If you’ve ever been to Haiti and looked at the landscape with a construction eye, you can imagine the devastation a major earthquake could do to the towns. The hilly, mostly mountainous terrain lends itself to hillside construction of homes and businesses. The terrain is beautiful and lush. Today, it is flattened and grayed by dust from collapsed buildings.
A 100-page report by the Organization of American States concluded last month that many of the buildings in Haiti were so poorly constructed that they would not survive a 2.0 earthquake, much less the 7.0 quake that tore apart the Republic this week.
There are no building codes in Haiti and quality standards are pretty lax, according to an urban planner with OAS. Of course, grinding poverty – Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas with a GDP per capita of about $2 per person per day – doesn’t help.
But for as much darkness as there is today in Haiti, there could be a glimmer of light to ascend from the rubble.
Before Hurricane Ivan flattened much of Grenada in September 2004, that nation had many of the same problems Haiti has with a poor economy and poorer construction. Within three years, thanks to training and stricter building codes, Grenada emerged with a stronger infrastructure and, eventually, economy.
When it rebuilds, Haiti needs to realize it sits on a fault line and is in the path of many hurricanes. Help from the international and academic communities will ensure the next generation of engineers, construction workers and masons build Haiti to withstand what it can’t control — its location.
Construction of the new Port-au-Prince needs to follow strict building codes by trained craftsmen, especially for hospitals and schools.
The only thing that could be worse than today’s devastation in Haiti is failure to prepare for tomorrow.