Why Haiti keeps getting hammered by disasters

Jan 13, 2010 By SETH BORENSTEIN , AP Science Writer
In this Sept. 28, 2002 file photo, the streets are flooded in Les Cayes, on Haiti's south coast, after torrential rains from Tropical Storm Lili Saturday, Sept. 28, 2002. Lili appeared to be strengthening and could become a hurricane by Monday, said Martin Nelson, lead forecaster at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. When it comes to natural disasters, the little island of Haiti seems to have a bull's-eye on it. That's because of a killer combination of geography, poverty, social problems, slipshod building standards and bad luck, experts say. (AP Photo/Daniel Morel, File)

(AP) -- When it comes to natural disasters, Haiti seems to have a bull's-eye on it. That's because of a killer combination of geography, poverty, social problems, slipshod building standards and bad luck, experts say.

The list of catastrophes is mind-numbing: This week's devastating earthquake. Four tropical storms or hurricanes that killed about 800 people in 2008. Killer storms in 2005 and 2004. Floods in 2007, 2006, 2003 (twice) and 2002. And that's just the 21st Century run-down.

"If you want to put the worst case scenario together in the Western hemisphere (for disasters), it's Haiti," said Richard Olson, a professor at Florida International University who directs the Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas project.

"There's a whole bunch of things working against Haiti. One is the track. The second is tectonics. Then you have the environmental degradation and the poverty," he said.

This is the 15th disaster since 2001 in which the U.S. Agency for International Development has sent money and help to Haiti. Some 3,000 people have been killed and millions of people displaced in the disasters that preceded this week's earthquake. Since the turn of this century the U.S. has sent more than $16 million in disaster aid to Haiti.

While the causes of individual disasters are natural, more than anything what makes Haiti a constant site of catastrophe is its heart-tugging social ills, disaster experts say. It starts with poverty, includes deforestation, unstable governments, poor building standards, low literacy rates and then comes back to poverty.

This week's devastating quake comes as Haiti is still trying to recover from 2008, when it was hit four times by tropical storms and hurricanes, said Kathleen Tierney, director of the University of Colorado's Natural Hazard Center.

And while there is bad luck involved, former top FEMA official Mark Merritt, president of the disaster consulting firm James Lee Witt Associates, says, "It's an economic issue. It's one of those things that feeds on each other."

Every factor that disaster experts look for in terms of vulnerability is the worst it can be for Haiti, said Dennis Mileti, a seismic safety commissioner for the state of California and author of the book "Disasters by Design."

Add to that the high population density in the capital, many of them migrants from the countryside who live in shantytowns scattered throughout Port-au-Prince.

"It doesn't get any worse," said Mileti, a retired University of Colorado professor. "I fear this may go down in history as the largest disaster ever, or pretty close to it."

For this to be the deadliest quake on record, the death toll will have to top the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed more than 227,000 and a 1976 earthquake in China that killed 255,000, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

While nobody knows the death toll in Haiti, a leading senator, Youri Latortue, told The Associated Press that as many as 500,000 could be dead.

"Whether it comes in as No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3, only time will tell," Mileti said. "This is a major cataclysm."

Vulnerability to natural disasters is almost a direct function of poverty, said Debarati Guha Sapir, director of the World Health Organization's Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters.

"Impacts are not natural nor is there a divine hand or ill fate," Sapir said. "People will also die now of lack of follow-up medical care. In other words, those who survived the quake may not survive for long due to the lack of adequate medical care."

University of South Carolina's Susan Cutter, who maps out social vulnerability to disaster by county in the United States, said Haiti's poverty makes smaller disasters there worse.

"It's because they're so vulnerable, any event tips the balance," said Cutter, director of the school's Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute. "They don't have the kind of resiliency that other nations have. It doesn't take much to tip the balance."

A magnitude 7 earthquake is devastating wherever it hits, Cutter said. But it's even worse in a place like Haiti.

One problem is the poor quality of buildings, Merritt said. Haiti doesn't have building codes and even if it did, people who make on average $2 a day can't afford to build something that can withstand earthquakes and hurricanes, he said. Poverty often is a major reason for poor infrastructure, Tierney said.

Then there's the deforestation that leads to mudslides and flooding because Haiti leads the hemisphere in tree-clearing, Merritt and others said. That causes erosion which worsens flooding. The trees are cut down mostly for cooking because of the poverty, Merritt said.

