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The 2010 Haiti Earthquake - A catastrophic disaster
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List of contents
The Republic of Haiti
Historical background and politics
Geography and environment
The main earthquake
Future seismic activity
A 7,0 M magnitude earthquake hit the republic of Haiti on the 12th of January 2010, and a numerous amount of aftershocks have later followed. The earthquake had its epicentre near the town of Lèogane, approximately 15 km from Port-au-Prince, Haiti`s capital, and destroyed a great deal of the infrastructure the population is dependent on.
More than three million people were affected by the quake, and according to the Haitian Government between 217 000 and 230 000 have died, 300 000 are injured and an estimate of 1 000 000 is homeless. In addition to the human loss, the earthquake also caused major damage on settlements in the region such as Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. Besides destroying houses, the earthquake also caused damage on many notable landmarks such as the Port-au-Prince Cathedral and the Presidential Palace. The quake also demolished the headquarters of humanitarian organizations for instance the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.
Though many countries have responded with humanitarian aid, pledging funds and medical teams, support personnel and engineers, the rebuilding of the country is extremely difficult, because of destroyed communication systems, damaged and badly organized air-sea- and land transport facilities, non-functioning electrical network, and demolished hospitals. The no- longer existing infrastructure is making the rescue operation extremely difficult. The question now is whether Haiti will be able to recover to its former state.
What kind of humanitarian help and measures are being sat in motion to improve the Haitian`s tragic situation? How did the earthquake occur and how come the earthquake stroke precisely this area? What consequences did it bring and what kind of risks are the population of Haiti faced with?
The Republic of Haiti
The Flag of Haiti.
The Republic of Haiti occupy the westernmost third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea, east of Cuba. The easternmost part of the island is occupied by the Dominican Republic. Haiti was originally a
French colony, but in 1804 it became the first colony to declare its independence and became the world`s first black republic.
Haiti is the second-poorest and least developed country in the world, and the poorest in America. Corporative social and economic indicators show Haiti falling behind other developing countries, with a badly developed economy. Haiti ranks 149th of 182 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index . About 80 % of the Haitian population live in poverty and survive on less than $2 a day. 70 % of the population is dependent on agriculture, which mainly consists of small farms. Agriculture employs more than two thirds of the working population.
The country has experienced very little growth of job opportunities over the last decade, and after the election of the present president Renè Prèval the situation remain the same, though the informal economy is growing. Haiti is well-known for its corruption, and state leaders during the years have cheated the population for hundreds of millions.
On the grounds of badly and unfairly distributed resources the Haitian population is dependent on foreign aid, which approximately makes up more than 30-40 % of the national Government's budget. Countries which have made various contributions to Haiti`s economy during the years are among others Venezuela, Cuba, China and the United States. After the 2010 earthquake Haiti has received a great amount of economical assistance, for example from the European Union.
Haiti has also built up an enormous debt of more than US $1.3 billion. In 2009, Haiti met the conditions set up by the World Bank and IMF`s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries program to qualify for cancellation of its external debt.
Historical background and politics
The Presidential Palace which was destroyed during the tremor.
Haiti is officially a semi-presidential republic, where the president of state is elected directly by popular elections. The prime minister is chosen by the president from the majority party in the National Assembly. Executive power is exercised by both the President and Prime Minister, who together make up the Government.
Most Haitians are familiar with Haiti`s history as the only country in the Western Hemisphere to undergo a successful slave revolution. However, the Haitian politics have always been controversial and the long history of tyranny by dictators, like for example Jean-Claude Duvalier and François Duvalier, and corruption and violence towards the population executed by the civil police force under Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has severely affected the nation. The United States and France have repetitively interfered in Haitian politics since the country was founded. Political corruption is a common problem in Haiti, and the country has time after time been ranked as one of the most corrupt nations according to the Corruption Perception Index.
Geography and environment
Victims of flooding in Haiti.
Haiti is a small country which occupies less than 28 000 square kilometres, which is about 12 times less than the size of Norway. Haiti is shaped like a horseshoe on its side, and has two main peninsulas. The country consists of a number of lowlands and plains, which are divided by a numerous amount of mountain ranges, like for example the Massif du Nord and Massif du Sud, with the country`s highest peak of 2674 meters above sea level. The landscape is exposed to earthquakes, and some of the highest potions of the mountain ranges are made up by igneous rock (rock formed by lava and magma which have cooled and become solid), which bear witness to earlier volcanism and seismic activity. The plains and smaller dales mainly occupy the coastal areas, and it was in such a plain area that the main earthquake hit, which caused the quake to be even more destructive than it might have been in other areas.
