The Haiti Earthquake

by | 1.15.2010 at 4:37pm | 4 Comments
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Preparing to move the wounded from UN Development Program compound  (Marc Levy/Earth Institute). CLICK TO ENLARGE

Preparing to move the wounded from UN Development Program compound (Marc Levy/Earth Institute). CLICK TO ENLARGE

The quake in Haiti came suddenly—but the results were predictable. At the moment it struck, scientists from the Earth Institute and other parts of Columbia University were in Port-au-Prince with a UN-sponsored project assessing how to reduce the nation’s obvious vulnerability to natural disasters. It is clear that the extreme toll came as much from poverty as physics.

The magnitude 7 event occurred along a  dangerous fault system long known to geologists. Scientists cannot predict when earthquakes will come—but can predict where. This was the most powerful event to hit the region in over 200 years—but no bigger than the 1989 quake in the San Francisco Bay area that killed only 63 people. In Haiti, probably tens of thousands are dead, and many more homeless. It was nature that shook the ground; but it was poor housing, lack of basic commodities and absence of public services that brought such death and destruction. “The hard lesson is that construction, urbanization, land reform—all the things we do in terms of development—need to take resiliency into account,” seismologist Art Lerner-Lam of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory told Newsweek.

Caption/credit:  Earthquakes greater than magnitude 5 in the northern Caribbean since 1964. Gray dots show immediate aftershocks from the Jan. 12, 2010 quake.  (Geoffrey Abers, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory). CLICK TO ENLARGE

Earthquakes greater than magnitude 5 in the northern Caribbean since 1964. Gray dots show immediate aftershocks from the Jan. 12, 2010 quake. (Geoffrey Abers, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory). CLICK TO ENLARGE

“There are hot spots around the world where poverty and natural-hazard risk are going to continue to produce these high-level disasters with high casualties, but we know where those hot spots are. So there’s a lot more we can do before the fact to mitigate the human suffering.”

As Earth Institute scientists in New York work to explain and deal with the tragedy, those who lived through the quake itself are returning to tell their story. Alexander Fischer, a political scientist and groundwater expert with the Center for International Earth Science Information Network, survived the collapse of much of the UN’s compound, and helped treat survivors.  “There were countless numbers of houses fallen down. At first there was no panic—just people just walking the streets not knowing what to do,” he said. “That’s the really sad part. There was no help. It shows what happens when a country doesn’t have the capacity for response.”  In coming days, Fischer and others will continue the work of assessing how to blunt future catastrophes. “I hope no other country is ever in that situation,” said Fischer.

Headquarters, UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti  (Marc Levy/Earth Institute)

Headquarters, UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Marc Levy/Earth Institute) CLICK TO ENLARGE

EARTH INSTITUTE EXPERTS ANALYZE THE DISASTER AND ITS IMPLICATIONS:

Climate Outlook Raises Concern for Haiti
Climate Central,  May 18, 2010

Scientists Plumb Depths Off Haiti
White House Office of Science and Technology,  March 22, 2010

Chile, Haiti: The Difference
OECD Insights,  March 17, 2010

Why Haiti’s Quake Toll Was Higher Than Chile’s
CNN.com,  Feb. 28, 2010

Move Port-au-Prince? Maybe. San Francisco? Never.
Earth magazine,  Feb. 24, 2010

Scientists Cruise Off Haiti to Assess More Possible Quakes
Discovery Channel,  Feb. 24, 2010

Again, the Phantom City Burns
OECD Insights, Feb. 22, 2010

Ecological Recovery Seen as Key to Rebuilding Haiti
Free Speech Radio Network, Feb. 17, 2010

Fears of Another Quake Haunt Haiti
Associated Press, Feb. 15, 2010

Haiti’s Tomorrow May Be Rooted in Trees, Fertilizer
True/Slant, Feb. 11, 2010

Haiti: How Greening Hillsides Can Help
Huffington Post, Feb. 5, 2010

Greening Haiti Can Bolster Recovery
Water and the World, Feb. 4, 2010

Next Tragedy in Haiti?
(in Portuguese)
Epoca, Jan. 27, 2010

Who Should Reconstruct Haiti?
Globo TV, Jan. 26, 2010
(in Portuguese)

Donors Face Quandary in Haiti
NPR Talk of the Nation, Jan. 26, 2010

Reconstructing Haiti
by Jeffrey D. Sachs
Project Syndicate, Jan. 26, 2010

Haiti: Addressing the Looming Threat
Newsweek, Jan. 26, 2010

Haiti: Could It Happen Again?
Telemundo, Jan. 26, 2010 (in Spanish)

Jeffrey Sachs on Haiti
The Economist, Jan. 25, 2010

Aid Must Target Haiti’s Underlying Issues
NPR All Things Considered, Jan. 22, 2010

Rebuilding Haiti From the Roots Up
Living on Earth, Jan. 22, 2010

Witnessing the Desperation of Haiti’s Poor
Rockland Journal News, Jan. 22, 2010

Donors Eye Billions to Rebuild Haiti
NPR, Jan. 21, 2010

What Does Rebuilding Haiti Mean?
by John Mutter
OECD Insights, Jan. 21, 2010

Haiti: Like Katrina, Only Worse
by John Mutter
CNN, Jan. 19, 2010

Recalling a Terrifying Day in Haiti
Times-Argus, Jan. 19, 2010

How to Rebuild Haiti From Scratch
by Jeffrey D. Sachs
Washington Post, Jan. 18, 2010

Reason to Be Proud of the American Response in Haiti
by Steve Cohen
Huffington Post, Jan. 18, 2010

U.S. Fault Lines
ABC Good Morning America, Jan. 18, 2010

Haiti Quake Shattered Effort to Restore Resources
GreenWire, Jan. 18, 2010

For Doctors in Haiti, Worst Is Yet to Come
Reuters, Jan. 18, 2010

What Will It Take to Rebuild Haiti?
Time, Jan. 16, 2010

Earth’s Quake ‘Hot Zones’
CBS News, Jan. 17, 2010

Earthquake Threat Lurks for U.S., Too
MSNBC, Jan. 16, 2010

Haiti Earthquake Update
Columbia News, Jan. 15, 2010

Abject Poverty Made Forecasts Useless in Haiti
Metro US, Jan. 15, 2010

Haiti Shantytown: A City of the Dead
New York Post
, Jan. 14, 2010

Deforestation Heightens Haiti Landslide Risk
National Geographic News
, Jan. 14, 2010

What Caused the Haiti Quake? Leonard Lopate Show, WNYC, Jan. 13, 2010

Haiti Quake No Surprise to Geologists
NPR All Things Considered
, Jan. 13, 2010

Haiti Quake: What Happened?
MSNBC
, Jan. 13, 2010

Scientists Warned of Coming Quake
Newsweek
, Jan. 13, 2010

Understanding Caribbean Earthquakes
ABC News , Jan. 13, 2009

Haiti: Critical Test for Obama
Huffington Post , Jan. 13, 2009

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4 Responses to “The Haiti Earthquake”

  1. Marcia Earth says:

    We can’t control when or where earthquakes hit. However, we can support the infrastructure of a country beforehand so that when these earthquakes happen, they are not so devastating.

  2. [...] seismologist Art Lerner-Lam of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory told Newsweek.  (See our blog, State of the Planet, for more on the Haiti [...]

  3. Dr. Oz says:

    @Marcia Earth Can we really control infrastructure of another country? Is that even morally right? I say, reduce trade restrictions and allow the Haitians to to control their own infrastructure.

  4. I don’t think she said ‘control the infrastructure’ she said ‘support the infrastructure’.

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