A disaster is an event or an occurrence that seriously distorts normal functioning of a society to an extent that the society cannot cope with it using the available resources. This means that whenever an event happens in a vulnerable society, which exceeds society’s capacity to cope with consequences of the event, it becomes a disaster. An event can be a disaster for one society and not for the other. This depends on the influence of the event and the resilience of the society concerned (Carter, 2010). Natural hazards cause natural disasters if the society involved is vulnerable. Natural hazards such as earthquakes are part of God’s creative work. For example, earthquakes are natural events that form the landscape. They only become potential hazards when they threaten people or property (CDRC, 2012). Haiti earthquake caused serious disruption of normal functioning of the society. The population was unable to cope with this event, the impact of which is felt up to date.
Objectives of the study
To describe Haiti Earthquake disaster in the following phases:
- Disaster phase;
- Response phase;
- Recovery/rehabilitation phase;
- Risk reduction/mitigation phase;
- Preparedness phase.
An earthquake is also referred to as tremor, quake, or temblor. Haiti is a small island in the Caribbean, East of Cuba and South East of the USA. Port-au Prince is the capital city of Haiti. Haiti earthquake was the most severe earthquake in the past 200 years or more in the area. The earthquake occurred on Tuesday 12th January 2010 at 16.53 local time, or 4.53pm (21.53 GMT). The earthquake occurred 72.533°W, 18.457°N. The focus of the earthquake was 8.1 miles (13km) below the surface of the earth.
Haiti is located on the slip plate, boundary to the North American Plate and north of the Caribbean Plate. Both the Caribbean Plate and North American Plate move towards the west, but the North American Plate moves faster than the Caribbean Plate. There is friction between two plates since the movement is not smooth. The North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate move 20mm (0.8 inches) a year. The pressure built up between the two plates increased within a certain time flame and was released as an earthquake (Davis & Wall, 2010). It was a 7.0 magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale with an epicenter 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince.
Experts knew that Haiti was seismic. However, they were unable to predict when the hazardous event would occur. The speed of onset of this earthquake was few seconds. Therefore, people could hardly do anything to prevent it from becoming a disaster. The earthquake lasted for about 30 to 40 seconds. The consequences of Haiti earth quake were too severe. Over 316,000 deaths were recorded, buildings were damaged, and infrastructure was destroyed. Major damage occurred in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel towns after 52 shocks which lasted for less than one minute. The epicenter of Haiti earthquake was 16km south west of Port-Au-Prince. This earthquake was caused by a slip along Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault, which is an existing fault in this area.
Everyone in Haiti was vulnerable prior to the disaster. The society was not resilient enough to cope with the effects of an earthquake. Disaster managers and scientists knew that Haiti was a seismic area, but were unable to predict when the event would occur. This was due to lack of resources to forecast hazardous events. Everyone was vulnerable. However, women, children, and the elderly were more vulnerable as they could not react faster like men and the youth. Haiti lacked early warning system. Extensive deforestation contributed to negative effects as there were no trees and roots to control the waves (Maskery, 2012). The earthquake occurred very fast and there were no early warning systems to alert the society before the event occurred. Additionally, there was inadequate infrastructure for people to use during evacuation. There was only one air port, which was faulty. This is why many peopl were affected as they tried to run by foot. Lack of communication was another problem. People were not alerted as there was network problem in the area. Haiti is a poor region. In fact, the poorest people in south-east of America have more resources than majority of people in Haiti. The Haiti society is also vulnerable to strong winds. The earthquake was too huge for them to resist using available resources (Carter, 2010).
The Disaster Phase
This is the phase when the event occurs and becomes impossible for the society to handle due to insufficient existing resources. There is a profound destruction of the society. This disaster causes death, injuries, property destruction, environmental destruction, and other damages. The population at risk is taken by overwhelming shock.
Over 3 million human beings were victims of the earthquake. Government of Haiti reported that more than 230,000 people died, 300,000 were injured, and more than 1,000,000 were left homeless. 250,000 residential houses and 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed and others were severely damaged (Anderson, 2012).
The reasons why so many people lost their lives are listed below:
- Haiti earthquake occurred at shallow depth. Seismic waves had to travel a short distance to reach the surface. Therefore, the waves maintained most of their energy. This caused enormous destruction;
- The area struck by the earthquake was the most densely populated;
- Haiti is economically the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. It was unfortunate since there were no resources to react immediately;
- Most buildings in Haiti were poorly constructed so that they could not resist strong winds, leave alone such strong earthquake;
- Haiti is densely populated with over 3 million people living in slums as a result of rapid urbanization in the country;
- Haiti has only one airport, which has a single runway. Therefore, it was dangerous to evacuate people using this runway since it was badly destroyed by the earthquake;
- It was hard to deliver aid to people since the port was totally damaged. Food and water took days to reach people. Roads were destroyed and trucks could not pass. Volunteers were few as people feared another disaster;
- It took two days for international rescue teams to reach the affected area due to problems at the airport. Volunteers were using their bare hands to save lives;
- Insufficient number of doctors in the area caused more harm as victims were dying of injuries.
