- DAVID ALEXANDRE
Just weeks after the earthquake in Haiti, aid agencies on the ground are just beginning to face the challenges. In doing so, they must apply the lessons they should have learned from the response to the previous catastrophic earthquake in January 2010.
At the end of August 2021, the number of deaths between 2,200 and 2,500 people and 12,000 others injured. More than 150 health facilities had been damaged and 28 were out of order. About 150,000 houses had been destroyed and 650,000 people were in need of assistance. It is far less than in 2010, but this is yet another dire situation for disaster response agencies in Haiti. This latest earthquake also comes just a month after the assassination of the Haitian president, Jovenel Moses, by foreign mercenaries leaving the country in political turmoil.
Haitian aid workers unload food from a VM-22 Osprey at Jérémie Airport on Saturday, August 28, in Jérémie, Haiti. PHOTO: AP Photo / Alex Brandon.
Nobody knows how many victims there were in Haiti in 2010: perhaps as many as 240,000 dead and 300,000 injured. As bodies piled up on street corners and in yards, there was no time to count them all. Some 1.6 million people were displaced from their homes, but the earthquake destroyed more than people and their homes – it dealt a near fatal blow to the government.
The 2010 earthquake came after one of Haiti’s all-too-frequent events periods of instability, sparked by contested elections and a revolt that had led to the ousting of then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide six years earlier. UN troops attempted to bring peace and stability, and in 2006 and 2007 worked with local gangs to steer them away from gun violence into jobs. Their work was abruptly canceled in the chaos that followed the 2010 disaster.
“To deal with the 2010 earthquake, a lot of good work was done in Haiti by dedicated and selfless emergency responders, especially in medical assistance and search and rescue. Nonetheless, there have been spectacular failures.
In 2010, 130 countries sent personnel, equipment and supplies to Haiti. It was a useful moment to determine whether the international disaster relief community was apply lessons he was believed to have learned over decades to deal with other natural disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. These include the need to ensure the continued provision of food, water and sanitation, the construction of shelters compatible with local needs, the involvement of the local population in recovery decisions and support for continuity of government.
Faced with the 2010 earthquake, a lot of good work was done in Haiti by dedicated and altruistic emergency responders, particularly in the areas of medical assistance and search and rescue. Nonetheless, there have been spectacular failures.
In the six months following the 2010 disaster, only two-thirds of 1.4 billion US dollars requested in the UN flash appeal had been promised, and a significant proportion of what was offered was never paid. Rumors have circulated that 80 percent of the monetary aid provided to Haiti returned to donor countries, largely because much of the cost of the relief effort was absorbed by businesses and workers in donor countries.
It’s impossible to prove, but goods made in a donor country, brought to Haiti by transport from that country and distributed by staff from the same country, would do little to boost the Haitian economy. In his earthquake book, Harvard MD Paul Farmer noted that only 3.8 percent of financial aid has gone to the Haitian government, and yet this is exactly where the responsibility for public services and security lies. .
In addition, an international scandal later erupted when various media reported that minors were offered food and small amounts of money to have sex with UN staff.
Emergency homes were sometimes impractical
In 2010, some aid organizations pledged to build shelters for the homeless, but many were not delivered, with agencies accused of being chaotic and unnecessary.
A shelter can be innovative or inspiring for an architect in a highly developed country, but it can also be impractical for the potential user. Architect Ian Davis has published well-chosen talks on post-disaster housing on this theme. As aid agencies work with Haitians devastated by the earthquake during the current disaster, the provision of proper shelter should be at the forefront of their concerns. In 2010, agencies imported transitional housing that was expensive, technologically complex, and very different from what Haitians were used to living in.
While there are good examples of practical post-disaster housing in Haiti, there is also the usual depressing cycle wacky ideas and so-called “innovative” shelters that are as costly as they are impractical. Good housing must take into account the need to involve – and compensate – the local workforce, to meet the needs of the people, to respect their traditions and not to impose on them far-fetched ideas that they are likely to. to reject for both cultural and practical reasons.
Haiti is constantly grappling with disasters
Natural disasters have left Haiti with many different legacies. A massive earthquake affects the country about once every 60 years, but at irregular intervals. Some caused tsunamis, including the most recent, although luckily the waves were small. Neglect of earthquake safety is fatal, but in 2010 Haiti had no building code and it still lacks the means to enforce them. Buildings often rise without a permit and inspections are few.
Major tropical storms and hurricanes strike Haiti on average once every 18 months, but their effect is difficult to predict. For example, during the 2008 hurricane season, four big storms happened. About 140,000 Haitians displaced by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 still need shelter, and they are joined by thousands more displaced by Hurricane Grace in 2021.
Flooding and soil erosion, caused by earthquakes, is compounded by decades of deforestation that have stripped the slopes of the type of vegetation that would retain moisture and soil cover. Various agroforestry projects are tackling it, but progress is excruciatingly slow.
Even outside of the earthquake crisis, food shortages are widespread, a third of the Haitian population does not have secure access to food. By mid-2021, 40 districts experience a food availability crisis and 130,000 children suffer from acute malnutrition. With the damage they are causing to agriculture and the food chain, intensification of storms, floods and erosion by climate change is much to be feared.
Stability, good governance and democratic participation are essential ingredients of disaster risk reduction. Haiti has long lacked all three. For example, it ranks 170th out of 180 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2020. Nonetheless, battered by earthquakes, storms, floods and landslides, it has by necessity proven to be a country full of remarkably resilient people. It’s an important force, but time will tell if it’s enough to get by.