Archive for the ‘Haiti’ Category

Signs of Rebuilding in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Author: Chris Oxner, Market Analyst, IEM
Reports from the ground in Haiti

The mountains and hills of Port-au-Prince are surprising.  I didn’t expect to the find the city located in such beautiful environs.  And anytime I start thinking about the natural beauty of a place, I like to imagine what the first people to see it thought.  Like at the end of The Great Gatsby when Nick is thinking about Gatsby’s house and then he “gradually became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world.” Here, you might think of Columbus and his crews or later Spanish sailors.  But long before Europeans arrived there were people living on the island and beholding the splendors of hill, mountain, and ocean.  All over Port-au-Prince you’ll see the name Quisqueya – on schools and buildings and in the names of organizations.  It’s a very old word.  Older than the European explorers.  This is what the people already living here called the island before anyone else arrived.  People likely migrated across the sea to Quisqueya from the Yucatan and found it a paradise.  The word means “mother of all lands” or “mother of the earth.”

Haiti earthquake picture of damage in Port-au-Prince

Earthquake damage still visible in Port-au-Prince

Driving around Port-au-Prince today there is still a lot of destruction.  And some progress.  I saw a field of bricks baking in the sun.  New bricks being made for new construction.  Rubble has been moved into piles so that most streets are passable.  As far as I can tell there are no rules of the road for Haitians, so if the gap is wide enough between the car in front of you and the oncoming vehicle, you can just shoot the gap and hop in front of the car that was in front of you.  The presidential palace is a sad sight.  I could imagine how splendid and dignified it had looked before the earthquake; now it’s a complete wreck.  There are incredible sights of buildings leaning over to their seeming limit.  People everywhere selling goods on the streets – people lining every street.  I wondered where they get the goods in the first place, and I learned that for many of them – the women – these are microfinancing programs.  They go down to the port to buy wholesale some merchandise (shoes, soap, etc.) and then sell it on the streets for a meager profit.  This is their $1-a-day or $2-a-day income.  And sitting outside on the busy, noisy, hot streetside, coming early in the morning to set up and leaving at dusk with their goods bundled on their heads.

Supermarket fruit at Haitian market

Supermarket fruit at Haitian market

At the supermarket in Pétion-Ville—the tiniest neighborhood in Port-au-Prince—the food was outrageously priced.  All across Port-au-Prince, food prices have skyrocketed since the earthquake.  The food at the grocery store is twice as much as the same food (brands) at a U.S. store.  Only the top echelon can shop there.  The people on the streets eat food aid, if anything – or they eat cheap street food and inexpensive produce from the market.

And there are tent communities all around.  In fields, in parks, on sites where buildings were completely destroyed, up and down hills.  At the former campus of Quisqueya University,

Tent communities in Port-au-Prince

Tent communities in Port-au-Prince

there are 6,000 people sheltering and receiving medical care.  At the new campus location, on the site of a former president’s residence—the new location was just launched and it was the day of opening ceremonies that the earthquake struck—there are tents set up for students and teleconferencing equipment provided by an NGO for class instruction.

Haitians are working hard at rebuilding their homes, their businesses, their neighborhoods, and their country.  While the government is absent, the people of Haiti are taking action for themselves and for their neighbors.  There is graffiti all around.  And a word you’ll see often is Solidarité.

Home Grown! Haitian coffee. Haitian porridge. Haitian orange juice!

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Author: Chris Oxner, Market Analyst, IEM
Reports from the ground in Haiti

Haitian Orange Juice

Haitian Orange Juice

I haven’t yet mentioned the coffee in Haiti – it is fantastic. Locally grown. Haiti is the rare coffee-exporting country that has a local market for coffee. In fact, the Haitian farmers believe they are getting the better of the exporters, because they will export the larger beans, and keep the small beans to sell in the local market. But the smaller beans have much richer flavors. So, the orange juice and the coffee are great in the mornings. And Pascale made a huge pot of porridge, and I thought, I’m going for cereal. She saw me grab the box of cereal and hold it over my bowl and she was giving me a look and pointed at the porridge and said “tu ne l’aimes pas?” And I hesitated, not really wanting to eat it, but I dropped a few ladle-fulls in my bowl and sprinkled a little raw sugar, thinking, this should help it go down. But it was awesome. Haitian coffee. Haitian porridge. Haitian orange juice. Even Haitian raw sugar. Local, organic. No fossil fuels burned transporting these goods across an ocean.

