Haiti: ten years after the earthquake

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Article, 10.01.2020

On 12 January 2010, a magnitude 7 earthquake struck Haiti, claiming more than 200,000 lives and leaving 1.5 million people homeless. The SDC responded with the largest emergency humanitarian operation in its history. Ten years on, large numbers of Haitians are still traumatised. In the last ten years, the SDC has carried out a range of humanitarian and development aid activities to assist the people of Haiti.

A man walking past a group of houses reduced to rubble.
The 2010 earthquake in Haiti took a heavy toll in human lives and property. © SDC

In January 2010, Swiss Humanitarian Aid responded as soon as the scale of the damage caused by the earthquake was known. It dispatched a total of 170 tonnes of relief supplies to assist the victims. A team of 150 experts from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) was quickly deployed to the affected areas. The experts were active in various fields: water, hygiene, medicine, construction, coordination and logistics.

Emergency aid followed by sustainable reconstruction

In the first months after the disaster, Swiss doctors from the SHA cared for over 800 patients, performing 620 operations and delivering around one hundred babies. The Swiss experts distributed survival kits and equipment to build temporary shelters. They also set up around 50 water points, which provided 50,000 people with drinking water each day.  Tents were erected outside a number of destroyed schools to allow classes to continue.

In March 2010, the Federal Council decided to allocate CHF 36 million for the reconstruction effort in Haiti. In July of that year, the SDC opened a Competence Centre for Reconstruction in Port-au-Prince, comprising SHA and private-sector experts.

The SDC focused its efforts on rebuilding school infrastructure. It was the first organisation to obtain permission from the Haitian education ministry to build permanent schools after the earthquake. It is building 12 schools and at the same time training over 1,000 masons. All of the buildings meet standards for earthquake and hurricane resistance, thereby reducing the vulnerability of local people to natural hazards.

Earthquake-resistant construction in Haiti

Poverty: the other major challenge

Switzerland's humanitarian activities provided vital assistance to the survivors of the disaster. But Haiti was – and still is – mired in extreme poverty. The Caribbean island is one of the poorest countries in the world. In 2012, two years after the earthquake, 60% of Haitians were living below the poverty line of USD 2.41 per day.

From 2013, Haiti became a priority country for Swiss cooperation. The SDC has launched a range of long-term development programmes in Haiti. The aim is to improve the living conditions of the population in a sustainable manner, reduce poverty and strengthen local government administration.

The SDC expects that within a few years, the resources it allocates to development aid will match those spent on humanitarian aid. The SDC supports numerous projects focused on good governance, agriculture and food security, and employment and economic development.

Video testimony of a teacher involved in community development (fr)

Another disaster in 2016

On 4 October 2016, Haiti was once again struck by a natural disaster. Winds exceeding 250km/h battered south-western Haiti, causing major damage and claiming hundreds of lives. Flooding and landslides caused by torrential rain exacerbated the situation. As it had done after the earthquake in 2010, Swiss Humanitarian Aid again sent teams and equipment to the island. The schools it had built after the earthquake withstood Hurricane Matthew and were used as shelters for the population during and after the disaster.

Hurricane Matthew in Haiti – Switzerland's involvement

Given Haiti's vulnerability to natural hazards and the unstable socio-political situation, the SDC has adopted a complementary approach, combining humanitarian aid and development cooperation activities. This philosophy forms the basis of Switzerland's cooperation strategy in Haiti until 2021.