OPINION: Ten years after earthquake, Haiti still vulnerable to disasters

by Mami Mizutori | UNDRR
Friday, 10 January 2020 10:35 GMT

FILE PHOTO: A woman prays among the rubble of the damaged main cathedral in downtown Port-au-Prince, January 9, 2011. REUTERS/Allison Shelley/File Photo

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In the past decade, Haiti has been hit by drought, cholera, hurricanes and more tremors - and is struggling to protect its people

Haiti has had little reprieve from disasters in the past 10 years since 220,000 people perished on January 12, 2010 in an earthquake which exposed the country’s lack of resilience in cruel fashion.

The magnitude 7 temblor also served as a reminder that in the absence of seismic monitoring and enforced building codes, earthquakes kill more people than any other natural hazard including extreme weather events such as floods, storms and droughts. Over 90% of Haiti’s surface and almost the entire population of 11 million are exposed to two or more of these natural hazards.

During the last 10 years, the country has seen incomes plummet. Huge chunks of GDP have been lost in successive disaster events, including 120% of GDP in the 2010 earthquake which included damage or destruction of over 300,000 homes and 5,000 schools, leaving 1.7 million people displaced.

Since then Haiti has had to contend with ongoing drought, a cholera epidemic, Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the 2018 earthquake and other disasters.

These events have exacerbated the country’s vulnerability. Members of the Security Council this week stressed the need for the Government of Haiti to address the underlying causes of instability and poverty within the country.

Heading into the ‘Decade of Action’ as the UN Secretary-General has dubbed the 2020s, one area of renewed attention and focus for any new government - if it is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - has to be disaster risk reduction and support for climate change adaptation.

The number one SDG is the eradication of poverty by 2030. In Haiti and many other developing countries, this depends very much on reducing overall disaster losses. Putting it differently, if we are not successful in reducing disaster loss, even the first of the 17 SDGs will not be achieved.

Fundamental to this effort are strengthened institutions and good governance. The work of disaster risk management can only thrive when it has political support at the highest levels of government and is adequately resourced.

LACK OF RESOURCES

Haiti’s Directorate of Civil Protection was established in 1997 to manage disaster response and disaster risk, but as in the case of many countries, resources for implementation are lacking.

Haiti’s early warning systems need to be strengthened along with safety and services management at evacuation shelters. Awareness raising is necessary to encourage the public to have confidence in early warnings and to act on calls to evacuate without second-guessing what might happen.

A study also revealed that only 12 of 41 municipalities have adequate shelter coverage in the event of a flood or a hurricane. Expansion of the network is urgently required in advance of this year’s hurricane season which gets underway in June.

Failure to invest in urban resilience and critical infrastructure undermines efforts to reduce poverty and to ensure universal access to health, education and other public services.

Above all, given the country’s tragic history of seismic events, there is a need, recognized by the World Bank and others, to step up support for the government’s efforts to reduce the vulnerability of its infrastructure through the application and enforcement of building regulations and promotion of safe building practices.

Ten years on, it is time to remember not only those who perished but to issue a call for national and local strategies to be put in place to mitigate and reduce the risk of the next earthquake or other disaster event. For we know it is not a case of if, but when.

Mami Mizutori is the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.