Haiti: UNDP maps earth's shifts to rebuild city on safer grounds

18 Mar 2011

UNDP seismologist Eric Calais shows the seismic map
of Port-au-Prince (Photo: UNDP Haiti)

Port-au-Prince – The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has handed to the Haitian government a map of seismic hotspots in Port-au-Prince showing which zones are most susceptible to seismic shaking—a crucial tool for the reconstruction of the country’s capital, devastated after last year’s earthquake.

The map, the first of its kind for Port-au-Prince, was produced jointly by the Haitian government, the University of Texas and other international partners, including UNDP.

“To adapt to the impact of future earthquakes, two elements need to be known: first, the intensity of the threat, that is, how much shaking these events may produce,” explained Eric Calais, a UNDP seismologist.

“Second, we need to know what type of soil we are building on, because certain soils will amplify the shaking,” said Calais, a Professor of Geophysics at Purdue University, hired to evaluate seismic risks and develop a strategy to reduce the impact of future earthquakes.

Architects and engineers will use information about the city’s different soil types to help decide on safe designs for buildings or infrastructure and determine the quantity and type of material to be used.

The Haitian government, private sector and urban residents will also use the tool to build back more resilient structures and to help quantify costs, which will vary depending on ground stability levels in each zone.

The seismic zoning map will be further enhanced in a more detailed version to be completed by mid-2012. According to government officials, this first map continues to be vital since decision-making and planning for reconstruction are already under way.

(Map: UNDP)

“It is important to have this tool today because decisions on urban planning and infrastructure design that are being made need the basic information conveyed,” Calais said. “In addition to Port-au-Prince, the same work needs to be done for all the other urban areas exposed to earthquake threats in Haiti.” 

To further support the Haiti National System for Disaster Risk Reduction, UNDP is already working with the government to define the next generation of geological maps for Port-au-Prince. Other urban areas will follow, eventually providing complete information that will help plan and build a more earthquake-resilient Haiti.