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Earthquakes in Haiti

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August 17, 2021

Why in news?

A powerful earthquake (magnitude 7.2) killed hundreds and injured thousands more in Haiti (which faces frequent earthquakes).

Where is Haiti?

  • An island country located in the Caribbean Sea,on the island of Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles archipelago.
  • Bordered in land by the Dominican Republic in east.
  • Maritime borders with the Bahamas, Colombia, Cuba, and Jamaica.

What causes frequent quakes in Haiti?

  • Haits’sunique geology makes it seismically active and prone to devastating earthquakes.
  • Located near the intersection of two tectonic plates–the North American plate and the Caribbean plate.
  • Multiple fault lines between those plates cut through or near the island of Hispaniola.
  • Not all of those fault lines behave the same way; here, plates transition from smashing together to sliding past one another.

Plates move - Friction builds up - Resultant strain - Fault moves suddenly - Earthquake occurs

  • The recent earthquake likely occurred along the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone:
  1. cuts across Haiti’s southwestern Tiburon Peninsula
  2. the source of many earlier big earthquakes in Haiti

  • Other reasons
  • High population density of 11 million people.
  • Typical concrete and cinder block buildings designed to withstand hurricanes but are vulnerable to collapse when the ground shakes.
  • Given the factors, it is much a natural hazard that overlaps with a vulnerable design and system, and not really a natural disaster.

What are the challenges?

  • Financial challenges in constructing more earthquake-resistant buildings:
  1. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
  2. It is still recovering from the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
  • Lack of political will, centralized effort and funding to build earthquake-resistant structures, despite the availability of technical knowledge, trained architects and city planners.
  • Political instability following recent assassination of Haiti’s President JovenelMoïse.
  • NGOs focus on their own compartmentalized projects; no coordination.
  • More quakes may be ahead as 2010 earthquake was said to mark the beginning of a new cycle of large earthquakes on the Enriquillo fault system after 240 years of seismic dormancy.


Source: The Indian Express, NPR

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