, often, helping another can be destructive in the long run for it enfeebles him. Haiti — to be strong — has to be its own nation and resolve to muster its own destiny. True, there has to be reliance on generosity, but Haiti has to be determined to craft its own decisions and to push these decisions through. And the money needs to be used wisely.
Prevention, is seems to me, is more important than cure. Cure can come later. Therefore, I would advise that foremost attention be devoted on ‘bandaging’ the problems and preventing a repeat. Issues included here would be immediate plans that the government has in regards to the educational system, i.e., retuning children to school as soon as possible; encouraging more Doctors without Borders (and other volunteers) to distribute their health services and helping them do so with as much resources as they can muster: putting citizens to service (even at low pay if need be) to rebuild the urban and agricultural infrastructure and to develop social services. This would fulfill a dual mission: people would be employed whilst services would be reconstructed and the city in the process of being put together.
Haiti, lacking the capacity to engage in ambitious national development plans, and also hampered by political insecurity, lack of funds, and corruption has assuaged its insecurity and misery by making a show of formulating such plans. Yet, Haiti, by its very existence, is forced to pick itself up and plod on, for if it does not do so, its vulnerability will only cause it to sink further, as is happening at the moment.
It is bracing to see Haiti’s ambitious national development plan, but perseverance and determination needs to see this plan actualized, even if it were in small steady steps. The only actor that can make the transition from emergency to response is Haiti itself. And this is just what Haiti needs to do.
Discouragement is toxic, and it seems to me that as long as Haiti languishes and continues to languish from its crisis, repetitive disasters spurred on by the former one will only stall the depleted but aesthetically beautiful country and resilient people.
Sometimes, good can only be introduced through suffering. Let us posit that the combinations of the earthquake, the hurricanes, and the plague will, with the help of international support, compel us to rebuild ourselves on a wiser, more prudent footing. Hopefully, then, what arises from this disaster will be a more effective, well-managed health care system and environmental conditions that will be able to address the needs of the Haitian people and prevent future disasters from having the intense impact that they currently have (Mitchell, 2010).
As the Haitian govenment stated barely five months after the earthquake in their action plan:
“This is a rendezvous with history that Haiti cannot miss. We must obtain results; we owe it to our children and our children’s children”
– Preface, Action Plan for National Recovery and Development of Haiti
Beckett, G. Moving Beyond Disaster to Build a Durable Future in Haiti. SSRC. http://www.ssrc.org/features/pages/haiti-now-and-next/1338/1341/
FAD Haiti. History of Haiti. http://insidedisaster.com/haiti/the-quake/haitis-history
Government of Haiti. (18 March, 2010) Action Plan for national recovery and development of Haiti. Relief Web. www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/SNAA-83U9KC-Open
Haiti: one year on. http://www.cafod.org.uk/news/emergencies-updates/haiti-earthquake-one-year-on-2011-01-07/haiti-challenges-one-year-on
Mitchell, D. 2010. Haiti Earthquake Disastrous for Already Dire Health Conditions. http://www.emaxhealth.com/1275/24/35118/haiti-earthquake-disastrous-already-dire-health-conditions.html