Natural Disasters in Haiti

Jade Hall 721


  1. What is the capital city of Haiti, and what is the population?
  2. What is the population of the whole country?
  3. How much damage was done after the 2010 earthquake?
  4. What other natural disasters (besides earthquakes) happen often in Haiti?
  5. Why do earthquakes happen so often if Haiti isn't in the Ring of Fire?
  6. What makes Haiti more susceptible to natural disasters?
  7. What is Haiti doing to be more prepared for natural disasters?
  8. What organizations and individuals doing to help Haiti?
  9. How is the president/prime minister of Haiti trying to help their country economically?

Driving Question:

What can Haiti do to make their country disaster proof, within a low budget?

Basic Facts About Haiti

Country Population ~ 10.5 million

Capital City - Port-au-Prince, population ~ 1 million

President - Michel Martelly

Natural Disasters

Although earthquakes are the natural disaster that occurs most often in Haiti, there are an abundance of other, less destructive natural disasters that happen a lot, such as cyclones, hurricanes, tropical storms and floods. The Ring of Fire is a ring surrounding the Pacific Ocean where many high magnitude earthquakes and volcanoes occur, so it would be fitting for Haiti to fall in that area, but it doesn't. Even though Haiti has a high earthquake count, it sits right outside the border of the Ring of Fire. There is a reason why Haiti gets so many earthquakes though. Haiti, along with other countries in and around the Caribbean are susceptible to earthquakes and volcanoes. This is because of the Caribbean plate. It is a very small crustal plate, only about 3.2 million square km, that is similar to the plates in the Ring of Fire.


  • most common disaster - earthquakes
  • cyclones, hurricanes, tropical storms, floods also happen often
  • not in Ring of Fire
  • countries in and around Caribbean are susceptible to earthquakes and volcanoes
  • Caribbean Plate - small (~ 3.2 million square km) crustal plate similar to those in the Ring of Fire

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2010 Earthquake:


You've probably heard of the horrible earthquake that occurred on January 12, 2010 in Haiti. It had a magnitude of 7.0, and struck less than 10 miles away from the capital, Port-au-Prince. This earthquake was especially deadly, because it was so close to the capital, housing over 1 million residents. There were upwards of 300 000 people injured and 220 000 dead. Even the people that hadn't been injured probably faced the wrath of the earthquake, because approximately 300 000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged, leaving 1.5 million people homeless. The education of students around this are in Haiti was also compromised, with 4 000 schools destroyed during this destructive earthquake. There was also an aftershock that struck only 8 days after, which was, luckily, much less destructive than the first quake. Although the second earthquake had a 6.1 magnitude, it didn't cause nearly as much damage as the first one, because the Richter Scale goes by 10. This means that the first earthquake was about 10 times stronger than it's aftershock.


  • struck less than 10 miles away from Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010
  • 7.0 magnitude
  • ~ 220 000 deaths
  • 300 000 + injured
  • 1.5 million homeless (almost 300 000 houses destroyed/badly damaged)
  • 4 000 schools destroyed/badly damaged
  • aftershock (second earthquake) struck ~35 miles away from Port-au-Prince on January 20 2015
  • 6.1 magnitude (could be felt in Port-au-Prince)
  • didn't cause much damage (earthquakes between 6.0 and 6.9 are common)

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After the damage was done after the earthquake, help began to come in immediately. There were many organizations, both non-government and government, as well as individuals who donated money and supplies to the victims of the disaster. It would have been hard for any country to recover from this earthquake, but it was especially hard for Haiti, being a third world country. Luckily, there were many people willing to help, and Haiti managed to get (somewhat) back on it's feet. From January 2010 to July 2010, there have been many recoveries. There was improved water condition for 340 000 people, medical care for 39 000 people, farming supplies (tools and seeds) for 23 000 people and improved shelter for 34 000 people.


  • improved water condition ~ 340 000 people
  • medical care ~ 39 000 people
  • farming supplies (tools and seeds) ~ 23 000 people
  • improved shelter ~ 34 000 people

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Aid Given by Organizations

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Distribution of Red Cross Aid

What makes buildings collapse during earthquakes

All buildings can withstand some weight on it's roof, like piles of snow or puddles of water, but most buildings collapse during an earthquake. This is because there is pressure from all sides during an earthquake. Engineers usually don't take into consideration the possibility of having pressure on a buildings sides, so many buildings collapse fairly easy during an earthquake. They sway back an forth until they eventually collapse. This is especially true for buildings with multiple stories, because many multi-story buildings have floors just resting between the walls being held by their own weight without much support. When the earthquake begins and the ground starts to shake, the floors easily collapse on top of the floor beneath it.


