Helen Clark: Remarks at the inauguration of the “Seismic risk reduction plan for northern Haiti”

23 Mar 2012

It is a pleasure to be in Cap-Haitien today at this ceremony to launch the project on “Seismic Risk Reduction Plan for Northern Haiti” developed by the Government of Haiti and UNDP.  

The project is an important part of the national-level “Roadmap to Seismic Safety” developed by the Government of Haiti and UNDP. That roadmap calls for an integrated approach to building resilience to earthquakes – from putting in place better hazard identification to strengthening response capacities. It encompasses improving construction standards and training, and building capacity for informed land use planning and for public education and outreach.

Overall, the aim of this flagship project is to build resilience and thereby reduce the vulnerability of the population and the local economy to future earthquakes. It is a joint venture between UNDP and the National System for Disaster Risk Reduction, under the Ministry of the Interior, and is funded by the Haiti Reconstruction Fund.

Much of the credit for this project goes to the Haitian Government, and in particular to the Ministry of the Interior. It fully appreciates the earthquake threat in northern Haiti, and has decided to embark on a proactive strategy to reduce the risk. Thanks must also go to the Haiti Reconstruction Fund for prioritizing funding for the project.

The earthquake which caused so much death and devastation in Haiti two years ago reminded us all how exposed the country is to seismic risk, and of the need to build greater resilience to it.

More than 150 years earlier, a magnitude 8 earthquake is estimated to have killed as many as half of the population of Cap Haitien, and caused tremendous damage to Port-de-Paix and Fort Liberté, as well as to the Dominican Republic.  While there is no way of telling when the next earthquake may occur, it is generally agreed that the level of threat in northern Haiti is high.

Northern Haiti is poised to play a growing role in the economic rebuilding of Haiti. Tourism here has great potential, thanks to the beautiful coastline and landscape, and to the rich cultural heritage of the region. Recent international investments in the Caracol-Fort Liberté economic development area suggest that manufacturing will also play an important role in creating jobs.

Northern Haiti’s people and its infrastructure need to be better protected from seismic risk - and from other natural disasters as wide-ranging as floods, hurricanes, landslides, or tsunamis. The “Seismic Risk Reduction Plan for Northern Haiti” to be developed is an important step in building disaster resilience.

The Government of Haiti and UNDP are already working together on seismic risk reduction in the Port-au-Prince region, on establishing seismic zoning, better construction practices, and training programmes for builders and engineers. The good practices from these initiatives in the Port-au-Prince region can be transferred to northern Haiti.  

We know from experience in other countries that there is no “silver bullet” solution which will rapidly reduce vulnerability to the impact of earthquakes, but that medium to long-term solutions to build greater resilience certainly exist, and will save lives and limit property damage if they are implemented.

In January 2010, I accompanied the Secretary General of the United Nations to Port-au-Prince just days after the earthquake, and personally witnessed the devastation. Those sad memories will always stay with me.  

In future, through better urban planning and building practices, seismic monitoring systems, and public education and outreach, it is to be hoped that seismic activity here will never again cause a tragedy resembling that of 12 January 2010.

The Ministry of the Interior, the local governments of the departments of the North, Haiti’s people, and UNDP and other international partners can help put in place effective disaster risk reduction measures, and thereby build resilience for the future.

At UNDP we are very committed to this work, and privileged to be part of it, including here in the north of Haiti.