Arrival in Haiti; Start of a Recovery Mission

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Author: Chris Oxner, Market Analyst, IEM
Reports from the ground in Haiti

When I got off the airplane in Port-au-Prince, there was a band playing what sounded like New Orleans French Quarter music. That tells you something right there. And it is hot, even by Louisiana standards. I’ll tell you what was hotter – standing in a madhouse group of people trying to collect my checked bag. They just dump it on the floor and you have to scramble for it while fighting through all the other people. The streetside scene near the airport alternated between heavily fortified compounds (UN, US Embassy) and rubble.  Street vendors are everywhere, even selling in what seemed remote stretches of road.  The road itself was mostly gravel, deep ruts and large sections eroded.  I can imagine that come the rains in the next few weeks it will be mud and even more of the roads will be washed away.

Haiti street vendors

Haiti street vendors

The villa where we are staying is possibly the only property in the neighborhood without extensive damage from the earthquake. The outdoor pavilion does have some structural damage, so it has a yellow card (caution).  There are plans to fortify the damaged supports. There is a high wall around the compound, but from the upper rooftops there are fantastic views of Pétion-Ville, the mountains, more mountains, and many different communities.  The wind is blowing up here and hopefully we can tour downtown Port-au-Prince tomorrow.

Information Sharing in Disasters

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Author: William Doerr Davis, Director of Software Development, IEM

The crisis in Haiti is unfolding in a world that has never been more connected in terms of information, people, and emotion. The 2001 terrorist attacks, the 2004 tsunami, and 2005’s Hurricane Katrina showed us that the web can be a responsible source of information for billions of people all over the world. However, the information flow in response to the recent Haiti earthquakes is much different due to an expansion of web 2.0 platforms. When Katrina struck, Facebook had barely begun its explosive growth, Twitter had not yet been created, and not a single person carried the now ubiquitous iPhone. So despite having many web sources of information during those disasters, we still relied heavily upon the traditional news networks for information about what was happening.

Today, we see that information is flowing at a more rapid pace and from many more sources. As consumers of this information, we are able to follow up-to-the minute disaster reports through Twitter and Facebook —all from the convenience of a cell phone that is by our side 24/7. The application of these technologies in response to a disaster were considered futuristic a mere decade ago.

While Haiti has helped us realize how the flow of information can bring us unprecedented knowledge during a disaster, there is still much work to be done to better harness that knowledge to help communities respond and recover.  This is a key focus area for IEM’s technology teams. We are working on solutions that leverage the latest generation of web 2.0 technologies while also working to overcome one of the most basic challenges facing emergency managers in a disaster —how to share, consume, and act upon knowledge that can save people’s lives.

The technologies that enable this are improving each day and, with each disaster, organizations, communities, and public officials are learning how they can incorporate these tools into their processes.  One of the solutions IEM has developed is a collaboration platform called Cahooots (, which is built upon an open source framework and uses the power of social networking to help emergency managers, and even individual citizens, share information related to a disaster. In contrast to Twitter and Facebook, Cahooots allows anyone to post information to a map, so that a “picture” of a particular set of information can develop. Other technology companies have also taken up similar challenges, and we welcome the opportunity to work collectively with the entire web community to translate information sharing into lives saved and communities rebuilt.

If even one life can be saved by a piece of information, the technology will be a success.

The Scale and Economic Impact of the Haiti Disaster

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Author: Dr. Lloyd Blanchard, Director of Public Performance Management, IEM

The scale of death and destruction in Haiti as a result of the earthquake on January 12 (and its aftershocks) is difficult to imagine, even with constant news coverage and video. Part of my job is to estimate economic damages that result from natural disasters, and my research on Haiti and past earthquakes suggests that this disaster is on an unprecedented scale. (See our loss estimates here:

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed over 200,000 people across 15 countries. This scale of human loss is expected in Haiti with a population of 8.8 million—about as many people in the Chicago area.  This is absolutely staggering!

