HRI 2011: Focus on Haiti - Building Back Better?

Originally published


On January 12, 2010, a massive earthquake devastated much of Port-au-Prince and Haiti. The earthquake struck one of the poorest countries in the world, highly vulnerable to natural disasters, and with a long legacy of poor governance and weak institutions. Unlike previous disasters, such as four back-to-back hurricanes in 2008, the international community responded quickly and generously to the earthquake. Governmental and private donors offered US$4 billion of aid to Haiti, promising to build back better. Two years later, however, Haiti is as poor today as it was before, and not sufficiently prepared should another major disaster occur.

The Haitian earthquake and the cholera epidemics that followed highlighted the inadequacy of the international humanitarian system to respond to disasters in large, urban settings. Many of the lessons from other major disasters, such as Hurricane Mitch in 1998, were not considered or applied in the response. More than anything, though, the earthquake and the response exposed the failure of the international community to help Haiti build preparedness capacity to face disasters, or link emergency relief efforts to a long-term recovery strategy that reduces vulnerability and strengthens the resilience of the Haitian people.