Haiti has a tropical climate, but is cooled down by trade winds in the region. The temperature vary according to the height differences in the country. Most parts of the country gets two rain seasons during the year, and the islands is especially vulnerable to hurricanes between August and November. Lush forest covered vast parts of the country in the past, but deforestation has reduced the remaining forest to cover less than four percent of the country. The lack of forest has had massive environmental consequences, because the soil erosion is enormous, which puts the country in danger of floods every year, which again can destroy and damage buildings, wipe out cattle and crops, and injure the population. After the 2010 earthquake the UN`s disaster relief program fear that the arrival of the next rain season in Haiti might aggravate the population`s situation as the chances of floods, which can spread even more diseases to an already gagged population, is high.
The earthquake that destroyed Haiti on the 12th of January was the strongest quake the nation has experienced in more than 200 years, and led to massive destruction. The earthquake hit 15 km southeast of the capital Port-au-Prince, and lasted between 35 seconds to 1 minute. The area that was hit is the most populated in the country, which makes it difficult to make an estimate of the number of killed and injured, because of the lack of organization. According to Haitian Government the death toll have reached 230 000, the number of injured reached 300 000 and more than one million are left homeless. However, it is important to keep in mind that this is estimates and that the number might be much higher.
The surface of the earth is made up by two layers; the lithosphere, which includes the crust and the rigid uppermost part of the mantel, and the asthenosphere; which breaks apart the lithosphere plates and creates plate boundaries. The lithosphere is broken up into tectonic plates (the earth mainly consists of 14 plates, which ride on the asthenosphere and is in constant movement). This plates move in relation to each other, and create either collision-spreading- or transform boundaries. It is along this boundaries that earthquakes occur.
The main earthquake
The 2010 earthquake in Haiti occurred at a fault, a fracture surface in rock which can occur suddenly through earthquake and create the boundary between two massifs which have moved in relation to each other. The quake occurred in the boundary region separating the North American Plate and Caribbean Plate. One side of the fault is moving one way, while the other side is moving in the opposite direction, but on the 12th of January a slip occurred along the fault, and this slip caused the 7,0 Mʷ magnitude earthquake.
The problem was that this slip was only about 10 km deep, which caused the quake to shake stronger at the surface than it would have done if the slip had been much deeper, because the distance to the slip would have been longer, thus the energy that was released was very close to the surface. This has led to a series of aftershocks. In the time period between the hit of the main quake and the beginning of March Haiti has suffered more than 59 aftershocks of magnitude 4,5 or greater. An aftershock is an earthquake that occur after a previous larger earthquake in the same area. The two largest aftershocks were magnitude 6,0 and 5,9.
Obviously this continuance of aftershocks is an enormous challenge for the population because it destroys remaining and already destroyed buildings, and makes the rebuilding of the Haitian nation extremely difficult. The population constantly live under the fear of new aftershocks.
A tsunami warning was sent out by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre soon after the quake, but was quickly cancelled. The reason for this is that the quake occurred on land, and the chances for tsunamis was small. However, a localised tsunami hit the town of Petit Paradis soon after the main earthquake, probably as a result of an underwater slide. The scientists also fear that mudslides might occur, which can bury vast part of the already destroyed towns.
Haiti can be considered a less rocky nation and with abundant sediments, and for that reason, is more vulnerable for severe ground shacking opposed to a more rocky and mountainous setting.
The tremor occurred in the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault system, a mayor 160 km wide fault line which runs through the island of Hispaniola. The scientists were surprised by the high magnitude of the quake because this system has not set off big tremors in recent decades, even though it has been linked to some historical big ones.
Future seismic activity
A U.S. Geological Survey evaluation has found that the series of aftershocks following the main earthquake is likely to continue for months. According to USGS scientists, even though the frequency will decrease, there is still potential for larges tremors. The reason for this is that the scientists are uncertain how much the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault ruptured in the quake and they think that it might still be energy trapped, which might lead to another rupture. According to UNAVCO, a geology association, not all the tension was released by the quake, but was mainly shifted from one segment of the fault line to another. Seismologists believe the tension eventually will be realised in a new earthquake.
Haiti and the surrounding area have experienced major earthquakes before, for example in 1751 and 1770. For this reason, the USGS cautions that as Port-au-Prince is rebuilt, future seismic risk must be taken into account.
