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  • Stephen Jordan

Today's (August 14, 2021) Haiti Earthquake in Light of 2010

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

Today, August 14, MSN News is reporting a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit off the southwest coast of Haiti. There are likely to be significant casualties, building and housing collapses, and other cascade effects. Please support the response of the Haitian people to this crisis.

Several key points to consider now and the days following:

For individuals seeking to help: In the early days after an extreme event there is a lot of chaos. This means that there may be conflicting reports about what has happened, missing information, misunderstandings, panicky reactions, confusing reports and emergency appeals. A terrible tragedy has happened, and there is a natural human tendency to rush in, but please support proven aid responders if you can. As much or more than 50% of the philanthropic response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake was compromised by fraud, inexperience, and other factors.

Haiti's situation running up to this earthquake was already dire. Over 60% of the people in Haiti live in poverty. The CDC rates Haiti's COVID risk as high. Its vaccination program has been very slow to get off the ground. President Moise was assassinated in July, and the succession is very murky because the Parliament is essentially defunct, and the elected offices where possible successors are supposed to come from constitutionally are in transition themselves.

The earthquake only compounds the political, economic, and health disasters already unfolding.

The response to the devastating earthquake of 2010 is not likely to be much of a guide for multiple reasons - including the fact that Haiti's current political situation is in such disarray, but it is better than nothing.

One thing we know from the past, the UN (who were particularly hard hit losing 102 people directly by the 2010 earthquake), other international humanitarian organizations, foreign government aid agencies and other aid providers mean well and are ostensibly coordinated, but in reality, this often breaks down in practice. No one is accountable to each other. Each has duties and obligations defined by their respective missions, and surprisingly, they often do not know much about what each other is doing. The result is that you get "clumping" - where a lot of service responders respond to the same issue, and "gapping" where everyone thinks someone else is handling a problem, but no one is. Everyone should hope that there is a better international coordination this time around that not only incorporates governmental aid efforts, but private sector and nonprofit efforts too.

In 2010, US SouthCom deployed and spent 10 weeks assisting with search and rescue, distribution of relief supplies, emergency health care, safety and security of evacuees, and other support at a cost of $700 million. That year, the Haitian government's entire budget was $950 million for the year. SouthCom's efforts were terrific and the generosity of the U.S. government was amazing. However, several Haitian business and government leaders and international nonprofit leaders confided to me that they wished the US Army Corps of Engineers could have been deployed more to help stabilize the situation and cope with the more complex infrastructure challenges that emerged, and allowed local Haitian responders to focus more on the immediate, personal response to identify, recover, and rescue loved ones.

One of the major issues from 2010 was that red tape at customs (and potential graft opportunities) some times deviated or significantly delayed the shipment of valuable medicines, water and sanitation equipment, and other critical supplies. If someone offers customs automation solutions that increase speed, transparency, and reporting solutions, this will expedite and enhance the effectiveness of international assistance significantly.

Once the humanitarian, crisis management stage has passed, stabilization and recovery management need to be intentionally pursued with the end result of reducing long-term fall-out effects. In 2010, there was widespread confusion about housing solutions, with many Haitians forced to live in temporary housing designed for 3-6 months up to 1.5-3 years instead. A large-scale cholera outbreak occurred north of Port-au-Prince due to poor congestion, sanitary conditions, and horrible housing conditions. Localized violence, education disruption, and overwhelmed health facilities were also triggered by some of the post-disaster management failures.

The international response to Haiti needs to be better this time. On a humanitarian level, Haiti needs crisis response support, emergency health services, temporary shelter services, debris removal, and assistance with all of the other Emergency Support Functions. This may be the best run part of the response and the need is grave.

The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy are good resources for learning more about how you can help with the immediate issues.

Where international assistance providers are going to really have to step up their game is in the stabilization and long-term recovery phases if we don't want to see the same kind of tragedy and devastation again a decade or so from now. We have some ideas, but this will depend on many factors. One thing is for certain, the Haitian Diaspora will need to get heavily involved.

For more information, insights or assistance please email

To support ISD's efforts to provide technical assistance to Haiti, please donate here.

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