More earthquakes are “unfortunately” expected in Haiti in the future
NARRATOR: Fifteen months after the 12 January 2010 earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, the top United Nations (UN) earthquake expert in Haiti briefed journalists in New York on best practices to reduce risks from future seismic events.
Eric Calais, a geophysicist working with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Haiti explained that the island sits on the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault line and more earthquakes are “unfortunately” expected in the future.
TAPE: We expect, unfortunately, more earthquakes. Now, the good news though is that we know what to do about it, as scientists and engineers. If one cannot predict when or where these events will happen, one can determine how large they might be and one can put in place mitigation measures.”
NARRATOR: Calais acknowledged that rebuilding has been lagging and Port-au-Prince “doesn’t look like a city bustling with reconstruction projects.
TAPE: “As you all know there’ve been a number of criticisms about the lack of progress rebuilding Port-au-Prince and Haiti as a whole and clearly if one visits Haiti, Port-au-Prince today, fifteen months after the earthquake, it doesn’t look like a city bustling with reconstruction projects, with cranes all over the place, bulldozers and so on and so forth.”
NARRATOR: He pointed out that rebuilding a city susceptible to earthquakes calls for a comprehensive knowledge of the type of ground.
TAPE: One cannot rebuild a city susceptible to earthquakes without knowing the type of ground one is building on. So this is what this set of maps is achieving and it is really a milestone because thanks to this project Haiti will be able to rebuild its capital and the metropolitan area in a much more earthquake resilient way.”
NARRATOR: For the first time ever, scientists have been able to determine which areas of a country were most susceptible to ground shaking during an earthquake – a major step towards planning and building safer cities. Using that technology, a seismic map of Haiti had been created jointly by UNDP, the Haitian Government, the University of Texas and other international partners, he said, and had been handed off to the Haitian authorities earlier this year.
TAPE: The technical solutions are known, there’s nothing to invent, it is prevention, prevention, prevention, and we know what to do. The difficulty is implementing these measures on the ground. Port-au-Prince has the opportunity of rebuilding in a way that will not only be economically and socially viable, but also in a way that, such a way that it will not collapse, it would be the fourth time if it did, in the next earthquake. And, truly Haiti has the opportunity here of being the champion of earthquake-safe reconstruction and could be a model in many ways for other developing nations.”
NARRATOR: With regard to the pace of Haiti’s reconstruction effort, which had often been criticized in the months following the earthquake, Mr. Calais stressed that Haiti has the lowest human development index in the Western hemisphere – a fact that had contributed both to its lack of preparedness and to its slow recovery. He said that in addition, the earthquake had struck at the start of Haiti’s 2010 hurricane season and the country had later been faced with both a cholera epidemic and the pressure of national elections.
Despite those challenges, Mr. Calais said, Haiti’s Government has been proactive in its efforts to mitigate future disasters. Its work with the scientific community to integrate risk reduction strategies marked a transition “from reaction to action”. And he expressed his hope that the newly elected Government would continue to recognize the importance of those efforts. He also called on the international community to step up its efforts to help Haiti to move forward.
This is Donn Bobb reporting.