The largest consequence after the 2010 Haiti earthquake was the extensive damage to infrastructure, which render it extremely difficult to gain access to the country with humanitarian aid. The quake mainly affected areas in the southwest of Haiti including Peiti-Goâve, Jacmel, Port-au-Prince and other settlements. An estimate made by the Prime Minister claims that 30 000 commercial buildings and 250 000 residences were damaged; many beyond repair, or collapsed. In addition many landmarks was extensively damaged, like for example the Presidential Palace and the Port-au-Prince Cathedral. The tremor also caused major damage to, among other things, hospitals, the prison, museums, the telephone network, and roads.
Fundamental infrastructure to respond to the catastrophe was damaged or destroyed. A majority of the hospitals were rendered useless and facilities sat up by humanitarian organizations were destroyed including Doctor Without Borders medical facilities. In addition, air-, land- and sea transport facilities, and communication systems were down. This damage of infrastructure and loss of organization structure, makes the rebuilding process difficult.
Transport facilities including the Toussaint L`Ouverture International Airport and the Port-au-Prince seaport was seriously damaged, which rendered them useless for immediate rescue operations. A number of roads was blocked by pieces of asphalt and road materials, and destroyed by big cracks, which enabled passage. Haiti already suffered from poor infrastructure before the quake, partly because of disorganized construction, which only made the aftermath worse.
The public telephone system was not available for a long period of time, which made organization work hard. Most of the radio stations in the area where the quake hit, went off air. The immediate consequences, even though they were severe, can be handle or found other solutions to within a relatively short period of time.
One of the most severe challenges the Haitian population is faced with is the lack of administration facilities. A number of governmental buildings were damaged to varying degrees, including the finance ministry, the ministry of public work, the ministry of communication and culture, and the National School of Administration. The destruction of the Prison Civile de Port-au-Prince allowed more than 4000 prisoners to escaped, which led to theft of official vehicles, uniforms and weapons, and starting of fires and killings.
Most of the public government buildings were destroyed, leaving city officials without facilities to carry out official business and organize recovery missions. The education system has totally collapsed, including destruction of universities, primary schools and secondary schools, and damage to the primary midwifery school, which provide vital training necessary to reduce Haiti`s maternal mortality rate.
Important financial institutions such as the offices of the World Bank were destroyed, together with a number of textile factories. The clothing industry accounts for two-third of Haiti`s export, and a reduction of Haiti's ability to produce textiles can severely affect the financial situation.
In the days after the quake the streets were filled with frightened people who did not dear to stay inside in fear of further buildings collapsing. Haiti has no building codes, which is the main reason why so many of the buildings were destroyed. The Government maintained operation in other facilities, but the extent of what it could do was limited and some of the tasks were given over to other nations like for example the US.
It soon after the quake became clear that the morgue facilities available were inadequate and the Government was forced to bury people in mass graves. The humidity and heat made the situation worse, when the corpses began to decompose and smell, and this also caused a serious heath treat.
Thousands of refugees fled over the border to the Dominican Republic and the hospitals soon filled up. Haitians who crossed the border for medical assistance were allowed to stay only temporally. The Government of Dominican Republic states that because of limited resources they have to place a limitation on the number of refugees they can admit.
In the days after the earthquake the streets where filled with sporadic violence and pillaging, mainly caused by slow distribution of resources. However, the public organized their own defence by creating roadblock barricades. Exaggerating and misinformed reports of violence might have slowed down the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Humanitarian aid has issued by many organizations and countries, which have launched fund-raising efforts and search- and rescue teams. A number of nations sent medicines, personnel, material and other aid to Haiti. In addition, organizations have appealed for public donations, to make further rescue operations possible.
Haitians waiting for assistance
The few hospitals and health facilities were soon overwhelmed by the large number of Haitians in need of medical assistance, and as the medical supplies ran short, they had to work with any available resources. The chances are great that many Haitians might have died because of the lack of adequate medical assistance.
In addition, the aircrafts carrying medical supplies, and food and water, were severely delayed by the confusion about who was in charge, and according to aid workers, poor priority. The US-controlled airport was blamed for the delays, but they acknowledge that conditions of the relief effort are vital to the recovery of Haiti, and the situation improved over time, so that the supplies could finally be delivered to the population.
The blocked roads prevented rescue teams from entering some of the most destroyed areas such as Léogane, the town at the epicentre of the main quake. Major parts of the injured population in this area were left to themselves for a long period of time, until the rescue teams were capable of reaching them.
