Haiti: The Impacts of the 2010 Earthquake on Water and Sanitation in Port-au-Prince (#469)

On January 12th, 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit a point 15 km southwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It led to more than 230 000 deaths and significant physical destructions. The response actions were limited by the underlying vulnerabilities that existed in the country prior to the event and by a lack of coordination among decision-makers. This study intended to improve the understanding of policy-makers, water and sanitation practitioners and researchers on the actions that have been taken and their outcomes in the water and sanitation sector in Port-au-Prince. It revealed that weak governance coupled with poor infrastructure can result in catastrophic scenarios after the occurrence of a disaster.


The Water and Sanitation sector was already weakened by some underlying vulnerabilities that existed in country prior to the earthquake; inexistence of a proper sewage and solid waste treatment system, weak water resources governance and so on. As a result, the earthquake was followed by one of the most important cholera outbreak in modern history. Haiti, unaffected by earthquakes in almost 200 years, did not have any guidance governing what to do in such circumstance.

To address the issues of water and sanitation, government agencies, multi-lateral institutions and Non-governmental Organizations initiated several actions in Port-au-Prince. However, because of the absence of proper coordination among these institutions, limited inclusion of local people and poor infrastructure the actions resulted in a low focus on environmental issues, low level of information sharing and community engagement.

Post-disaster decisions and actions

Providing water and sanitation services was perceived as priority response to the cataclysm by many NGOs who immediately worked with the Water and Sanitation National Directorate (DINEPA) to re-establish water distribution.

To deal with sanitation issues, several approaches have been observed encompassing the use of pit latrines, raised latrines over plastic containers, and composting toilets.

To tackle the challenges of cholera 9 months after the quake, activities to build capacities within DINEPA were carried out by several international institutions. The national government conjointly with Dominican Republic designed a 2013-2022 plan to eradicate cholera from the island.

Lessons learnt

Responding approaches to disasters of such magnitude should integrate local context and capacities in decision-making process. Local people, even if severely devastated, can still retain some capacities.

Waiting to have complete information to take actions may not be useful if it comes too late. It may be better to take initiatives when fairly reliable information is available because this practice is definitely time consuming.

Following such a disaster, the planning approaches should aim attention at building on local resilience at the earliest stage of response actions. The actions should focus on empowering locals themselves, to be able to systematically evaluate and solve their own problems. Those initiatives should not be short-sighted, they should look further than the immediate noticeable and target the population as a whole.

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