Five years ago the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince came tumbling down in an earthquake that measured 7 on the Richter scale. Estimates of the death toll varied from 65,575 to 200,000 or more.
Over 1,300 schools and colleges and over 50 hospitals and health centres collapsed or were left unusable.The earthquake also led to the introduction of cholera into the country resulting in some 9,000 deaths so far.
Nonetheless, there has been progress in the last five years. Most of the 1.5 million people left homeless by the quake have been resettled. Thousands of new homes as well as hospitals, schools and roads have been built.
UN country director Sophie de Caen, says: “Over 88 percent of children are going to school, we’ve seen improvement in the weight of children, and we’ve seen a drastic improvement with some aspects of housing and civil protection.”
Often known as “the Republic of NGOs”, the focus of most preparedness efforts at the time of the earthquake was on the Atlantic hurricane season which often affects the country. An earthquake was not on many people’s radar.
This underlines an enduring truth which will be debated again 60 days from now at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, the intimate links between poverty and disaster losses.
Poor countries are least able to invest in disaster risk reduction, often lacking even basic services such as a functioning meteorology department or the power to enforce building codes. Time perhaps for the international community to invest more in preparedness than response, or shift the balance at least?
A good place to start would be more funding for the ten-year plan requesting $2.2 billion for the long-term eradication of cholera through large-scale development of public health and sanitation infrastructure.
Denis McClean is Chief of Communications and Outreach at UNISDR. Previously, he worked for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on emergencies and DRR programmes in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.