Resilience, Peace and Security

Haiti's devastating earthquake is the second in a decade. So what causes them?

People search for survivors at the site of a collapsed hotel after Saturday's 7.2 magnitude quake, in Les Cayes, Haiti

The earthquake measured 7.2 on the Richter scale. Image: REUTERS/Ricardo Arduengo

Reuters Staff
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Resilience, Peace and Security?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Humanitarian Action is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Haiti

  • Almost 1,300 people have been reported killed by an earthquake in Haiti.
  • Thousands have been injured, and tens of thousands of buildings destroyed or damaged.
  • The earthquake measured 7.2 on the Richter scale.
  • The quake hit just more than a decade after a devastating 2010 earthquake which destroyed Port-au-Prince and killed over than 200,000 people.

Almost 1,300 people have been reported killed by a powerful earthquake that rocked Haiti on Saturday, with thousands more injured, and tens of thousands of buildings destroyed or damaged.

The destruction came little more than a decade after a devastating 2010 earthquake that destroyed Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince and killed more than 200,000 people.

Here's a look at why the Caribbean country is affected by earthquakes.

What causes earthquakes in Hati?

Haiti occupies the western part of Hispaniola, a Caribbean island it shares with the Dominican Republic. Hispaniola is sandwiched between two fault systems, the Septentrional fault system to the north, and the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault system in the south.

The Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault system is considered likely responsible for Saturday's quake, as well as the one in 2010, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Earthquakes happen when two tectonic plates - separate parts of the Earth's crust - suddenly slip past each other. Though friction holds these two plates together, the sudden release of energy in seismic waves cause the shaking associated with earthquakes.

Which quake was bigger 2010's or Saturday's?

Saturday's quake measured 7.2 on the Richter scale, which is used to measure earthquake size, according to the USGS.

Though the quake in 2010 measured 7.0, the Richter scale is logarithmic, meaning that Saturday's earthquake released twice as much energy as the previous one. It was felt in Jamaica, more than 200 miles (320 km) away.

Damage caused on Saturday so far appears less than in 2010, the reasons for which are being studied.

Have you read?

"That's the million-dollar question right now," said William Barnhart, a geophysicist in the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program.

While the 2010 earthquake struck in Leogane, just outside of Haiti's capital, Saturday's quake hit further from Port-au-Prince, in the Nippes department of southwestern Haiti.

Preliminary work suggests the quake's further distance from the capital and the mountainous, sparsely inhabited location of the epicenter - where a quake starts on the Earth's surface - could have had an impact, he added.

Will there be more earthquakes in Hati?

Before the 2010 quake, the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault system had not produced a major earthquake in decades, the USGS says.

However, the fault system was probably behind three other major earthquakes, occurring in 1751, 1770, and 1860 respectively, the USGS says, adding that the first two quakes destroyed Port-au-Prince.

Other quakes are likely to happen in the future.

"We know they will happen, but we don't know when they will happen," Barnhart said.

Discover

How has the World Economic Forum helped initiate a more effective response to natural disasters and humanitarian crises?

Did lessons from the 2010 earthquake have any impact?

While Barnhart says just Japan, Mexico, and U.S. Western states have early-warning systems for earthquakes - which can buy just tens of seconds of advance notice - Claude Prepetit, Haiti's chief seismologist, said Haitians behaved differently after Saturday's quake, compared to in 2010.

Back then, he said, people exposed themselves to more danger by sheltering in buildings while aftershocks continued.

"We have learned our lesson," Prepetit said, but added more needs to be done. "We must build better, with better building materials, and then educate the population so that they can develop the right reflexes."

Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Resilience, Peace and SecurityNature and Biodiversity
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

The Horn of Africa's deep groundwater could be a game-changer for drought resilience

Bradley Hiller, Jude Cobbing and Andrew Harper

May 16, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum