The strongest earthquake in Haiti in more than 200 years, measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale, rocked the impoverished Caribbean nation on 12 January at 4.53 p.m. (local time). The earthquake struck Ouest Province (population 2.2 million), with the epicentre some 17km south-west of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. The nearby cities of Carrefour and Jacmel, as well as other areas to the west and south of Port-au-Prince, were also affected. Powerful aftershocks shook a desperately poor country where many buildings are flimsy. Thousands are feared dead, many more are injured, and unknown numbers are still buried under the rubble. The streets of Port-au-Prince are filled with people too scared to go back into their damaged homes, sleeping in the open at night amidst the bodies of those killed in the disaster.
The level of casualties sustained by civil servants and the damage to public buildings and services have significantly reduced the capacity of national authorities to lead and coordinate the response. Damage to buildings and infrastructure is widespread and severe. Port-au-Prince's critical infrastructure such as electricity and water is still disabled. The airport in Port-au-Prince is operational (currently for earthquake-related operational flights only), but roads to and within the capital are partly blocked. Communications remain widely disrupted, making it difficult to obtain a full picture of the situation. The damage to infrastructure - such as damaged or destroyed roads, bridges, water systems, and electrical and communications systems - will inevitably affect the speed and scale of the relief effort.
Fortunately, areas beyond the capital appear to be less affected, if not unaffected, by the earthquake. At the moment there is no way to be certain of the numbers of people killed, wounded, trapped, missing or homeless. However, plotting the earthquake's zones of intensity against population densities in this part of Haiti shows that 3 million people were in areas of 'very strong' to 'extreme' shaking, where structures would have suffered moderate to very heavy damage. According to latest estimations, about 3 million people are severely affected, in the sense of injury and/or loss of access to essentials such as food, water, health care, shelter, plus livelihoods, education and other basic needs, and on restoring and strengthening state capacities. In addition, much of the affected population will have been displaced, heightening the vulnerabilities. Because of the concentration of displaced people in Port-au-Prince, it is likely that some inhabitants will travel to areas outside the capital in search for shelter, food, medical care, etc. This would add demographic pressure on rural areas and other urban centres.
Assessments are now under way in Port-au-Prince to map comprehensively the consequences of earthquake. National and international efforts are expected to evolve and increase in the coming days and weeks. Initial international effort has focused on urban search and rescue, plus improving logistics and starting to provide large-scale aid including medical assistance and evacuation, water, food, tents and blankets. Logistics resources are paramount to ensuring delivery of relief items, and to establishing and managing camps/areas for the displaced. They will also be necessary to allow aid agencies to reestablish and scale up their capacities quickly.
For further up-to-date information, please visit: www.reliefweb.int