Another problem is the inability to prepare for and cope with disaster, said Merritt, who last fall started work to help train Haitians to prepare for disasters, including creating emergency response teams in a country that only has a couple of fire stations. It involved Haiti's small disaster bureau, the United Nations, Red Cross and other relief agencies and governments. The training manuals were still being translated from English to Creole when the earthquake hit, he said.

"If you look at neighboring Cuba, they have a very good emergency management infrastructure," Tierney said. "That's partly because of the way they organize the country from the block upward."

Another issue is that Haiti has been hurricane focused because quakes have been so rare in its history.

Until about a decade ago, scientists thought the north coast of Hispaniola was more prone to earthquakes. But work by Tim Dixon of the University of Miami found the southern fault zone, where Tuesday's quake occurred, was equally likely to produce temblors.
Scientists have known about the seismic threat for a while now, but Dixon said that doesn't help the Haitian government, which lacks the resources to quake-proof buildings and structures.

"This was not that huge of an earthquake, but there's been a lot of damage," he said. "It's the tragedy of a natural disaster superimposed on a poor country."

Haiti shares the island with the relatively richer Dominican Republic, which provides a good contrast when it comes to catastrophes, experts said.

Buildings in the Dominican Republic are stronger and withstand disaster better, Merritt said. Partly that's because it is a richer country with a more stable government.

The damage to Haiti is so devastating, so extensive that it offers a sense of hope in rebuilding, the experts said. Past disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, show that it is easier to put up new buildings than rebuild damaged ones, which is one reason why the wiped-clear Mississippi coast came back faster than New Orleans, Merritt said.

After the killer 1976 in Guatemala, houses were rebuilt with less vulnerable, lighter roofs and the entire region was designed to be less disaster prone, FIU's Olson said.

"Catastrophic open a window of opportunity to fundamentally change how cities are rebuilt," Olson said. "If it's rebuilt in the same fashion (as it is now), our children are going to have this same conversation."

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otto1923
1 / 5 (2) Jan 14, 2010
"It's the tragedy of a natural disaster superimposed on a poor country."
According to the fringe, scalar physics can cause or prevent or intensify earthquakes, hurricanes, or tsunamis by adding or removing energy from a system. Hey, Im just the messinger here, not meaning to detract from the tragedy. But its just damn curious. The poorest country in this hemisphere, close to US borders, 50% unemployed, on the verge of social and economic collapse, foreign troops stationed in anticipation of these events, is repeatedly hit by population-reducing natural disasters. Was this eq a hiroshima, a demonstration? I admit some trepidation in posting this here but I am not alone...
marjon
2 / 5 (5) Jan 14, 2010
The fundamental reason they suffer so is they are poor. They are poor because of their government.
Until the socialists understand that individual liberty, private property rights and free markets create wealth and prosperity, such nations will always suffer.
otto1923
not rated yet Jan 14, 2010
Trepidation in fact that I would attract useless time-wasting trolls with worthless comments; who think that Haitian poverty causes earthquake and floods? Hey- I hear your Pat Robertson thinks god did it
http://digg.com/w...th_Devil
http://www.americ...ticle/95
-if you believe in that sort of crap
marjon
4.5 / 5 (2) Jan 14, 2010
Trepidation in fact that I would attract useless time-wasting trolls with worthless comments; who think that Haitian poverty causes earthquake and floods? Hey- I hear your Pat Robertson thinks god did it
http://digg.com/w...th_Devil
-if you believe in that sort of crap

Wealth allows more people to survive with buildings intact. When was the last big quake in Tokyo? How many dead?
otto1923
1 / 5 (2) Jan 14, 2010
Trepidation in fact that I would attract useless time-wasting trolls with worthless comments; who think that Haitian poverty causes earthquake and floods? Hey- I hear your Pat Robertson thinks god did it
http://digg.com/w...th_Devil
-if you believe in that sort of crap
I refer any trollischer questions to Pat.
Wealth allows more people to survive with buildings intact. When was the last big quake in Tokyo? How many dead?

otto1923
Jan 14, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Muchtobedesired
5 / 5 (2) Jan 14, 2010
"Haiti swore a pact to the devil" to get free from the French, and ever since, they have been cursed."

The words of an insensitive and delusional individual...Pat (Club of 700) Robertson.
The Link: http://mediamatte...01130024

If you desire to know the real truth, associated with their struggles for justice, rights and freedoms, and or, the constant battle to overcome suffering, and all with a simple desire; for Haiti and Haitians…read Randall Robinson’s book: “An Unbroken Agony - Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President”.

