Photo: UNDP-Haiti.

 

Haiti has had a long history of natural hazards, including two earthquakes, as well as political instability and poverty. Over the years, Haiti's government and civil society have committed to building their resilience and protecting themselves from these disasters. However, the lack of technical capacity has made the country vulnerable to natural hazards.

During the earthquake of January 12, 2010, apart from the seismic monitoring station located at the Lycée Français, in Port-au-Prince, an educational facility that became quickly saturated, there was no other station at the time.

In 2020, with UNDP's support, the State University of Haiti installed 12 professional seismological sensors across the nation which enabled the country to quickly record, locate and analyze seismic activity, including earthquakes and aftershocks.

 

Engaging the civil society

Advances in seismic stations have proven how useful citizen action is in preventing natural hazards in the future. Sensors have even been placed in homes for free, and owners are called “earthquake citizens”. Due to this initiative the earthquake that took place on August 14, 2021, was recorded at the Saint-Louis du Sud station and the country was able to count the hundreds of aftershocks that followed. In the past, low magnitude tremors were unnoticed by regional stations. All these technical advances, in addition to the contributions brought by civil society, make it possible to reduce seismic risks through the knowledge and understanding of fault lines.

Furthermore, the analysis of aftershocks that the seismic stations detected enabled the country to understand the tectonic context that makes Haiti  vulnerable to regular earthquakes. The country is located on the border of two tectonic plates: the North American and the Caribbean. This boundary is materialized by two major fault systems: the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden, which runs through the entire South of the nation, and the Northern and North-Hispaniola in the North of the island. 

 

Educating future generations

Empowering young people has become a strategic issue. For example, holding seismology conferences or presenting multi-hazard contingency plans for students at local universities, could save human lives from unfortunate events such as earthquakes. It is also a way of supporting Haitian young talent to take charge of scientific action and play a more important role in the post-earthquake recovery of the country.

A training campaign launched by the State University of Haiti enabled dozens of Haitian students to pursue their doctoral studies abroad making the nation less dependent on foreign researchers.

Despite the many challenges faced by national and local universities, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has succeeded in supporting innovative initiatives that have proven key in Haiti’s efforts to better understand seismology, such as those lead by the URGéo Unit - a Research Unit of the Faculty of Sciences of Haiti State University, which brings together a dozen Haitian and foreign researchers and works in various fields of Geophysics such as Seismology, Geodesy, and Climatology.

It was created following the 2010 earthquake to respond to the challenges of disaster risks which the country faces and to build national capacities and expertise. URGéo is currently offering the first master's degree in Geosciences taught in Haiti and receives support from the UNDP through several projects such as S2RHAI and OSMOSE, which are launched to build new partnerships with foreign laboratories and universities.

 

Building national capacity

In 2021, the UNDP has supported seismic micro zoning in Port-au-Prince and the North department, the development of multi-risk mapping, the establishment of the North earthquake plan and the multi-risk municipal contingency plans in the departments of the South, North-West, and Grand'Anse, and has also provided support to the Directorate of Civil Protection (known as DPC) during the post-earthquake crisis, among other initiatives.

Furthermore, in response to the earthquake on August 14, 2021 and to address the critical need for rapid data collection when responding to earthquakes, the UNDP collaborated with URGéo to install twelve additional seismic stations. However, sustained efforts will be required to increase Haiti’s resilience.

Looking forward, it is important to learn from experience, anticipate disasters and actively reduce disaster risk instead of responding to the effects of earthquakes. By assisting early and long-term recovery efforts, UNDP is helping Haiti enhance its capacities and become earthquake resilient.

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