Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why does Haiti keep getting hit with disasters?

Tuesday's earthquake is the 15th disaster that Haiti has experienced sine 2001, and by far the deadliest. In fact Haiti has not even recovered from four different tropical storms in 2008.

Some analysis pieces have hit the news wires that try to explain why Haiti keeps getting battered. Experts say that it's a combination of geography, poverty and population.

First, this Cam West News Service story written by Margaret Munro focuses on the tectonic plates that sit beneath Haiti.

"It's like Haiti is caught in this vice, this sheer between these two plates," Clague told Canwest News Service.

John Cassidy, a quake specialist with Natural Resources Canada, says the quake likely moved the earth between half a metre and a metre along a 20-to-30 kilometre stretch of the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault system that cuts through Haiti.

The U.S Geological Survey reports the fault system accommodates — or, when it is stuck, stores — about seven millimetres a year of the motion generated by the Caribbean and North America tectonic plates moving beneath the region.

The Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault system has not produced a major earthquake in recent decades, but the USGS says it was the likely source of large earthquakes in 1860, 1770, 1761, 1751, 1684, 1673, and 1618. In 1946, an 8.0-magnitude earthquake shook Samana, in the neighbouring Dominican Republic, killing about 100 people.

Cassidy says between 15 to 20 earthquakes about the size of the Haitian quake are generated every year by the planet's geological recycling process.

Fortunately most of them occur far from populated areas, says Cassidy, who expects Tuesday's quake and its aftershocks will provide insight into the timing and frequency of seismic activity generated by the crustal slabs, called tectonic plates, moving around Earth's surface.

Finally, in this Associated Press article that we found at, writer Seth Borenstein tells us how poverty only exacerbates the natural disasters.

University of South Carolina's Susan Cutter, who maps out social vulnerability to disaster by county in the United States, said Haiti's poverty makes smaller disasters there worse.
UN_HAITI.jpgView full size

"It's because they're so vulnerable, any event tips the balance," said Cutter, director of the school's Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute. "They don't have the kind of resiliency that other nations have. It doesn't take much to tip the balance."

A magnitude 7 earthquake is devastating wherever it hits, Cutter said. But it's even worse in a place like Haiti.

One problem is the poor quality of buildings, Merritt said. Haiti doesn't have building codes and even if it did, people who make on average $2 a day can't afford to build something that can withstand earthquakes and hurricanes, he said. Poverty often is a major reason for poor infrastructure, Tierney said.

Then there's the deforestation that leads to mudslides and flooding because Haiti leads the hemisphere in tree-clearing, Merritt and others said. That causes erosion which worsens flooding. The trees are cut down mostly for cooking because of the poverty, Merritt said.

Another problem is the inability to prepare for and cope with disaster, said Merritt, who last fall started work to help train Haitians to prepare for disasters, including creating emergency response teams in a country that only has a couple of fire stations. It involved Haiti's small disaster bureau, the United Nations, Red Cross and other relief agencies and governments. The training manuals were still being translated from English to Creole when the earthquake hit, he said.


Medical Supplies said...

Hi, I think these all are the excuses only. We can not do anything about it. Its a natural process. We can do one think that we can improve our technology and save the human life that is very precious.

michaelmfc said...

NOW the wealthy nations want to help Haiti. If those of us in affluent countries had been more thoughtful and compassionate over the last two decades perhaps the death toll would be far less. If we had made the commitment to help Haiti on a consistent basis maybe their housing would be safer. Possibly their infrastructure would be more secure. Hopefully their ability to respond to such horrific tragedies would be better organized......But we did not help them. We turned away and focused on ourselves. Now they pay a heavy price for our neglect. Will we learn from our mistake? Will we realize that we have a moral responsibility to help those desperately in need on a daily basis and not just when a newsworthy event strikes? When the dust settles over Port Au Prince and the news organizations leave will we forget about Haiti again?... We all share the blame for the death toll reaching such staggering heights.