On February 29th, 2004 the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was forced to leave his country. The twice elected President was kidnapped, along with his Haitian-American wife, by American soldiers and flown, against his will, to the isolated Central African Republic.
The Link: http://www.randal...son.com/
otto1923
1 / 5 (2) Jan 14, 2010
kidnapped, along with his Haitian-American wife, by American soldiers and flown, against his will
Huh interesting. Haiti is a country in continuous crisis. Apparently Aristide wasn't getting the job done and so was removed. It demonstrates how vital the condition of this immediate neighbor is to the US and what they may be willing to do to rectify it. Or to demonstrate to world leaders what the Major Powers are willing to do to combat obsolete cultures and the overpopulation mess they engender. A demonstration, and a threat, either of Intent and Resolve, or of the posession of technologies capable of enforcing it. Zero point energy and it's practical application.
Truth
not rated yet Jan 14, 2010
Thank God that we have sober, fact-finding scientists and engineers who can look at the situation in Haiti and come to a rational, scientific and social conclusion as to the reasons for its problems. This approach is so much more intelligent and constructive than those idiotic, moron-level rantings of Pat Robinson and his kind, who still view the world in terms of magic, evil spirits and Halloween mysticism. Poor old man, I wonder how he himself will be judged for his mean-spirited opinions.
marjon
1 / 5 (3) Jan 14, 2010
"Rich countries suffer fewer fatalities from natural disasters because their prosperity has allowed them to create better protective measures. Consider the 41,000 death toll in last December's earthquake in Iran compared with the 63 who died when a slightly stronger earthquake hit San Francisco in 1989."
http://www.opinio...10006079
rational, scientific and social conclusion as to the reasons for its problems.

I doubt if many of those conclusions will involve supporting a government that enables prosperity with free markets, liberty and protection of private property.
mongander
Jan 14, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
otto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2010
Who cares marjoe. You figure out yet what FOAD means?
'some people want to abuse you, some people want to be abused.' Annie Lenox. And some people apparently crave it. You gonna ruin this thread like you did the last one? Clue- calling you a troll is not positive feedback. It means leave.
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2010
"If you look at neighboring Cuba, they have a very good emergency management infrastructure," Tierney said. "That's partly because of the way they organize the country from the block upward."
The Cuban way can't help against natural disasters. But it could help against low literacy, against poor public health, and against absent housing standards.
Unfortunately there's a big neighbour who doesn't want them to go the Cuban way.
marjon
1 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2010
Who cares marjoe. You figure out yet what FOAD means?
'some people want to abuse you, some people want to be abused.' Annie Lenox. And some people apparently crave it. You gonna ruin this thread like you did the last one? Clue- calling you a troll is not positive feedback. It means leave.

What does FOAD mean?
marjon
1 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2010
"If you look at neighboring Cuba, they have a very good emergency management infrastructure," Tierney said. "That's partly because of the way they organize the country from the block upward."
The Cuban way can't help against natural disasters. But it could help against low literacy, against poor public health, and against absent housing standards.
Unfortunately there's a big neighbour who doesn't want them to go the Cuban way.

The Cubans don't want to go 'the Cuban way'. Why do so many want to commit a crime to escape to their 'big neighbor'?
marjon
1 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2010
It means leave.

What tolerance!
No debate? Can't provided a rational defense for socialism?
I suggest reading "Creating the Commonwealth". It is a well researched history of why the Puritans in New England prospered.
otto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2010
ok i'll address you directly. Youve proven yourself incapable and unwilling to debate. As I and others have pointed out, your agenda in these threads is quite clearly to gain attention. When you dont get it you post some of the most ridiculous and inane shit possible just to get a response. Youre a glutton. You have obvious emotional problems and theyre not going to get any better by exhibiting them here. I'm done addressing you. Grow up and move away.
BritishRedCrossSinead
not rated yet Jan 15, 2010
Red Cross volunteers are assisting the injured survivors of the Haiti earthquake and supporting hospitals struggling to cope with this emergency. To find out more about the disaster and Red Cross operations in this region and to support the Red Cross’ contribution to the DEC (Disasters and Emergency Committee) appeal, go to http://www.youtub...RoljtrLM
marjon
1 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2010
ok i'll address you directly. Youve proven yourself incapable and unwilling to debate. As I and others have pointed out, your agenda in these threads is quite clearly to gain attention. When you dont get it you post some of the most ridiculous and inane shit possible just to get a response. Youre a glutton. You have obvious emotional problems and theyre not going to get any better by exhibiting them here. I'm done addressing you. Grow up and move away.

