In October 1989, a 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit San Francisco and less than 70 people died. In January 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and 230,000 people died.
The difference? Port-au-Prince could not afford to make its buildings earthquake-resistant while San Francisco could.
The need for sturdier buildings in Haiti is the next challenge for rebuilding after the quake. As the hurricane season approaches, hundreds of thousands of displaced earthquake survivors will need to find shelter.
One organization has this long-term goal in mind, even as it currently provides for the immediate needs of the earthquake survivors. Christian Aid Ministries (CAM), an Anabaptist organization based in Ohio, has been making sure that survivors get the food, water, temporary shelter, and medical attention they need while also looking ahead to see how it can help the country rebuild and ensure that the destruction of Jan. 12 does not happen again.
David Leid, CAM's assistant project manager, has worked on rebuilding projects in Haiti before the quake and recognizes the problems that led to the collapse of so many buildings last month.
"You need plenty of cement and steel reinforcements to build houses, and before [the quake] they would skimp on that," he said.
In building houses, cement is the part of concrete that holds everything together, but it is also the most expensive part. When a builder does not have enough money to build in this impoverished county, the tendency is to make concrete blocks without much cement, which end up crumbling more easily.
Houses also need steel reinforcing bars to keep the structure sturdy, and in order to cut costs, builders in Haiti often do not put enough of these reinforcements in their buildings.
In addition to cutting corners because of poverty in the region, the Haitian government also does not enforced building codes, leading to substandard housing being built and a heightened death toll.
Rebuilding will be phase two of CAM's Haiti Relief Project, and may not begin until fall because of more urgent needs in the country. Plus, before CAM can begin rebuilding, the debris needs to be cleared away, and more importantly, the organization needs to find a way to determine who owns what land.
"We only feel good building where people own the land and when things are all leveled that has to be sorted through," Leid said. "Our experience is that it'll take some time to get everything in place."
When it does come time to begin building, CAM will supervise and provide materials while the local communities build their own houses. The organization stresses the importance of getting the local people actively engaged in the construction process because it gives the community pride of ownership of the project and creates jobs to many of the unemployed.
There will also be a micro-loan system in place to help earthquake survivors start their own small businesses. Many of the local people have lost their jobs as the factories have been damaged by the quake. With a low interest loan and classes on starting small business, Haitians have a chance to make a living. From there, the organization plans on rebuilding clinics, schools, and churches.
Leid sees his work at CAM as a way to let God's light shine and help people in need: "To me, it's all part of being a Christian, and I'm one of the fortunate one who can do this type of thing all the time."
Since the quake, Christian Aid Ministries has been focusing on relief work to care for the basic needs of Haitians. For example so far CAM has provided:
- Shelter: 10,000 tarps and 1,000 comforters for the displaced to sleep on.
- Food and water: Thousands of food parcels and 18,900 gallons of water.
- Medical attention: Sea-containers full of medical supplies and a hospital with about 20 patients.
- Spiritual needs: Thousands of Bible story books and gospel tracts.
'Still in shock' | Haiti is hit by a massive earthquake followed by aftershocks, with an epicenter near the capital, Port-au-Prince | Mindy Belz and Jamie Dean | Jan. 12, 2010
Helping Haiti | WORLD provides a list of relief organizations accepting donations to assist earthquake victims in Haiti | The Editors | Jan. 13, 2010
Search and rescue | U.S. disaster experts, the U.S. military, and private relief groups head to earthquake-devastated Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 13, 2010
In the dark | Haitian-Americans hope to contact loved ones and quickly send aid back home to family and friends | Alisa Harris | Jan. 13, 2010
Weeping and waiting | Haitian earthquake victims await help, but obstacles slow relief efforts | Jamie Dean | Jan. 14, 2010
Desperation | Too many Haitians are in a holding pattern awaiting aid, as relief organizations try to make progress | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Long night | With tens of thousands of casualties, Haitians weep and wait for morning | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Deliverance | A group of orphans arrive safely in Pittsburgh while relief organizations report progress in Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 19, 2010
Crying for help | Hard-pressed Haitians seek assistance as aid groups face logistical challenges | Jamie Dean | Jan. 21, 2010
Leaving Port | Beyond the capital city are rural communities equally devastated by the quake and in need of help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
The new normal | As life and death continue their morbid mingling, relief groups forge ahead to help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
Finding home | Now that search-and-rescue efforts have been called off, attention turns to providing shelter for survivors | Jamie Dean | Jan. 23, 2010
Chaotic aid | Relief groups attempt to help Haitians despite murky rules, government interference, and the lack of a cohesive plan | Jamie Dean | Jan. 28, 2010
Aftershock | Caregivers predict a second wave of death, as Haitians find moments of deliverance amid days of devastation from one of the modern world's worst natural disasters | Jamie Dean | Jan. 29, 2010
Homecoming | For Haitians orphaned before the quake, it means leaving home and starting over | Alisa Harris | Jan. 29, 2010
Crisis giving | Instant need calls for long-term strategy | Rusty Leonard | Jan. 29, 2010
An indecent grief | First lamentations, then comfort that strengthens more than soothes | Mindy Belz | Jan. 29, 2010
Hope for Haiti? (audio file) | Hear WORLD news editor Jamie Dean discuss her visit to the earthquake-ravaged country | Nick Eicher | Feb. 1, 2010
Despair and salvation | While the UN grapples with unruly crowds, The Salvation Army peacefully distributes food | Jamie Dean | Feb. 2, 2010
Crossing lines | Failing to heed sound advice, 10 Americans now find themselves facing kidnapping charges in Haiti | Jamie Dean | Feb. 4, 2010
Haiti's plight (audio file) | A discussion of the country's days of devastation and moments of deliverance | Jamie Dean | Feb. 5, 2010
Stress management | Helping Haitians recover takes zeal-with wisdom | Jamie Dean | Feb. 12, 2010
Taking charge | In quake aftermath, build new cities, says Haitian ambassador (and Bible translator) Raymond Joseph | Mindy Belz | Feb. 12, 2010
Houses of God | Grand-Goave, Haiti | The Editors | Feb. 12, 2010
Living water | Water Missions International offers long-term solutions for clean, drinkable water | Angela Lu | Feb. 13, 2010
Close quarters | ActionAid helps homeless Haitians deal with sanitation and security issues at camps set up in Port-au-Prince | Angela Lu | Feb. 23, 2010
Hardest hit | With nearly half a million orphaned children before the quake, Haiti's challenge to parent them just got bigger | Jamie Dean | Feb. 26, 2010
The search for miracles | Port-au-Prince is a city desperately seeking turnaround-and that's before the earthquake | Jamie Dean | March 12, 2010
Hope in the darkness | World Hope International offers Haitians practical assistance and spiritual guidance | Angela Lu | March 24, 2010
Night crawlers | A new disaster threatens defenseless women and children in Haitian tent cities: rape | Jamie Dean | March 25, 2010
Homecoming | Missionary Patrick Lataillade, who nearly died in the quake, returned to help Haitians this week | Angela Lu | March 27, 2010
Hashing out Haiti | As the UN makes recovery plans, Haitians struggle for the basic necessities for survival | Jamie Dean | March 31, 2010