Haiti Death Toll Rises to 230,000; CCRIF, CIMH Study Future Disaster Mitigation Efforts

February 10, 2010

The appalling loss of life from the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 has now been estimated by the government to exceed 230,000. The figure is an approximation, as the exact number may never be known.

But it is becoming clear that the death toll in this small country is approximately the same as the number of dead from the tsunami, which struck Indonesia, Thailand and other Asian countries in 2004.

Unfortunately, Haiti’s troubles may not be over. The vast tent cities and other makeshift shelters, which now house surviving earthquake victims, are under imminent threat from floods and mudslides when the rainy season begins. There is also the possibility that the island will once again be struck by a major hurricane, as the season for tropical cyclones approaches.

In light of these concerns, the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) and the Caribbean Institute for Hydrology and Meteorology (CIMH) announced that they “will extend support to Haiti in its long-term recovery and reconstruction efforts, particularly in hazard mitigation and future disaster prevention.”

The CCRIF said it would “support CIMH in making available tools and data to help planners and relief workers in Haiti to make better decisions about where to re-settle the citizens of Haiti and re-build infrastructure to minimize people’s exposure to flooding and landslides, especially in light of the upcoming hurricane season.”

Haiti’s population is among the most vulnerable in the world to rainfall, flooding and landslide hazards. The CCRIF noted that Margareta Wahlstrom, United Nations representative for disaster risk reduction, recently warned: “There are probably 200,000 families without a roof.” She called for the international community to take measures so that “their disaster, that has already destroyed much of their life, is not exacerbated further.”

The CCRIF and CIMH have been conducting studies of the potential impact heavy rains may have on many areas of the country since the earthquake struck. Dr. David Farrell, Principal of CIMH, explained that they would “provide early warning for potential heavy rainfall events over major watersheds, especially those in the earthquake impacted areas. This data is important for informing rescue and recovery efforts in earthquake-impacted areas and indicating hydrometeorological risks to resettlement camps, especially those in, or close to, low lying areas and stream channels.”

In addition to the weather model, CIMH will be developing simple surface water flow models for key drainage basins to delineate the extent of probable flooding. These models, in conjunction with the historical rainfall record derived from the CCRIF Caribbean rainfall model, will be refined to develop flood hazard maps for critical basins.

“CCRIF and CIMH view their support for Haiti at this time as a fundamental opportunity to contribute to Haiti’s sustainable and resilient reconstruction and as part of the organizations’ corporate social responsibility for contributing to the sustainable prosperity of Caribbean countries,” said the joint bulletin.

The two organizations are hosting representatives from the Caribbean disaster management, meteorological and finance communities at a workshop in Barbados later this month to learn about the new CCRIF/CIMH rainfall model and to review the role of CCRIF and the level of coverage currently provided to CARICOM Governments within a broader risk management framework and in the light of the level of impact seen from the earthquake in Haiti.

Sources: news reports, the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility – www.ccrif.org and the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology – www.cimh.edu.bb

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