When the devastating earthquake of 2010 struck Haiti, 24-hour rolling news carried heartbreaking stories of destroyed lives and livelihoods. Images of rubble and destruction shocked the world - all that remained of large parts of the country. The sheer scale was unprecedented: 230,000 people killed, 300,000 injured and 1.5million displaced.
The global offer of support was instant and almost overwhelming. Governments, charities, and individuals responded with time, money and people.
Haiti's suffering did not end with the quake. When Hurricane Sandy ripped through the US and Caribbean in 2012, people still living in camps following the earthquake were vulnerable to the full force of the storm. Work to rebuild Haiti's fragile infrastructure was disrupted.
The eyes of the world may now be turned elsewhere, but Haiti remains one of the most vulnerable places on earth, battered repeatedly by earthquakes, cyclones, floods, landslides, drought, and epidemics. Hurricanes routinely knock up to 15% from GDP. The total volume of humanitarian aid to Haiti since 2001 exceeds $4billion.
The challenge ahead is stark. The 2012 Climate Change Vulnerability Index lists Haiti as the country most vulnerable to climate change. Rather than waiting for the next disaster to hit, what can we do now to stop Haiti's susceptibility to these events?
Due to action by the government of Haiti and partners, progress has been made. Over 2,500 people were killed in hurricanes in 2004. Improved early warning systems and evacuation procedures led to last year's toll being under 80. Combating disaster risk is at the heart of the Government of Haiti's new development plan.
Consensus is growing that advance investment in building resilience is the smart approach to development. Put simply, this means helping the most vulnerable better withstand shocks and get back on their feet quickly when disaster strikes. It means improving safety by making buildings earthquake proof, and factoring risks into urban planning. It means reducing physical impact by installing proper drainage and investing in reforestation to prevent landslides and flooding. And it means engaging the private sector to help reduce the financial impact, with better insurance and job availability.
Finding ways to limit the impact of disasters not only save lives, it saves money too. A recent study in Kenya found that every $1 invested in building resilience saved $2.90 in reduced humanitarian aid.
Key development partners such as the UK, US, EU, the World Bank, and the UN have committed to put disaster risk at the heart of development investment. The Political Champions on Disaster Resilience was created - an international ministerial-level group looking at how to put this into practice.
Haiti is a good place to start.
We are travelling to Haiti this Sunday with representatives from the Political Champions, to see how the international community can support the government to reduce Haiti's vulnerability to disasters. This will mean backing the government's inclusion of disaster risk in their development plans, making sure donors commit to integrating disaster resilience in their investments in Haiti, and putting all this into practice on the ground.
But it's also a matter of addressing those still suffering from previous disasters. Though there has been a substantial reduction from the original 1.5million persons displaced after the 2010 earthquake, over 320,000 people remain in camp, many of them girls and women. They are particularly vulnerable - displacement into camps increases the threat of violence and rape. Protecting them is crucial.
Support needs to be given to improving physical safety for girls and women, with the provision of safe spaces, with better quality emergency shelter and well-lit communal areas. It should also help with aftercare for victims of violence, providing medical and psychological support along with initiatives to reduce the stigma of rape.
Limiting the impact of disasters globally requires comprehensive approaches to managing the political, environmental, and economic risks, and forging much closer links between development, humanitarian, and private sector investments.
With the frequency and severity of natural disasters likely to increase, managing their risks should no longer be seen as a humanitarian endeavor, but rather as a development one. Sitting on the sidelines while countries like Haiti are prevented from developing their potential by recurring natural disasters is not an option.
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