In 2008, several hurricanes pounded Haiti. Collectively, the storms destroyed 15 percent of the country`s GDP or the equivalent damage that would be caused by 8 – 10 Hurricane Katrina’s if they were to hit the U.S. in the period of one month. These hurricanes created flooding everywhere, a food shortage, and breeding grounds for disease.
In 2010, the largest earthquake Haiti has experienced in over 200 years struck the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Eighty-percent of the population was already living in poverty, and this earthquake only exacerbated this statistic. As many as 250,000 Haitians were estimated to have been killed in the disaster, and one year later, roughly 634, 000 people were still living in displacement camps within or outside Port-Au-Prince. Over 19 million cubic meters of debris littered the streets of Port Au Prince after the disaster, and less than 50 percent of this debris has since been removed.
In August of 2012, Hurricane Isaac whirled across quake-battered Haiti, causing strong winds, and mudslides. In Port-au-Prince, trees and power lines were knocked down, tents were shredded, and streets were heavily flooded, which left some 400,000 survivors of the January 2010 earthquake miserably soaked. Haiti’s southern peninsula experienced the brunt of the storm, and 60 mph winds blew the roofs off many houses. Ten Haitians were reported to have lost their lives as a result of the violent weather conditions.
Hurricane Sandy, Haiti’s most recent disaster, killed at least 58 people and caused major flooding. Government officials have reported that Haiti’s entire southern portion is now ‘underwater’ as a result of this tropical storm. Many communities have been isolated by flood waters, and some 17,800 people have had to move to temporary shelters. In some areas, 80 percent of crops were wiped out, especially staple foods like corn, beans, and bananas. This has left many hungry, and the extensive rainwater has spread cholera, a water-borne disease believed to have been introduced to the island by foreign peace-keeping forces in 2010.
Johan Peleman, head of the UN’s office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs makes an important point: “Haiti is trying to get its house in order, but each time disaster strikes, the progress is interrupted. This country is exposed to devastating consequences by each storm. With every burst of rain, entire mountains are washed away.“
Natural disasters will continue to strike Haiti. Hurricanes are commonplace, and seismologists predict that the next few years will yield significant seismic activity in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Seismic activity often comes in cycles, and many experts believe that the tectonic plates below the Dominican Republic and Haiti are beginning a new cycle of activity after being dormant for almost 200 years.
Two years after the 2010 earthquake, there remains no centralized plan, rules, or governing bodies that ensure that structures in Haiti are built to withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters. In order to implement these sorts of changes, additional funds and education must be made available to Haitians. However, seismologist Cossu reminds us that: “Despite the greater awareness of earthquake risks today people are confronted with hard choices: those who have the means, will accept spending money to live in a ‘safe’ house, where as the majority of the population will have to make do with what they can. Until the next earthquake.”
According to an AID report, Haiti “is suffering from a degree of environmental degradation almost without equal in the entire world.“ Forests that were once thick and lush now cover only 4 % of the nation’s land area as a result of centuries of massive deforestation. Foreign powers have exploited Haiti’s natural resources, and impoverished Haitians continue to use the limited lumber that is left, such that 3% of additional forest is lost each year. Although efforts have been made to reforest large regions of Haiti, the majority of suitable land has already been privately cultivated, and in most cases, unavailable for use.
Deforestation has also caused massive erosion which has reduced soil fertility and ruined roughly two-thirds of what was once fertile farmland. Erosion now contributes to massive flooding post-hurricanes and post-earthquakes, since there is little topsoil to absorb groundwater. Uncontrolled groundwater floods cities and towns and also breeds water-borne diseases like cholera. Harmful pesticides like DDT, a chemical currently banned for agricultural-use in the U.S, can also be found in water that has inundated Haitian farms. Since 94 percent of freshwater in Haiti is used for farming, less than half of Haiti’s rural populations have access to clean drinking water. And since there are no standard systems of sanitation, garbage, excretory matter, and other contaminants are present and wreak havoc upon Haiti’s already-polluted rivers and lakes.
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