Earthquake in Haiti

A member of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) distributes relief supplies.
Swiss Humanitarian Aid sent a total of 170 tonnes of relief supplies to Haiti during the emergency phase. © SDC

On 12 January 2010, a magnitude 7 earthquake struck Haiti, killing 230,000 people and leaving 1.5 million homeless. To assist the victims, Swiss Humanitarian Aid launched the largest emergency aid exercise in its history. Today, it continues to provide assistance with reconstruction and risk management.

In January 2010, Swiss Humanitarian Aid responded as soon as the scale of the damage caused by the earthquake was known. A team of 150 experts from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) was deployed rapidly to the affected areas. The experts were active in various fields: water, hygiene, medicine, construction, coordination and logistics.

The earthquake caused unprecedented devastation. The death toll to date is at least 230,000, with a further 300,000 injured. Nearly 1.5 million people lost their homes. Many Haitians suffered physical and mental trauma.

First phase of assistance: emergency relief

Swiss Humanitarian Aid dispatched a total of 170 tonnes of relief supplies to assist the earthquake victims. As well as tents, tarpaulins, mosquito nets, water containers and kitchen sets, a field hospital complete with operating tables, medical supplies and medical equipment was airlifted from Switzerland to Haiti. The SHA experts were responsible for receiving and distributing the relief supplies. The number of victims, the extreme poverty of the country and the lamentable state of the roads posed major challenges, particularly in terms of safety/security and logistics.

In the first months after the disaster, Swiss doctors from the SHA cared for over 800 patients, performing 620 operations and assisting with around 100 births, many of them by Caesarean section. Many lives were saved.

The Swiss experts dispatched to Haiti distributed survival kits and equipment to build temporary shelters. As most of the capital's water distribution centres had been destroyed, they also set up around 50 drinking water points, which provided up to 50,000 people a day with drinkable water. Tents were erected outside a number of destroyed schools to allow classes to continue.

Haiti 2010: Swiss Humanitarian Aid operation after the earthquake (Video)

Second phase of assistance: sustainable reconstruction

Rehabilitating school infrastructure was the focus for Swiss Humanitarian Aid in its second phase of assistance. In March 2010, the Federal Council decided to allocate CHF 36 million for the reconstruction effort in Haiti. An additional CHF 66 million was made available through donations to Swiss Solidarity and its partner organisations.

Swiss Humanitarian Aid provided assistance in close coordination with the Haitian authorities and the international community. The SDC was the first organisation to obtain permission from the Haitian education ministry to build permanent schools after the earthquake. Work to rebuild two schools began in January 2011 to the west of Port-au-Prince. Five years after the earthquake, three schools have been built and handed over to the Haitian authorities. Another six projects are under way. A total of 7,900 schoolchildren will benefit from these new structures and there are plans to rebuild a number of other schools by 2017. All of the buildings meet standards on earthquake and hurricane resistance, thereby reducing the vulnerability of local people to natural hazards.

Technical support and training in reconstruction

In July 2010, the SDC opened a Competence Centre for Reconstruction (CCR) in Port-au-Prince, comprising SHA and private-sector experts. The CCR participates in planning and implementing SDC projects, as well as providing support and advice to the Haitian partners and government institutions involved in reconstruction work. The CCR supports the Haitian ministry of public works in developing and disseminating key messages about simple construction techniques. It informs and raises awareness among the general public about earthquake- and hurricane-resistant building methods.

On the initiative of the SDC, an inter-institutional technical group was established in late 2011 to draw up blueprints for the design of schools. SHA architects developed three such standard designs – using reinforced concrete for two- to three-storey buildings in urban areas, chained masonry for single-storey buildings in rural areas, and timber frames for remote and inaccessible regions. A ministerial decree of April 2014 designated these three blueprints as national standards and the SDC now plays a leading role in the thematic exchange platform responsible for their application.

Another of the CCR's key objectives is local capacity-building. In collaboration with the National Vocational Training Institute (INFP), the centre developed training modules for bricklayers and bricklaying trainers. Over 550 bricklayers and 50 trainers gained advanced training certificates between April 2011 and January 2014. A series of theoretical and practical workshops were also organised for engineers from the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training to familiarise them with the principles of earthquake- and hurricane-resistant construction.

On this basis, the CCR launched in 2014 a project aimed at reducing and managing the risks of natural disasters. It seeks to disseminate a 'mixed' risk analysis method (both scientific and participatory) and to develop prevention measures. Additional national experts will be trained as part of the project.

A member of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) talks to Haitian trainees.
The Competence Centre for Reconstruction (CCR) attached to the SDC office in Port-au-Prince trained 550 bricklayers and 50 bricklaying trainers between April 2011 and January 2014. © SDC

The SDC's reconstruction activities in Haiti are supported by parallel projects aimed at strengthening the rule of law and food security. Haiti has been a priority assistance country for the SDC since 2013.

SDC commitment in Haiti