On Tuesday January 12 2010, a 7.0 Richter scale earthquake, off the coast of Haiti destroyed its capital Port-au-Prince. It also razed the cities of Leogane, Petit-Goave, Grand-Goave, Jacmel, and Les Cayes. It came as a terrible unexpected shock to one of the poorest countries in the world, that is still staggering from three hurricanes and a tropical storm that wrecked almost 70 per cent of its agriculture in 2008. The fatalities so far, according to Haitian officials, amount to more than 200,000 people. No material toll has been made public yet but according to Haiti's head of government, Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive, around 60 per cent of the country's GDP has been reduced to rubble.
The challenge of reconstructing Haiti today and into the future is how to manage, if not reduce, its vulnerability to natural hazards--and the vulnerability of its people to poverty in the case of natural hazards--and how to strengthen the resilience to adverse shocks.
Haiti's vulnerability to natural hazards is well known. The most recent earthquake was the third to have destroyed Port-au-Prince since 1750. Like many small island states (see further reading), it is frequently affected by hurricanes. As documented in the UNU-WIDER study 'Vulnerability in Developing Countries', Haiti was the Caribbean country worst affected by natural hazards between 1990 and 2006, when it suffered 28 natural disasters.
Moreover, in Haiti the vulnerability to natural hazards translates into a vulnerability to poverty, i.e. the probability of falling into poverty or to remain in that state. Thus although poverty is high-75 per cent of its population is estimated to live on less than $2 USD per day--if one considers vulnerability to poverty the number is higher and approximately 84 per cent of the population is poor.
Haiti's vulnerabilities cannot be addressed without taking into consideration that the country's GDP is unequally distributed. According to the Gini-index, Haiti's score of 0.65 (in 2001) makes it the most unequal country in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region (Haiti Living Conditions Survey 2001). High inequality has fostered distributional conflicts in this Caribbean nation from peasant massacres (e.g. the Jean-Rabel 1987 massacre) to various coup-detats.
As far as the Human Development Index (HDI) is concerned, Haiti is ranked at 149 out of 182 countries. Between 1950 and 2008 GDP growth averaged 1.25 per cent per annum, which was the worst performance among LAC countries. In terms of per capita income, as Table 1 shows, the situation is even more inauspicious with per capita income only about ten per cent of that of the average for the LAC region. Table 1 further compares Haiti's socioeconomic status (before the earthquake) with that of the LAC region.
Table 1. Selected socioeconomic statistics for Haiti and the LAC region Haiti LAC Population as of 2010 (in thousands) 10.089 Urban population (2010) 45.3% 79.4% GDP per capita (in US dollars currant 2008) 735 7,272 Illiteracy rate (2010) 41.1% 83% Fertility rate (2005-2010) 35 23 Under 5 mortality rate (2008) 72 23 Life expectancy at birth (2005-2010) 60.6 73.4 Child malnutration (2008) 22%...