Haiti quake worse than Tsunami

February 17, 2010 12:00 am

, PORT-AU-PRINCE, Feb 16 – The scale of devastation in Haiti is far worse than in Asia after the 2004 tsunami, a study said Tuesday, predicting last month\’s quake could be the most destructive disaster in modern history.

The stark assessment from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) comes with Port-au-Prince still lying in ruins more than one month on, while the bodies of more than 200,000 dead pile up in mass graves outside the capital.

The study\’s release coincided with what would normally be Haiti\’s annual carnival, an explosion of pulsing music and colorful parades. But this year, the events have been cancelled as no one is in the mood to party.

The preliminary IDB report estimated the damage at between eight and 14 billion dollars in what was already the poorest country in the Americas before the catastrophe.

Factoring in Haiti\’s population and economic output, the upper estimate would make it the most destructive natural disaster in modern history, the bank said.

"Indeed, in this respect the Haiti earthquake was vastly more destructive than the Indonesian tsunami of 2004 and the cyclone that hit Myanmar in 2008," an IDB statement said.

"It caused five times more deaths per million inhabitants than the second-ranking natural killer, the 1972 earthquake in Nicaragua."

The 14-billion-dollar figure is the Washington-based bank\’s upper estimate for the cost of reconstructing homes, schools, streets and other infrastructure in Haiti following the January 12 quake.

The IDB said a more detailed accounting of the situation would come in the following months but that its preliminary study showed that the reconstruction cost was likely to be far higher than anticipated.

Meanwhile, Haiti\’s carnival celebrations, usually the culmination of weeks of parties, were replaced by mourning on Tuesday.

"Everybody\’s sad," said Nanotte Verly, a 48-year-old mother of nine who lost her home in the quake and sells jewelry and wooden plaques praising Jesus on a roadside. "All the buildings are still collapsed on the ground."

More than a million Haitians are still homeless following the January 12 earthquake, living in squalid camps in and around the capital.

"There are a lot of people who lost relatives and who are not in a mood for celebrating," said Anel Sainterne, 21, an artist selling her paintings on the street.

While aid workers rush to distribute tarpaulins before the rainy season starts, the United Nations says only about 272,000 people have been provided with shelter materials so far.

Fresh tragedy struck on Monday, when a school partially collapsed in the city of Cap-Haitien in the country\’s north after a mudslide caused by rain, killing four children.

The incident signaled the dangers that lie ahead with the coming rainy season, which typically starts around May. Aid workers have warned that the rains threaten to worsen the already poor conditions in makeshift camps.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent a second day in Haiti on Tuesday to give a boost to the relief effort, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy was due to arrive here on Wednesday.

Harper said Canada would set up a semi-permanent, 11-million-dollar operations base for the Haitian government, kitted-out with computer hardware and communications systems.

The government is currently operating out of a concrete police building near the airport, with the National Palace and many government ministries having collapsed in the quake.


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