Disaster emergency response in Haiti

Academic Paper 2018 14 Pages

Organisation and administration - Disaster control


Table of Contents


Literature review


Conclusion and implications



The 2010 Haiti earthquake is the most devastating earthquake to take place in the country in the last 200 years. It is estimated that this earthquake affected at least three million people with death toll ranging from 100000 to 160000 people (Bailey, 2014) . According to the government of Haiti, more than 250000 residences and 30000 commercial buildings had been destroyed by the quake. The country’s capital, Port-au-Prince was one of the worst affected areas by the earth quake as notable landmark buildings in the city were significantly destroyed. Some of the damaged landmark buildings included the Presidential Palace, National Assembly building, Port-au-Prince Cathedral and the main prison building among others (Bornstein, Lizarralde, Gould, & Davidson, 2013). Owing to the devastating nature of this earthquake and the massive humanitarian assistance required, several countries responded positively to the calls for humanitarian aid. These countries pledged aid, dispatched rescue and medical teams, engineers and support personnel. However, critics have argued that the effects of the earth quakes reached these devastating levels due to poor disaster preparedness and response in Haiti. In this regard, this paper critically evaluates emergency management and response during the 2010 Haiti earthquake with an aim of establishing its implications in policy and practice.

Though some disaster analysts indicated that the response to Haiti earthquake was rapid and massive in scope, leadership and logistical support were cited as inadequate to manage a disaster and response of such scale. The response was amplified by the unrelenting and sensationalized campaigns in the media (Bailey, 2014). Destruction of government facilities and buildings in the earthquake also hampered leadership and logistical efficiencies. The disaster had struck down ministry buildings and emergency operations center while the national disaster risk management system incurred heavy losses. Local police stations were also destroyed with some staff members being killed in the ordeal (Bornstein, Lizarralde, Gould, & Davidson, 2013). With the Haitian government incapacitated by the disaster, the researcher investigates whether the world was prepared for such a disaster and what could have been done to improve disaster preparedness, planning, response and recovery activities.

The rest of the paper is divided into three sections: literature review, findings/discussion and conclusion/implications. Literature review provides a description of an ideal emergency management programme that should be applied during disasters such as Haiti earthquake. Findings/discussion section critically analyses the emergency management and response activities in the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Finally, conclusions/implications provide a summary of the findings and highlight some of the implications of these findings.

Literature review

Generally, emergency management refers to how resources and responsibilities are organised and managed when addressing a humanitarian need of an emergency or disaster. Emergency management encompasses preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery. The main goal of effective emergency management is to limit the harmful effects of all hazards (Young, Balluz, & Malilay, 2004) . In the case of Haiti earthquake, there is little to show that plans were in place to respond to a disaster of such magnitude. Nevertheless, prior to the earthquake, the government had ordered more than 500000 households to vacate to relatively safer places (Bornstein, Lizarralde, Gould, & Davidson, 2013) . However, cities such as Port-au-Prince were not properly planned or designed to either prevent emergencies or to mitigate the effects of disasters. The city was massively destroyed while poor drainage led to massive outbreak of cholera in the country. Ideally, emergency or disaster management plans should have been put in place highlighting various risks and how the country can respond to such risks (Kirsch, Sauer, & Guha-Sapir, 2012).

The disaster also destroyed several government buildings thus hampering government operations all across the country. Most significantly, the earthquake destroyed the country’s emergency operations center based in Port-au-Prince. The destruction of the emergency operations center made it impossible for the Haitian government to respond to the disaster effectively without significant outside support (Bailey, 2014). One aspects of disaster plans implementation and response that was adversely affected by the earthquake is communication. The earthquake brought down communication lines and worsened cell phone reception. This made it difficult for the humanitarian agencies to communicate with the local authorities and those that needed immediate help thus worsening the disaster outcomes. Miscommunication or lack of communication led to unnecessary escalation of the disaster effects. The ability of the Haitian government to implement its action plans was also hampered by lack of finances and personnel. The massive scale of the response required for the disaster could not be financed by a small economy like Haiti (Cecchine et al., 2011). Furthermore, the country lost a massive number of government officials including law enforcement officers thus making effective domestic disaster response almost impossible.