Post Disaster Phase
Primary impact of the earthquake.
- 316,000 people died and more than one million were left homeless. The earthquake directly affected 3 million people;
- 250,000 residential homes and 30,000 commercial buildings were destroyed. The President’s Palace and several government buildings were damaged;
- Transport and communication lines were also damaged by the earthquake;
- Transport, communication, and sewage links were badly damaged;
- Over 50 hospitals, more than 1000 schools were badly damaged;
- The airport control tower was destroyed;
- The main prison was damaged and four thousand inmates escaped.
Secondary effects of the earthquake.
- 20 percent of the population lost their jobs because many buildings were destroyed. The clothing industry, which was the largest in Haiti, was destroyed as well. This left hundreds of people jobless.
- Many deaths caused a situation where bodies were piled on the streets since hospitals and mortuaries were full. This increased trauma and caused more deaths;
- Piled bodies in the streets caused diseases such as cholera, which caused more deaths;
- It was difficult to deliver aid to the area as a result of airport and infrastructure destruction and poor management of operations;
- People were squeezed into shanty areas or the streets since their homes were destroyed. This lead to poor sanitation, which resulted in poor health and diseases. People started to engage in crime as this was the only way to make a living.
The aim of emergency response is to provide immediate assistance to save lives, improve health, and support the morale of the affected population. The focus in this phase is to save life and, where possible, property. This involves satisfying basic needs of people until more permanent and sustainable solutions can be found. Humanitarian organizations are actively involved in this phase of disaster management cycle (Blaikie et al, 2011). The aid for Haiti included:
- America donated $100 million, while European Union donated $330 million;
- 810,000 people who lost their homes were placed in aid camps;
- Over 1,000,000 tarpaulin shelters and 115,000 tents were provided in the aid camps;
- Healthcare services were provided to reduce disease spread and cater for the injured;
- There was inadequate aid as a result of poor planning and poor infrastructure. This forced local people try and help each other out of the disaster;
- Food and water was supplied to over 4.3 million people for several weeks after the earthquake.
In this phase, victims are able to join humanitarian organizations to restore their lives back to normal. This phase includes several activities to restore the society to the condition it was in prior to the disaster. This is the phase where people try to prevent future hazardous events from becoming disastrous. They increase preparedness and reduce vulnerability (ADCP, 2011).
- 98 percent of ruins on the roads have not been cleared. This restricted aid access;
- One million people live in aid camps since they have not been relocated;
- 70 percent of the affected population is still jobless. There is continuous support in a form of food and cash for victims as they do not have other survival means;
- Temporary schools have been constructed and new teachers were trained to support education system;
- Water and sanitation is still supplied for more than1.7 million people.
Following are the recommendations that could be considered in the situation of Haiti:
- Strengthen buildings, tighten roofs, walls, and foundations together with metal or timber bars;
- Build strong religious institutions in Haiti, since people often gather in churches for protection;
- Improve vulnerable buildings technologically;
- Enforce and establish building standards and norms;
- Building community capacity and resilience;
- Implement disaster management procedures and plans;
- Design practices to evaluate and assess disaster plans;
- Ensure resource and logistics planning;
- Ensure communications and network planning;
- Ensure seismic retrofitting to enhance earthquake resistance;
- Introduce earthquake insurance so that people could be compensated and restore their financial status to the one prior to the disaster;
- Install early warning systems.
The society should be educated on the risks that their area is subjected to as well as about the steps to take whenever a disaster strikes. A disaster causes death, injury, and destruction of infrastructure. This damage has to be repaired so that the affected community can continue with life peacefully. It takes a lot of time and capital to repair an area struck by a disaster to its normal functioning. This requires money, international cooperation, and assistance. Food, water, clothing, and other essential materials are needed to help survivors after a disaster. It is important to rebuild the society and ensure that future occurrences will not become disasters. The Haiti earthquake devastated Haiti population. The effects of this earthquake were worsened by widespread poverty and underdeveloped infrastructure. Earthquakes are natural disasters, which cannot be avoided. However, with a resilient society, early warning systems, and disaster managements programs it is possible for Haiti people and other vulnerable societies to survive the effects of a hazard and move on with their lives comfortably after the event.