Earthquakes rarely result in mass casualties. Although earthquakes themselves are reasonably common, only a handful over the last decade have resulted in widespread loss of life.
In 2010 there were approximately 20 earthquakes around the world at least as powerful as the one that struck Haiti, the majority of which resulted in no fatalities at all.
So why did approximately 250,000 people die in Haiti on January 12th?
The answer lies in the old adage: earthquakes don’t kill people, falling buildings do.
Earthquakes may be natural occurrences but the fact is that they do not affect all people equally. Haiti was an example of the sad truth about earthquakes: the poorer you are, the more likely you are to die.
Low quality buildings were the principle cause of death in Haiti five years ago. When the earth shook, the buildings simply collapsed on top of people.
People in Haiti all tell tragic stories of friends or family members killed by collapsing schools, shops or houses. Many people going about their day simply didn’t stand a chance.
In responding to the earthquake, one of Trócaire’s principle concerns was ensuring that the houses we built could withstand similar earthquakes in the future. Thanks to support from people in Ireland, we have been able to provide earthquake-resistant houses to 10,889 people in Haiti.
In total, our programmes in Haiti have benefited 95,711 people.
Our programmes have focused on both short-term relief and long-term development. As well as providing shelter, food and medicine in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, we have funded education, housing and training programmes that will benefit people in the long-term.
Crucially, our programmes have been carried out in partnership with local communities, creating 3,000 jobs for Haitians in both the agricultural and construction industries. The houses we have funded were all built using 100% local materials and workers.
While the need for housing was the most obvious and pressing concern in Haiti following the earthquake, our response also focused on issues that often get forgotten in the aftermath of a major emergency.
For example, birth certificates and official identification forms were destroyed in the earthquake, leaving many people unable to access certain services. We successfully obtained new official documents for 7,185 people.
Likewise, trauma can be a major issue for people that can have long-term implications. We funded trauma counselling for 20,000 people, helping them to cope with and move on from the pain of January 12th, 2010.
None of this work would be possible without the support of people in Ireland, who rallied behind the Haitian people and supported our response efforts in huge numbers.
That support has had a big impact in rebuilding lives and protecting against future disasters.