  • all buildings can withstand some weight on top (like snow or water)
  • most buildings aren't built to resist weight on the sides
  • they sway back and forth until they collapse
  • many buildings with more than one storey have floors just resting between the walls
  • held by their own weight
  • when shaking starts, the floor easily collapse down into the lower floor

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Earthquake Resistant Structures

Engineers are starting to come up with more and more earthquake resistant buildings. The design depends on the location, taking into consideration the frequency and strength of the earthquakes in that area. The most common and easy to build design that is used for earthquake resistant structures is symmetry. Asymmetrical or irregular buildings are more susceptible to torsion, which is when a building twists until it breaks. Some of the most well-known earthquake proof structures are the Chichen Itza in Mexico (shown below) and the Transamerica Building in San Francisco (also shown below). Another design strategy used to strengthen buildings in the case of an earthquake is the use of trusses. Trusses are frameworks that are used to support buildings, and are often inserted into the roof and walls. To strengthen the structure even further, engineers use cross-bracing, which is an X-formation, is often used in trusses. Shear walls are also used in common earthquake resistant buildings. Shear walls stiffen and strengthen the building, so when the earth starts to shake, the building doesn't move much. The only downside to this design, is that once the shaking gets too much for the walls to handle, the building falls down all at once, instead of swaying back and forth, since the shear walls don't allow much flexibility. Engineers took note of this, and designed moment-resisting frames. These frames allow the beams and columns to bend, so the building slowly starts to sway, instead of falling over all at once. The joint are rigid though, so the building still has support, even while swaying.


  • design depends on the location (strong earthquakes? earthquakes occurring often?)
  • symmetrical buildings are more resistant to earthquakes
  • asymmetrical/irregular buildings are more susceptible to torsion, which is when the buildings twists and breaks
  • trusses, which are frameworks used to support a structure, are often inserted into the roof and walls to support the building when the ground shakes
  • trusses are often formed into an X-shape, called cross bracing, for more support
  • shear walls are also used
  • they are walls that resist shaking, making the wall sturdier
  • shear walls don't allow much flexibility
  • engineers designed moment-resistant frames, which allow the beams to bend, but the joints are rigid, so the frame moves with the building, but less damage is caused

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Chichen Itza

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Transamerica Building

Low Cost Earthquake Resistant Housing

After the destruction of the 2010 earthquake, students from the University of Notre Dame decided to do something to help. They used some of the common earthquake resistant strategies, but did so with materials commonly found in Haiti. They are called Engineering2Empower. They got their inspiration from the few houses that were still standing after the earthquake. They designed one story houses with four rooms, built from lightweight concrete panels, which were reinforced onto a concrete frame. This design is simple, but it uses very few, common materials, making it low cost and sturdy.


  • after the earthquake of 2010, a few houses were still standing
  • 20 students from University of Notre Dame were inspired by the design of those houses
  • named Engineering2Empower
  • designed one-story houses with four rooms
  • built from lightweight concrete panels reinforced on a concrete frame


After researching and working on this project for longer than a month, I still have no "right" answer. I found a great organization (Engineering2Empower) that helped build houses after the destruction of the 2010 earthquake and plenty of design strategies to build earthquake resistant buildings, but no right answer. This is because there are so many organizations working to help people all over the world (not only Haiti) that live in places where earthquakes are a common occurrence. It wouldn't be fair to say that just one of them is the answer to my question. But, I'll say that Engineering2Empower (E2E) is the best answer that I have found, with my limited research. Haiti was already a poor country before the earthquake hit, so once it did, their economy was in ruins. They were very lucky, as to have many people and organizations step up and donate money and supplies, but their economy took a huge hit, that would take a long time to recover from. If another earthquake with a magnitude this large struck again, I don't think they could ever recover from that for a very long time. A huge part of the reason why it would be hard to recover from is housing. It takes a long time to build a house, so many people were homeless for a while, until their house could be rebuilt. If E2E's design can save at least some houses from getting destroyed in the next possible earthquake, a lot of money will be saved rebuilding houses, especially because the design is very simple and low-cost.


International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)


Engineering for Change