From Ruin Toward Recovery: Haiti One Year Later

It's been a little over a year since a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing hundreds of thousands and devastating much of the nation's infrastructure. Here we look at the progress of rebuilding efforts.

Earthquakes killed about 227,000 people in 2010, yet most of those fatalities were produced by one — the major quake that hit Haiti in mid-January. According to official estimates, the earthquake in Haiti killed more than 220,000 people, injured 300,000, displaced more than 1.3 million and left 97,294 houses destroyed and 188,383 damaged in Port-au-Prince and much of southern Haiti.


A magnitude-8.8 earthquake that hit offshore Bio-Bio, Chile, on Feb. 27 was the largest recorded in 2010, killing at least 577 people, with about half of those deaths caused by an earthquake-generated tsunami. While the energy released by this earthquake was more than 500 times that of the one that struck Haiti, the fatalities were far fewer due to strict building codes in Chile and lower maximum shaking intensities.

Most buildings in Haiti go up without engineers, standards or scheduled maintenance.

A study by the Organization of American States concluded in December 2009 that many of the buildings in Haiti were so shoddily constructed that they were unlikely to survive any disaster, let alone an earthquake as severe as the one that took place the month following the report's publication. The report detailed a litany of flaws in housing: weak or missing reinforcement, structures on steep slopes with unstable foundations, inadequate or nonexistent inspections, poor designs, materials and techniques.

"As well as facing the huge task of rebuilding, which has barely begun, Haiti has had to cope with an ongoing cholera outbreak that has so far killed more than 3,500 people," BBC News reports based on government figures.

A year after the fourth deadliest earthquake in history, with hundreds of thousands of people still living in temporary shelters, the task of rebuilding the impoverished Caribbean island nation remains an arduous one.

Haiti is not the first country that has had to rebuild in the aftermath of a catastrophic natural disaster. What distinguishes Haiti's tragedy from other large-scale disasters — such as Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 tsunami that struck Indonesia — is the extent to which it damaged Haiti's capacity to rebuild, according to the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), the coordinating body for the recovery and rebuilding efforts.

With 17 percent of the federal workforce killed and all but one ministry building destroyed, most hospitals damaged or ruined and economic losses approaching $7-$8 billion, Haiti lost the resources needed to respond to the crisis. The earthquake left the capital city in ruins and devastated an already weakened infrastructure.

"Because of the complexity of the situation in Haiti, the road to recovery is long and hard," Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, who co-chairs the IHRC with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, said in an announcement of a new report, titled Haiti One Year Later: The Progress to Date and the Path Forward. "We are moving as quickly as possible with our reconstruction efforts on all fronts and, while much of the work that has been done may not be readily visible to outside observers, we're making significant progress under the circumstances and based on human priorities."

So far, cash-to-work programs have employed 350,000 Haitians, injecting $19 million into local economies. A sampling of other projects/programs from the IHRC's new report, highlights the following:

  • Almost half of those displaced are now out of the tent cities, and the 800,000 who wait will go home to sturdier, safer buildings than before;
  • In the health care sector, projects valued at $202.4 million have been approved and are in progress, including the reconstruction of Port-au-Prince's University Medical Center;
  • Initiatives to create jobs are gaining momentum, with private-sector projects approved and in the pipeline including an industrial park that will generate 60,000 direct, full-time jobs;
  • A debris-removal and -crushing project in Carrefour Feuilles valued at $17 million is demonstrating the feasibility of rubble removal and its processing for new uses; and
  • As of December 2010, nine projects, valued at approximately $192 million, have been approved for the housing sector.

Still, the challenges of rebuilding remain immense.

Of the hundreds of projects submitted to the IHRC since it became operational in June 2010, with a $3 billion budget, 74 have been approved, according to Haiti One Year Later. Of the $2 billion in approved programs slated to be dispersed in 2010, 63 percent ($1.2 billion) was dispersed by December — a substantial improvement over the 19 percent that had been dispersed as of early July.

However, the IHRC has approved more than $1 billion in projects that remain unfunded.

A combined $500 million has been committed to education and transportation infrastructure, far more than the roughly $350 million committed to debris removal, housing and health combined. For context, the IHRC estimates that Haiti needs $160 million to clear 40 percent of the remaining debris from Port-au-Prince by October 2011, far more than the $52 million committed thus far by donors. The aftermath of the earthquake created 19 million cubic meters of debris.

By the end of its 18-month mandated term, the IHRC plans to build on current progress with the following results:

  • 400,000 additional Haitians relocated from camps to more permanent shelter;
  • 4 million additional cubic meters of rubble cleared;
  • 10 hospitals/clinics built;
  • 30 hospitals/clinics under construction; and
  • 50 percent of the population with access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

"One year after the earthquake, we can certainly say that we've made progress despite the setbacks of a threatening hurricane season and a devastating cholera outbreak," President Clinton said in an announcement of the report. "But we know that in many ways, the true work has just begun. At the end of our mandate, the success of the IHRC will be determined not by how many projects we review or how many pledges donors fulfill, but by the number of people who can see tangible results in their own lives."


Image: ©iStockPhoto/Claudiad

Haiti One Year Later: The Progress to Date and the Path Forward

Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, Jan. 12, 2011

...Efforts to Build Haiti Back Better are Well Underway with $3 Billion in Approved Projects

Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, Jan. 12, 2011

Haiti Dominates Earthquake Fatalities in 2010

U.S. Geological Survey, Jan. 11, 2011

Haiti Building Standards Development Projects

Organization of American States, December 2009

Port-au-Prince Buildings Poorly Reinforced

by David Perlman

San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 27, 2010

Tectonics and Poor Construction Conspired to Create Devastation in Haiti

by Cara Mia DiMassa and Alexandra Zavis

Los Angeles Times, Jan. 14, 2010

Problems with Haiti Building Standards Outlined

by Tom Watkins, Jan. 13, 2010

Engineers Urge Overhaul of Haiti's Archaic Building Practices

by Curtis Morgan and Jacqueline Charles

Miami Herald, Jan. 23, 2010

Haitians Remember their Earthquake Dead a Year on

BBC News, Jan. 12, 2011

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