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Haiti’s vulnerability to earthquakes: the case for a historical perspective and a better analysis of risks
Yvio Georges and François Grünewald


2.3. The risk of earthquakes is not sufficiently taken into account in Disaster Risk Reduction policies.

Haitians and international institutions were not prepared for this disaster, which, alas, certain people had predicted, though they did not have a great deal of influence. The more frequent hazard masked the hazard, which, though much more dangerous, was perceived to be much less probable. The tragedy of 12 January 2010 was a brutal wake up call. Flooding, cyclones and mudslides dominated disaster prevention agendas in Haiti. Earthquakes were conspicuous by their absence. For several years, the Haitian Civil Protection Department and the United Nations produced contingency plans, but these were focused on climatic phenomena. Furthermore, prevention strategies were potentially contradictory: cyclone-resistant buildings are “top heavy”, whereas one of the principles of earthquake resistant construction is that buildings should be “top light”.

The risk of earthquakes was not sufficiently examined and the policies which should have followed were not given much attention, and were therefore not implemented. Very few experts focused on this question. Some preliminary studies which had already been carried out, such as the study carried out in 2004 by Philippe Mathieu and Jean Arsène Constant and by the Civil Protection Department in preparation for the Kobé Conference of 2005, highlighted the issues involved in preparing for this kind of hazard. Unfortunately, it was not until 2009 that Constant was able to start working on the specific management of this risk. He was killed on 12 January when he was due to present his studies on this topic to the European delegation.