Saturday, January 17, 2015

Message from the CDEMA Executive Director on the 5h Anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake

Five years ago on January 12, 2010, CDEMA was called to respond to the most catastrophic event in the history of the Agency. Haiti, a member of the CDEMA family had been struck by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. This was the strongest earthquake recorded in this part of the Caribbean region. Over 300,000 persons died and extensive damage to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and outlying districts left close to three (3) million people displaced. 

As we remember that sad day for the people of Haiti, let us pause a moment to reflect on the lessons and consider the positive steps taken thus far to reduce vulnerability and exposure within the countries of the Region. We must also consider outstanding measures still to be implemented and where these exist, we must seek to urgently advance them. The importance of enhancing personal readiness and resilience to cope with, respond to and recover from this hazard must also be a focus. 

The Caribbean region’s geological makeup causes hundreds of earthquakes to occur within the region each year. There is no doubt, however, that the Haiti earthquake was a strong and grim reminder of the vulnerability of the Caribbean to seismic activity and to be always prepared for a major earthquake event.

One of the major lessons of the event is the need for safer building standards to be applied, monitored and enforced and this will be the focus my message on the 5th Anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake. 

Poorly built infrastructure in a heavily populated urban area contributed to the significant loss of life and destruction of houses in Haiti. Reports have indicated that housing accounted for more than 40% of total damage costs in and was estimated at US $739 million. 

The impact on housing has also been noted in other hazards events across the region. A UN/ECLAC country assessment showed that between 1990-2008 most of the countries reviewed experienced damage to housing and human settlements ranging between 35% to 99% of the total national damage costs incurred as a result of natural disasters. Hurricane Ivan resulted in over US$500 million in damage to the housing sector in Grenada and US$180 million in Jamaica and in Guyana the floods of 2005 caused an estimated US$275 million in damage to housing. 

It is therefore imperative that we recognize that safer building practices need to be emphasized to limit the loss of life and property and minimize the disruption to our overall development process. 

The instituting of Building Codes needs to be a national priority. These Codes must be kept up to date, legislated and enforced in all of our Participating States. 

CDEMA has developed a Regional Code of Practice for the Construction of Houses Course and has delivered it in Haiti and other CDEMA Participating States. 

This course targets persons who are involved in the building trade and training has been supported by United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) and Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) under the Comprehensive Disaster Management - Harmonised Implementation Programme (CDM-HIP). 

I urge all of our Participating States to promote safer building programmes and to encourage the certification of builders. Homeowners are key stakeholders and as such, continuous public education and awareness on building practices will help to inform them on what is required to reduce the impact to their properties from earthquakes and other hazards events. 

As we observe this event, I wish to assure Haiti and our other Participating States that the CDEMA Coordinating Unit will continue to advocate and support efforts in building resilient states to safeguard lives and properties. 

I also take this opportunity to acknowledge and commend the government and people of Haiti in their efforts at rebuilding the country and in adopting a comprehensive approach to disaster risk management.

Ronald JacksonExecutive Director

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