Soon after the main quake hit the humanitarian response was huge including national governments and organizations. In addition, some countries arranged to send relief and rescue workers and humanitarian supplies. Countries such as the United Kingdom, Brazil and the United States sent large quantities of emergency relief and medical staff, security personnel, and technicians for reconstruction. Additionally, they contributed with field hospitals, transport aircrafts, emergency facilities, and naval vessels, which included aircraft carriers and hospital ships.
As the organizations such as The American Red Cross ran out of supplies, they, and other international- and no-profit organizations appealed for public donations, and charities all over the world have launched fundraising efforts.
International officials and the Government in Haiti are drawing up a strategy to help rebuild the country, while continuing to provide humanitarian aid. One of the greatest and most immediate priorities is to distribute food to more than two million people. As most of the local markets are destroyed, and the production of farm products has been shut down, they are forced to receive food resources from other nations. Also, the lack of gas and cooking equipment has left the population rendered on supplies that do not require this kinds of equipment.
The water supply system was poor even before the earthquake, only providing for 40 % of the population, but is now almost non-existing and the little water that is still available is often contaminated. Though huge quantities of water has been shipped over, the distribution is slow. The distribution must be followed by long-term activities to ensure reliable water supplies in rebuilt and new buildings.
Serious injuries and a population where most are dependent on medical care after the quake, the need for long-term strategies for primary health care is huge. The population is greatly in need of rehabilitation and mental health services. As the times goes the need for mobile and community-based clinics to tend to the general heath of the population will be required.
The work is under way to improve the living conditions of more than 690 000 people in temporary camps around the country, but still the shelter capacity is not adequate. At the same time, work has begun to organize tent settlements, but this will only be a temporary solution and plans to rebuild homes for the population are needed. As most of the buildings in Haiti either have been completely destroy or severely damaged, the price for rebuilding while reach billions, especially when the need of high technical standards to prepare for future disaster is big. A new complete building code that complies with international construction standards will be a priority, and the Government wishes to replace slums to improve the living conditions for the population as a whole. However, the fear is that not all will be able to afford secure homes, and that houses might be built not considering the necessary requirements.
Most parts of the infrastructure have been improved after the destruction, even though it is still a long way to go. Large-scale capital investment will be necessary to bring electricity, road- sea- and air transport, and water- and telephone systems up to standard. To ensure security while the rebuilding process is under way, several countries have sent military forces to prevent violence.
Military present in the streets.
One of the greatest and most important challenges Haiti is faced with is the rebuilding of the economy and a stable government, because this is crucial for the country`s ability to get back on its feet. The rebuilding of the economy has to focus on the creating of jobs and attracting investors to Haiti. The UN Development Program has said that they will temporary employ Haitians to clear debris and restoring basic
infrastructure. As a long-term strategy the UN aim to create jobs by utilizing Haiti`s advantages in cloth industry, agriculture and tourism. Also, they hope to create a financial centre in an area less vulnerable to natural disasters by expanding other cities rather than Port-au-Prince and by modernizing the agriculture.
Haiti will be dependent on financial help from other countries in several years more, and will probably receive donations to able further reconstruction and development. The most important measure to ensure development, other than foreign aid, is a stable food supply. It is necessary for the farms to receive support to be able to keep the agriculture going. Even though Haiti is dependent on food import, agriculture is one of the most important industries in Haiti.
Though the aid from other nations has been massive, it is the Government that has to lead the reconstruction effort, to able future development. However, the Government has struggled to take control of the relief efforts, which are creating excitement within the populations.
If Haiti will recover and how long it will take, are impossible to say, but it might take decades. It is impossible to imagine what kind of pain the population has experienced, but the chances that the nation will recover to its former state is quite good, seeing that the situation was quite poor to begin with. Maybe
the international community should not only try to recreate, but try to create something better. This should be seen as an opportunity to improve the political organization of the country and fight corruption. Maybe the catastrophic disaster that hit Haiti, might help the nation to develop into a better nation than it was before. Even though it is horrible to say, maybe this is what Haiti needed to get the world`s attention and to improve the population`s situation.
Child being treated aboard a hospital skip.
Global Security: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/haiti/politics.htm
Country Studies: http://countrystudies.us/haiti/19.htm
Store Norske Leksikon: http://www.snl.no/Haiti/geologi_og_landformer
Bridge for Haiti: http://www.bridgeforhaiti.org/
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