WHY WAS THE HAITIAN EARTHQUAKE SO DEADLY?
January 12, 2012 was not a very pleasant day for the people in Haiti. At 04:53:10 PM, Haiti was struck by an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 on the rictor scale. The rictor scale indicates the severity of an earthquake but it is a logarithmic scale, meaning that a magnitude higher can be 10 times worse than the one below. The Haitian earthquake resulted to be very deadly compared to other massive earthquakes due to Haiti’s location, the time it struck, it’s history, Haiti’s level of development, and the risk mitigation.
Haiti was struck by an earthquake mainly because of the location of the tectonic plates around it. These tectonic plates are plates that constantly move and interact with another by diverging, converging, or transforming. Since the North and South American plates are moving west, it caused these plates to grind against the Caribbean plate, an example of a transform plate movement. But Haiti has always been a target for earthquake hazards, a threat or likelihood of earthquakes happening, due to where it’s situated. Since these natural disasters like earthquakes most often happen to countries that lay near plate boundaries and along fault lines, it is clear Haiti has been under a hazard.
The fault lines are cracks in the Earth’s crust, that are visible to people. Because the fault lines are along Haiti, the movement of the transform plates caused an earthquake to occur. As shown on the map, the epicentre of the earthquake situated where the faults, including the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault, are located. Typically, geological settings that are more mountainous experience less shaking than those areas that are less rocky. Haiti can be marked as an non-rocky geographic area, thus the earthquake may have struck more severely and caused a stronger effect.
The time the earthquake had occurred is another factor that resulted the earthquake to be deadly. The time of day causes a great affect on the death toll because it changes the actions people are taking at that time, where you are, if you are in rush hour and where you are in relation to your family. The Haitian Earthquake struck on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 04:53:10 PM a few miles south of Port-au-Prince. At this point of time, it was the rush hour which is when many people were going home and a time when many of them are separated from their family members. This is where vulnerability plays a difficult role, as it can decrease one’s chance to stay alive. Having children far away from parents, mostly mothers, reduces their survival rate because they may injure themselves during the process of finding their children. On the other hand, if this disaster was to occur at around 7 in the morning, it may have reduced the death toll since the family is together and know where they are. In short, the time is a big factor that can cause an affect on the death toll and can alter one’s survival rate.
Not only was time a main factor that had an affect on the mortaliy rate, but Haiti’s level of development have impacted upon the death toll. Haiti can be defined as an LEDC, a less economically developed country, from looking at some of the development indicators such as; GDP per capita, life expectancy at birth, total fertility rate, and it’s literacy rate. Looking at the graph above, Haiti has one of the most lowest GDP per capita, or income per person in the country. It is considered to be the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and is struggling the most to become strong. The high fertility rate, how many babies are born per woman, further proves that Haiti is a LEDC because of the parents need and want to produce more kids so they can make more money and have more hands to help them. But because Haiti has such a low life expectancy at birth, the average age at which one is thought to live up to, the environment and life style may not be as great as in countries like Norway. The literacy rate may be higher than Niger, but it still emphasizes how close to half of Haiti’s population is unable to read or write. With poor education, many of the people are not educated about how to protect themselves and act when an earthquake occurs. This may be one of the reasons why the earthquake ended up to become one of the most catastrophic disaster in the world.
Haiti’s history also contribute to making the country a LEDC because of it’s high debt, past military and dictatorships, hurricanes and the economic changes. Haiti was the first black republic and had been a pretty rich country. But after they have become under the threat of invasion from France, they were in debt which took 120 years to repay. This caused a cycle of debt, dependence and instability to the country. Also, Haiti had more than 3 decades of dictatorship in the military rule which pushed them more deeper into international debt. Debt had increased after the hurricanes that had struck Haiti, which caused more damage and resulted the government to loose more money as well. The economic changes in Haiti reduced trade tariffs and increased foreign imports which caused many of the Haitian farmers to loose their jobs. But the main factor that caused Haiti to be in it’s low state currently, is the fact that they went in debt early and had to spend 120 years paying for it. With the conflicting history and low economic level Haiti has become, it made the country more insecure which caused the 2010 Haitian earthquake to be very deadly.
Despite the time and Haiti’s level of development, the aftershock that had occurred a few minutes after the larger earthquake had caused Haiti to become demolished. Aftershocks are the second earthquake that takes place after the main shock from the earthquake. Because Haiti does not have a strong economy and stable technology to maintain it’s structure for even the first earthquake, the land is destroyed and caused further destruction due to the aftershocks.
But Haiti had the option to reduce the destruction in Haiti from the earthquake. The risk assessment is the understanding that you are under a hazard and you start to deal with that. So countries that lay close to the plate boundaries are under a earthquake hazard. Japan is an example of this country. The government in Japan use all of the efforts to help their population not suffer from the hazard, this is called risk mitigation. The key component in risk mitigation is education. Educating the population the drills to perform when earthquakes occur (the duck and cover drill), where to go and what to prepare may reduce the death toll. Without the knowledge on how to protect oneself and where to go, people have a lower survival rate. But because Haiti is a very less economically developed country, it does not have the money to educate everyone nor have the resources or funds to prepare a earthquake preparation kit. The building codes are another way in helping the country reduce the death toll. Retro-fitting and other methods are used in Japan to help the building stay standing even after an earthquake. Haiti faces many challenges including a low literacy rate, too expensive for preparation, and they do not have the machinery/labor (money) to reduce the destruction made by an earthquake. But for the government in Haiti, it is not their first priority to make a plan for earthquakes because they have other factors to consider, like the lack of food and poor living conditions.
Overall, the Haitian earthquake resulted to be very deadly compared to other earthquakes around the world because of Haiti’s location, the time it struck, it’s history, Haiti’s level of development, and the risk mitigation.