Prevention is another fundamental component of a good emergency management. Prevention in emergency management refers to putting measures in place to reduce the adverse humanitarian effects of disasters on the people. According to Cecchine et al (2011), preventing or reducing the impact of disasters on the communities should be the main focus of emergency management efforts. In the meantime, mitigation strategies should be put in place to assist in elimination or reduction of the impacts and risks of hazards through proactive measures before a disaster take place. In Haiti, there were no proactive disaster prevention and mitigation measures. For instance, Haiti cities, urban areas and other large settlements lacked proper water and sewerage systems. In these areas, earthquake led to flooding of the streets and people’s homes with dirty water leading to outbreak of diseases. Haiti also lacked measures which could limit the impact of the earthquake (Kirsch, Sauer, & Guha-Sapir, 2012). For instance, there were no seismic retrofits of property and emergency power plans when the earthquake led to power blackouts. Though the government issues warnings and evacuation calls to people in areas prone to earthquake, many people did not evacuate as there were no sufficient plans for massive evictions and adequate makeshift shelters to house the disaster victims.

The response to Haiti 2010 earthquake has been hailed as ‘unprecedented’. With sensational media appeals, the international community led by the United Nations and the United States ramped up efforts for humanitarian assistance, rescue missions and search activities. Basically, the goal of disaster response is to fulfill the basic humanitarian needs of the affected population. However, despite the massive disaster response in Haiti, Cecchine et al (2011) claimed that the response was not effective as expected due to poor coordination and management of the humanitarian activities. For instance, there were several national and international agencies and organisations working in Haiti under different commands lead to duplication of functions and failure of some efforts to reach the intended goals. Kirsch, Sauer and Guha-Sapir (2012) showed that there was widespread corruption in disaster response activities with significant amount of donations not reaching the affected populations.

Recovery is the final phase in emergency or disaster management. Recovery phase begins when the immediate threats to human life have subsided. The primary goal of recovery is to ensure that the affected area returns to normalcy as fast as possible. This phase involves reconstruction of the area and putting measures to boost the local economy to support local population and reduce dependence of aid. Recovery initiatives after earthquakes should include rebuilding of homes, reinstating agricultural production and other economic activities, return of public services such as health care and education and so on. Though public and social services have normalized in Haiti nine years after the earthquake, the economic devastation caused by the quake can still be noticed (Adnan, Ramli, & Razak, 2015). For instance, the country remains poorer that it was prior to the earthquake. In this regard, some critics have indicated that the recovery activities in Haiti are inadequate and ineffective.


The response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake was commendable. The response included foreign national governments, both charitable and for profit organisations, international agencies and individuals from around the world. These responses were coordinated by the local authorities and aid agencies so as to help Haitian people. Some countries such as the United States did not only send relief but also rescue workers and medical staff to supplement the overworked social workers and domestic staff. Other international organisations such as the European Union and United Nations mobilized funds to provide monetary support for the non-profit organisations which were working directly in Haiti. As of September 5, 2013, it was reported that more than $3.5 billion of the pledged funds had been released while a further $1 billion of the pledged funds had not been released (Adnan, Ramli, & Razak, 2015). However, the long term impact of the humanitarian activities had raised questions on whether they were effective or not. For instance, in 2015, it was estimated that more than 500000 people were still living in temporary shelters with no electricity, plumbing or sewage five years after the disaster. Lack of proper sanitation to the victims of the earthquake is considered to be the main cause of the cholera outbreak. Elsewhere, the aid funding from the United States were restricted by US statutory restrictions that limited spending to spending on US products, materials and employees (Winthrop, 2010). These statutory restrictions did not only raise the costs involved but also prevented aid from stimulating the Haitian economy.



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Kenyatta University
disaster haiti



Title: Disaster emergency response in Haiti