To what extent did humans contribute to the scale of the 2010 Haitian earthquake disaster?
The Haitian earthquake disaster in 2010 was the devastating natural disaster in the last decade. The number of deaths experienced was approximately 230,000, injuries were about 300,000, while nearly 1.5 million were homeless, and created between $7.8 and $8.5 billion in damage (Armadeo n. pag, para. 1). While the earthquake was a natural disaster, human action had a role to play in the scale of the devastation before the occurrence, regarding environmental degradation and weak infrastructure in the country.
Among the challenge, facing Haiti at the time of the earthquake was widespread deforestation. Than reporting for the National Geographic noted that Haitians routinely cut down trees for fuel, an aspect attributed to poverty. The following image shows the level of deforestation in Haiti compared to its neighboring Dominican Republic.
Lost forest cover implies that the nation loses on natural buffers against wind and rain, and thus earthquakes will likely cause greater shifting of soil. The trees and roots keep the granular soil from shifting (Than n. pag., para. 3). Deforestation created the possibility of housing collapsing and sliding downhill in the hilly regions following the earthquake.
Weak infrastructure in Haiti revolves around two aspects, namely poor buildings, and ineffective communication and transportation network. Both aspects had a role to play in the devastation seen following the earthquake.
Haiti is an impoverished nation with a weak infrastructure attributed to poor building construction, lack of government enforcement of building codes, and densely populated areas. The BBC report after the disaster stated that Haiti had 72.1% of its population living on less than $2 a day, with many living in poor housing and densely populated shantytowns (Rodgers n. pag.). More so, they lived in poorly constructed buildings. The reason for poor construction is lack of capital to ensure a solid infrastructure for the buildings, and the government did not ensure that constructors followed the building codes. Even though the country had structures in place for building codes, actions of corruption undermined their implementation. These combined social factors created conditions that would lead to immense devastation in case of a natural disaster. The devastation of the 7.3 magnitude earthquake was thus stronger and more catastrophic because buildings are more likely to crumble. Armadeo reported that the earthquake damaged 294,383 homes and destroyed 106,000 houses (n. pag, para. 3). The destruction included 60% of city government buildings and 80% of schools in the city. The National Geography reported that the earthquake toppled various buildings including the National Palace, a hospital, and schools trapping thousands and killing many others (n. pag, para. 1).
The second infrastructural challenge in Haiti was the development of road networks. The BBC reported that when the earthquake hit Haiti, the airport was half-functional and the route maintenance was poor (Rodgers n. pag). Therefore, rescue worker and other resources took a day to navigate through the road. More so, the urban environment was densely populated making it difficult to reach those in need of help. Rescue workers had to contend with congestion and lack of roads. The Red Cross reported to the BBC that one of the major issues experienced in Haiti was lack of space and the continually shifting population.
In conclusion, the earthquake in Haiti provides lessons for government agencies dealing with disaster preparedness as well as environmentalists. Degradation of the environment increases the possibility of devastation, and thus governments may need to begin establishing systems to improve the environment such as reforestation and soil upgrading. In Haiti, the issue of infrastructural soundness in building and road network seems to have a more devastating impact. The government failure is also evident notably in failing to ensure that constructors followed building codes, and not ensuring accessibility to various sections of the city.
- Amadeo, Kimberly. ‘Haiti Earthquake: Facts, Damage, Effects on Economy: The 2010 Earthquake Caused Lasting Damage.’ The Balance (August 26, 2017).
- ‘Haiti Earthquake Pictures: Devastation on the Day After.’ National Geographic (January 2010).
- Rodgers, Lucy. ‘Why Did so Many People Die in Haiti’s Quake.’ BBC News (14 February 2010).
- Than, Ker. ‘Haiti Earthquake, Deforestation Raise Risk of Landslides.’ National Geographic News (15 January 2010).