January 2011: Haiti one year on

Haiti one year on

By Ross Mountain

As we look back a year later on the tragic events in Haiti, what have we learned? Typically after a major disaster like this, there are a plethora of evaluations. DARA itself visited Haiti in 2010 and will do so again in 2011. The challenge will be to build and share our knowledge, and apply lessons learned in Haiti and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, previous lessons and main conclusions were not applied even though Haiti suffered from consecutive natural disasters and four back-to-back hurricanes. Experience shows that despite good efforts, the international community in general failed to invest in preparedness, prevention and capacity building.

Given the poverty of Haiti and low level of development, housing standards such as those that minimized the losses from a similar earthquake weeks later in Chile were beyond reach. Proper contingency planning would not have prevented the earthquake damage.

The difference in the magnitude of damages and impact between the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile show the importance that well prepared local communities, strong civil societies and governments can play in the response of large-scale disasters. The proof is in the fact that neighbours and locals did most of the life-saving in Haiti.

Haiti pointed out the importance of leadership, including in the management of clusters, in a response. It is tragic that many of the problems that beset Haiti were also evident in the Pakistan flood crisis. There is evidence that serious, if overdue, attention to such issues as leadership and domestic capacity building by the international community is needed.