Haiti earthquake – nation facts

As international recovery and aid efforts continue to gear up and mobilize to help the people of Haiti, here are some facts about the little, poor island nation and some of its challenges:

HISTORY:

The native Taino Amerindians – who inhabited the island of Hispaniola when it was discovered by Columbus in 1492 – were almost annihilated by Spanish settlers within 25 years. In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola. In 1697, Spain ceded to the French the western third of the island, which later became Haiti.

The French colony, based on forestry and sugar-related industries, became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean but only through the heavy importation of African slaves and much environmental degradation.

The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most of its history.

Columbus arrives in Haiti in 1492.

After an armed rebellion led to the forced resignation and exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004, an interim government took office to organize new elections under the auspices of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. Continued violence and technical delays prompted repeated postponements, but Haiti finally did inaugurate a democratically elected president and parliament in May of 2006.

– courtesy of  The CIA World Factbook

WHY THE EARTHQUAKE HIT SO HARD:

The Jan. 12, magnitude 7.0 earthquake which hit Haiti has claimed between an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 lives. A shoddy state of infrastructure which already existed there was decimated by the earthquake.

It was a shallow earthquake (about 10 kilometers below the surface), which is in the most destructive category; it was only 15 kms from the centre of Port-au-Prince, which is within the ‘near field’ of energy release; and it struck a densely populated area with extremely poor construction, reports a Newswise release.

The Haitian presidential palace in the nation's capital of Port-au-Prince, post and pre-quake. courtesy thaindian.com

“Although the city is practically on the fault that ruptured, the area had not experienced a severe earthquake for more than 100 years, so people had very little ‘earthquake consciousness’ which would translate into requiring earthquake-resistant design,” says Pedro de Alba, University of New Hampshire professor of civil engineering in a Newswise statement.

De Alba adds that reconstruction will be challenging given the great poverty of the majority of the population and the urgent need to provide shelter.

“Unfortunately, it is not only housing that will need a large investment, but also lifeline systems, as shown by near total failure of the water supply at this critical time.”

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