The History of Natural Disasters in Haiti

Throughout its history, Haiti has been hit by natural disaster after natural disaster. It’s location in the Caribbean puts it in prime hurricane and tropical storm territory. Over the past 30 years, weather conditions have been getting worse as the climate continues to change. Since 1998, Haiti has been hit by ten hurricanes and other tropical storms, causing widespread loss of life and flooding with every landfall.

Other natural disasters, such as the 2010 earthquake, have also resulted in massive amounts of property and infrastructure damage, especially in urban areas like Port-au-Prince. This combination of environmental factors, worsened by soil erosion, has greatly contributed to Haiti being considered the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. It’s difficult to stand on your own two feet when you are being washed away by the storm.

Here are some of the biggest natural disasters that have hit Haiti in the 21st century:

May 23rd-24th, 2004 – Torrential Rains

Although not a tropical storm or a hurricane, these two days of torrential rains caused extensive flooding throughout Haiti. This resulted in entire villages being washed away, forcing tens of thousands of people to abandon their homes. In the end, the death toll was approximately 2,400 people.

The primary reason that the flooding was so bad in rural areas, especially in the southeast, was because of deforestation and soil erosion in these regions. These problems still plague Haiti today, and the farming practices that caused these problems in the first place continue to damage the land. This is one of the reasons why uFondwa’s Agronomy program is so important. We train students from rural areas in sustainable agricultural practices that they can then take back to their communities. Our hope is that, over time, these young professionals will be able to reverse decades of unsustainable farming practices, healing the soil and the land. This will not only help increase the food supply in Haiti and bring prosperity to these rural areas, but healthy soil and land will also stand as a barrier against any future flooding.

September 2004 – Hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne

A combination of two hurricanes, Ivan and Jeanne, caused massive damage in Haiti in September of 2004. Although Ivan’s impact was serious, with flooding causing damage in several regions across the country, it was only the beginning of the devastation. Then Hurricane Jeanne hit. This storm’s path took it across the western section of Haiti and the Artibonite, causing massive levels of flooding that killed 3,000 people, while also injuring thousands and displacing over 300,000 from their homes. Hit Especially hard was Gonaïves, a coastal city, where 80% of the city’s population was impacted by the storm.

Again, deforestation was one of the biggest factors that contributed to the terrible flooding, as the surrounding valleys could not hold the amount of water that Jeanne brought down over the course of its 30 hours.

August-September 2008 – Fey, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike

Sometimes, it isn’t a single huge weather event that can cause the most damage. Throughout August and September of 2008, Haiti was repeatedly hit by a number of tropical storms and hurricanes. Each time one hit, it compounded the damage left by the previous one.

It started with Tropical Storm Fey hitting the entire country, causing widespread damage. Just ten days later, Hurricane Gustav hit the south peninsula, causing loss of life and serious property damage. A few days later, on September 1st, Hurricane Hanna impacted the north eastern parts of Haiti, causing massive flooding. Finally, six days later, Hurricane Ike slammed into the western coastline of Haiti, causing heavy rains and flooding. In the end, approximately 800 people were killed, with an estimated $8 billion in property damage, not to mention the extensive damage to crops throughout the country.

January 2010 – Earthquakes

In terms of loss of life, the earthquakes of January 2010 were the worst natural disasters to hit Haiti in generations, killing approximately 300,000 people in the areas affected.

On January 12th, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit near the town of Léogâne. There was widespread devastation across the region, and essential services and vital infrastructure were completely destroyed. Many hospitals and other aid sites (such as the HQ of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) collapsed, further worsening the humanitarian crisis. As a result of the disaster, over 30,000 commercial buildings were so badly damaged that they needed to be demolished. National landmarks, such as the National Palace and the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, were also severely damaged. The educational system of Haiti was set back due to the disaster, as many schools and the three major universities in Port-au-Prince were directly affected in the wake of the earthquake.

The crisis was made even worse by a cholera outbreak in Port-au-Prince just a few months later in October. Due to displacement caused by the earthquakes, one million additional people were living in Port-au-Prince, many of them on the streets. Damage to vital infrastructure, including communication systems and roads, further complicated matters, making it far more difficult to coordinate international aid efforts. Then, to top it all off, Hurricane Tomas hit, further worsening the crisis. Even today, eight years later, you can still see the impact of the earthquake.

October 3rd-4th, 2016 – Hurricane Matthew

The last major hurricane to hit Haiti was also one of the worst. Hurricane Matthew was a category 4 storm that caused a catastrophic amount of damage to Haiti’s infrastructure and agricultural industry, while also killing approximately 600 people (some estimates are over 1,000) and displacing tens of thousands. It was the strongest storm to hit Haiti since 1964, but due to the effects of recent deforestation and soil erosion, the flooding and damage to the country was much worse than it was 50 years before. In the end, it was estimated that the damages would cost $1.9 billion.

We are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Matthew today, especially in the rural regions where we do our work. These areas, which were already struggling with poor soil conditions, poverty, and lack of education, were some of the hardest hit by Matthew, and all of the other natural disaster listed above. Thanks to aid from the United States and emergency assistance from the United Nations, many areas of Haiti have partially recovered, but there is still much work to be done.

As the only university that serves the rural areas of Haiti, we are dedicated to improving the level of education in these regions and bringing about lasting positive economic change for everyone. It’s your donations that provide the scholarships that allow students from these areas to earn their degrees. If you’d like to donate to uFondwa, you can do so on a weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, annual, or even a one-time basis. With the continuing changes to the climate, we can expect more storms in the future, which only increases the importance of reaching our goals. With your help, we can continue our work in making Haiti a self-sustaining nation with a well-educated population, working to improve conditions across the country. Donate now.