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Haiti earthquake: A vibrant call for systemic change?

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Colonialism, inequality and injustice form the basis of Haiti's response to the earthquake.

Haiti Earthquake by Meghna Gupta

Imagine a country prone to natural disasters. The effects of past colonialism, embodied in weak institutions and social injustice, divert resources away from constructing a robust national disaster management plan. More than half of the country’s population lives in poverty, with the richest 20 per cent holding more than 60 per cent of the total wealth.


Haiti happens to be one of these countries, and the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck the nation on August 14th led to more than 2,200 casualties, 6,900 injured victims, and more than 37,300 destroyed homes.

Not yet having recovered from the 2010 earthquake, Haiti faces pressing systemic issues that call for a serious reconsideration of the country’s governance and response strategy.


Haiti’s vulnerability to natural disasters


The French colonial rule that lasted for 300 years left indelible marks on the nation of Haiti through the brutal exploitation of labour and natural resources. The nation paid a very big price for its freedom and was left in immeasurable debt and impoverishment after the Haitian Revolution.


Ever since then, the country has not been financially able to provide its citizens with proper services and security. The main shortcomings that arise as a result enhance Haiti’s vulnerability to natural disasters and are described below.


To start with, there is a lack of environmental regulation, especially for deforestation. Haiti’s annual deforestation rate is 5.7 per cent, and this increases the chances of mud- and landslides during earthquakes.

Moreover, there is a shortfall in the national disaster risk management plan, with insufficient evacuation shelters, antiseismic infrastructure, and awareness amongst individuals on how to behave during a natural hazard.


An even deeper-rooted problem is the inequality and poverty that impounds Haitians. With less than 1 per cent of citizens having received their first Covid-19 vaccine, the situation after the recent earthquake is being worsened by the spread of the virus. Not to mention, 59 per cent of Haitians live under the poverty line and do not have access to safe infrastructure and sanitation.


Overall, colonialism has markedly affected the country’s governance and has been responsible for the underlying inequality that dooms Haitians.


Increasing resilience to natural hazards


Natural disaster management in countries like Haiti is not efficient enough to deal with future catastrophes, and vulnerable groups suffer the most from this. As such, systemic change is urgently needed.


Haiti’s dependency on external help is not allowing the country to build its own armour. Therefore, a greater focus should be placed on improving national capacity rather than external assistance.

This could be done by firstly improving the national disaster management plan, which would need to include resistant infrastructure, increased awareness about natural disasters, and better emergency responses such as evacuation plans.



Health and sanitation services also need to be improved through initiatives like community hospitals, which would ease the pressure on cities’ main hospitals and provide additional help during emergencies.

Most importantly, the inequality that impends the country needs to be addressed to reduce the damage caused by natural hazards. Haiti is the most unequal country in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the fact that most of its population lives in poverty increases the risk of casualties, damage to property, and overall social breakdown.


We also see the correlation between inequality and risk in other countries including the Phillippines, Bangladesh, and India, which are all prone to natural disasters like severe flooding and intense earthquakes. It is, therefore, crucial to address both problems in unison to build a more resilient society.



This is especially important in light of changing climatic patterns and intensified phenomena that will put more lives in danger. The recent earthquake in Haiti has shined a light on how some of the most vulnerable countries in the world still need to address critical systemic flaws to build a more resilient core.



References

Herald, M., Charles, J. (2020). Haiti’s Next Earthquake Could Be Worse than Devastating 2010 Quake. government technology.


IFRC (2019). IFRC Country Acceleration Plan 2019 - Haiti. reliefweb.


Jones, S. (2016). Why is Haiti vulnerable to natural hazards and disasters? The Guardian.


Laurent, J. (2020). Economic Inequality in Haiti. Storymaps.


OCHA (2021). Haiti: Earthquake - Flash Update No. 2 (16 August 2021). reliefweb.


Velasquez-Manoff, M. (2010). After the earthquake: Haiti's deforestation needs attention. The Christian Science Monitor.



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