What does FOAD mean?
marjon
1 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2010
"In the recent anthology “What Works in Development?,” a group of economists try to sort out what we’ve learned. The picture is grim. There are no policy levers that consistently correlate to increased growth. There is nearly zero correlation between how a developing economy does one decade and how it does the next. There is no consistently proven way to reduce corruption. Even improving governing institutions doesn’t seem to produce the expected results."
"E. Harrison explained in his book “The Central Liberal Truth,” Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences."
"cultural change is hard, but cultures do change after major traumas."
http://www.nytime...=opinion
otto1923
not rated yet Jan 15, 2010
So in a desperate attempt to gleen acknowledgment the troll posts evidence which actually supports my argument. And yet to engage the troll, as in past threads, would only be to encourage the pointless and inane responses which she has proven is her only capacity. No sale troll.
What does FOAD mean?
marjon
1 / 5 (2) Jan 15, 2010
So in a desperate attempt to gleen acknowledgment the troll posts evidence which actually supports my argument. And yet to engage the troll, as in past threads, would only be to encourage the pointless and inane responses which she has proven is her only capacity. No sale troll.
What does FOAD mean?

Why not answer the question?
You lament the lack of debate, but you toss out undefined terms and then persist in insults when asked to define the term.
otto1923
Jan 15, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
marjon
1 / 5 (2) Jan 15, 2010
http://www.google.com/
WTF I thought you knew how to use this lol

If you want to have a discussion and introduce a new term, it is incumbent upon you to define the term.
All technical writing I have done requires acronyms be defined when first introduced and, even better, have a look up table in the front or back.
If you don't want to define your terms, then you really don't want to have any sort of discussion, just an excuse to insult.
otto1923
Jan 15, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
otto1923
not rated yet Jan 15, 2010
"PORT-AU-PRINCE - Machete-wielding looters brought more terror to Haiti streets as US troops poured into the quake-ravaged nation to start streaming tons of aid to traumatized and destitute people."
-And so a 'natural' disaster gives the US an excuse to occupy a problematic neighbor on the verge of collapse. Another reason to suspect the surreptitious application of technologies which lie just over the horizon. And how long will this occupation last?
marjon
1 / 5 (2) Jan 15, 2010
"PORT-AU-PRINCE - Machete-wielding looters brought more terror to Haiti streets as US troops poured into the quake-ravaged nation to start streaming tons of aid to traumatized and destitute people."
-And so a 'natural' disaster gives the US an excuse to occupy a problematic neighbor on the verge of collapse. Another reason to suspect the surreptitious application of technologies which lie just over the horizon. And how long will this occupation last?

Why don't you volunteer to help? Then you can monitor the 'invasion' and maybe help someone.
marjon
1 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2010
The 'invasion': "An amphibious readiness group with three ships -- the USS Bataan, the USS Fort McHenry and USS Carter Hall -- will take the Marines to Haiti. This group can produce its own purified water.

* A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, with a crew of between 4,000-5,000 sailors on board, is on the way and will arrive in the area by Friday, with 19 helicopters on board. It has three operating rooms, several dozen hospital beds and can produce fresh water.

* The much-anticipated hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, will not arrive until around Jan. 22. It has 12 operating rooms and 250 hospital beds. The Pentagon says the Comfort is a slow-moving vessel and will need a week to arrive in Haiti."
http://www.alertn...3646.htm
How many Cuban, French, or Venezuelan soldiers are rushing in to help?
Muchtobedesired
5 / 5 (2) Jan 17, 2010
UN thugs in Haiti.

In 2004, democratically elected Jean-Betrand Aristide was kidnapped by US and Canadian forces in the middle of a coup attempt and taken to "safety" in Africa.

Aristide was elected by wide margins twice and thousands protested Aristide's removal and demanded democratic elections that included him as a candidate.

This is how protestors, mostly from poor neighborhoods, were treated by UN "peacekeepers."

Among other things, Aristide is the author of the book The Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization, which used Haiti as a case study of globalization.

In it Aristide specifically points out problems with the World Bank and the IMF in creating larger problems within Haitian society and the economy.
http://www.brassc...513.html
marjon
Jan 17, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.