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Hinman Pulse

January 22, 2014

This Month, Hinman Remembers: Haiti

by Evan Reis & Eve Hinman

Humans have a natural, reactive impulse after a catastrophe to leap into action to protect ourselves for the next time disaster strikes.  Paradoxically, another characteristic we have is to quickly forget the severity of disasters with time.

This month we remember the Haiti Earthquake, which occurred four years ago on January 12, 2010.  The losses from this 7.0 Mw event were astounding – over 100,000 deaths; $8 billion in economic losses to date; and more than 200,000 buildings collapsed or severely damaged, including the Port-au-Prince City Hall, Supreme Court, Ministry of Public Works, the National Assembly Building, and the main jail.

Emergency response and recovery efforts were hampered by the extensive damage to critical infrastructure.  Most telephones, cell phones, radio stations and the internet were largely inoperable for days. Emergency transportation between communities was hampered by damage to the poorly planned and constructed roads.  Much of the port infrastructure collapsed into the water and the airport control tower was severely damaged. Several hospitals were seriously damaged or collapsed, with the rest swamped by casualties.

1.5 million displaced persons were housed in tents after the earthquake. These tent cities still house 200,000 today. Due to lack of clean drinking water, 700,000 have been infected with cholera, 8,500 of whom have died.

We recognize that Haiti is an extremely poor country and had poorly constructed buildings that greatly exacerbated the losses. However, the damages are disturbingly reminiscent of recent disasters in wealthy cities such as New York after Superstorm Sandy. Evacuation of hospitals, flooded roads and subways, displaced persons living in shelters, lack of electricity are all familiar stories from Sandy and other disasters. In Superstorm Sandy alone, nearly 380,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed and estimated losses exceeded $70 billion. Over 8.5 million people were left without power, some for nearly two weeks. It is a humbling reminder that even wealthy nations may have a myopic view of resilience. It is particularly troublesome that the Sandy disaster came just seven years after Hurricane Katrina, the costliest hurricane in US history.

Resilience is not about having a knee jerk reaction to a disaster and then forgetting about it. It is about implementing proactive, targeted, and creative solutions to ensure that a home, a business, a community or a nation not only survives a trauma, but thrives long into the future. 

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