Most death toll estimates from disasters are expressed in terms of the number of deaths per 10,000 in the population, or per 1,000 in population as in the case of big events like the 2004 tsunami. In Haiti’s case, it can be expressed relative to 100 people in the population. We estimate the Haitian death toll between 173,000 and 207,000, or around 2 deaths per every 100 persons.

There is a unique fact about human and economic losses from natural disasters. If a disaster occurs in an economically developed country, one can expect high economic losses, but few deaths. The opposite is generally true when a disaster hits less economically developed countries—fewer economic losses and many more deaths.

Here are a few examples:

  • Hurricane Katrina (2005) is the most costly natural disaster in the history of the United States, at a reported $125 billion, but only 1,800 people died as a result.
  • The 1994 Northridge earthquake in California cost around $30 billion, yet only 60 people are reported to have died.
  • Consider the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami costs and death tolls for the 3 most affected countries:
    • Indonesia: $4.4 billion in costs, 166,000 deaths
    • Sri Lanka: $1.3 billion in costs, 35,000 deaths
    • India: $1 billion in costs, 16,000 deaths

This pattern is largely because developed countries have more expensive physical infrastructure –often in harm’s way—as well as more advanced protective measures. Haiti’s poorly constructed buildings are likely the primary reason for such a high rate of death.

Haiti’s economic losses could exceed the total value of its annual production, around $7 billion. Our initial estimates of $6 to 9 billion for property losses is a projection of the reconstructed property costs, which will far surpass the value of the destroyed property. The international community will likely help Haiti rebuild to modern building standards. IEM’s $2 to 3 billion estimate in business interruption losses is for the first year only. Economic recovery will be a multi-year process that will depend in part on how fast basic infrastructure is restored and lives are brought back to a sense of normalcy.

The earth heaved up a catastrophe in Haiti

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Author: Madhu Beriwal, CEO & President, IEM

The earth heaved up a catastrophe in Haiti. The immediate tasks fall into the lowest and most basic of the Maslow Heirarchy of Needs – rescue from the rubble to be able to breathe, food, water, shelter, medical care. This will later wrap into concern for temporary housing, family reunification, and eventually long-term recovery. Haitians will have to rebuild their capital and restore their lives – with help from international organizations and countries. We at IEM are doing our part – contingents of IEM personnel are deploying today to support the Haiti effort. They will do what they do for disasters – use their intellect to do the best they can to support the mission.

But, this blog entry is not about science, technology or analysis. It is about feeling. Of the 1.8 million residents of the capital, Port-au-Prince, almost 50,000 are feared dead. There is almost no way to wrap around that number around a human heart. With all constant coverage of this catastrophe, one stands out for me personally. A reporter mentioned that children are sleeping out in the open, right next to dead bodies – there is no shelter available for them as yet, and no-one available to shield them from sight of the dead and wounded. Can you think back to the time that you tip-toed into the dimly lit room of your sleeping child and felt the warm glow of seeing them snugly bundled up safe and sound? Can we imagine that same child sleeping out in the open, knowing that those lying around them are now dead?

America will open its hand for those children. That is the mark of this country. Super-powers are not just measured in the might of their arms, they are measured in their generosity of spirit. As we always do, we will transcend tribal instincts to tend to those that are in need – without accounting for clan, creed, or color – that is the hallmark of a Great Power.

IEM is contributing $25,000 to the Clinton Foundation. In addition, we will match the generous contributions made by our employees.We are also encouraging our corporate partners, especially members of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) to contribute to Haiti relief.

Madhu Beriwal is a nationally-recognized thought leader in emergency management, with more than 30 years of experience in disaster and emergency management, homeland security, and national defense. She has pioneered efforts to help Federal, state, and local agencies optimize limited funding to achieve maximum protection.

Madhu Beriwal is a member of the prestigious Army Science Board, and a former member of the Defense Science Board’s Task Force for Intelligence Needs on Homeland Defense, created at the request of the DoD and the CIA to address counter-terrorism intelligence requirements for homeland defense. She is also a guest lecturer for the Homeland Security Executive Leadership Program at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey, California, where Ms. Beriwal teaches courses on Global Terrorism and Emergency Management.

Madhu Beriwal holds a Master’s degree in Urban Planning (Transportation and Land Use) and a Bachelor’s degree in Geography and Economics.