After Hurricane Matthew, How Will Haiti’s Infrastructure Hold Up?

“It’s not only the wind that we need to worry about – it’s really the water.”

By Laura RiceOctober 5, 2016 1:13 pm| ,

Hurricane Matthew roared across Haiti yesterday, damaging and destroying already inadequate infrastructure. Reports today that aid workers are having trouble getting to the worst areas, parts of the country that never fully recovered after the devastating earthquake there six years ago.

Ellen Rathje, a civil engineering professor at UT-Austin’s Cockrell School, traveled to Haiti after the 2010 quake. Haiti’s geography exacerbates problems with hurricanes, Rathje says. Rain runs downhill into rivers flooding their banks and causing damage to bridges.

“Haiti is right there on the coast but it’s also quite mountainous terrain,” she says. “It’s not only the wind that we need to worry about – it’s really the water.”

Structures are unsuited to stand up against both hurricanes and earthquakes, both of which are common in Haiti.

“A lot of the damage and death tolls in the Haiti earthquake was due to these structures that were built relatively well for hurricanes but not as well for earthquakes,” she says.

Houses made of concrete can withstand hurricanes, she says, but if those structures aren’t reinforced, they fail during earthquakes. Another problem is density for communities built on steep hills.

“You can imagine when you have all this rain from the hurricanes,” Rathje says, “those hillside encampments are very treacherous.”

Haiti’s facilities weren’t equipped for 2010 earthquake and much of the medical help came in from the U.S. and Europe. In the six years since the earthquake, Haiti hasn’t had the resources to improve its infrastructure.

Post by Betsy Joles.