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    Haiti Earthquake — Looking for Lessons

    by Christine MacDonald

    Is the lesson of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake simply about poverty? Poverty and a lack of building regulation seem to be the main culprits identified in most media coverage to date. But ArchitectureWeek thinks there's more to the quake than that. — Editor

    The history of seismic engineering shows that significant improvements in life safety follow the analysis of many major earthquakes. Three months after Haiti was hit by one of the deadliest quakes in recorded history, what are architects and builders — as well as society at large — learning from the devastation that has wracked this tiny Caribbean country since January 12?

    Haiti's government estimates that as many as 230,000 people were killed by the magnitude-7.0 temblor, which pancaked government, commercial, and apartment buildings and tore apart shantytowns in the capital city of Port-au-Prince and in a surrounding arc of countryside. The estimated 1.3 million people who remain in displacement camps represent more than 14 percent of Haiti's 9 million residents.

    With the rainy season having started, international humanitarian groups are struggling just to distribute enough tarps and tents to provide basic refuge. As of mid-March, only about half of the homeless had received such waterproof shelters, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. That leaves about 600,000 people camped outside with little more than bed sheets and similar makeshift protection from the elements.

    A March 19 deluge in the capital swamped homeless camps, "sweeping screaming residents into eddies of water, overflowing latrines and panicking thousands," as reported by the Associated Press. Many in the international aid community are worried that disease could spread quickly through the overcrowded camps. The hurricane season, which officially begins June 1, could further complicate the country's humanitarian crisis.   >>>

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    About 50,000 internally displaced persons occupy a makeshift tent camp on the Pétionville Club golf course outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
    Photo: Sophia Paris/ Courtesy United Nations Extra Large Image

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    In the crowded conditions of the tent camps, adequate sanitation is a serious concern.
    Photo: Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG) Extra Large Image

     

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