The challenges faced by the people of Haiti are immense. It is clear that an earthquake striking at the heart of such a community has had devastating consequences.
The pictures beamed into our living rooms show the pain, confusion, desperation and, increasingly, frustration of the population.
At the best of times, Haiti had little of what we would call decent modern infrastructure. Now, with its hospitals, government buildings, community centres, roads and bridges destroyed, there is little if anything left for the people to fall back on.
The chaos now being witnessed was in many ways inevitable. Poor quality construction coupled with zero investment in earthquake proof design is a classic recipe for disaster in so many of the poorest regions of the world − it is a recipe that needs to be understood and learned from.
The scale of the global response to this natural disaster is now huge. The relief agencies are mobilising vast specialist skills and resources, and tens of thousands of troops are being sent in to oversee the operation and provide vital security.
“Without basic infrastructure in place, communities can very quickly fall.”
Establishing central coordination to take strain from the under-resourced local government will also be crucial to ensuring help is effectively delivered.
And it is good to see that alongside the medical and rescue teams, engineers are also providing vital assistance.
In particular, the programme being launched by engineering charity RedR is great to see. It is this kind of natural disaster that RedR was, after all, set up to respond to.
It will require considerable funding to ensure the mission is effective. But deploying RedR’s experienced and capable members to lead the relief agency activity will be a vital step in establishing Haiti’s future.
Because while there is no question that in the short-term there is no substitute for hospitals, doctors, nurses and medical supplies, it is the longer-term response that could keep far greater numbers alive.
Engineers hold the key to this future. Initially this will be in planning the logistics of aid distribution and creating temporary shelter, water supplies, sanitation, communication and transport links as a vital first step.
“Engineering is required to ensure Haiti has a future, meaning ensuring the infrastructure is safe.”
But then there is the engineering required to ensure Haiti has a future. That means ensuring what is left of the infrastructure is safe and ensuring the temporary communities have the infrastructure to function.
Then comes the challenge of planning a post earthquake infrastructure and rebuilding to meet the community needs.
It will of course be tough to ensure that all development in future is constructed as earthquake-proof. But engineers must ensure that critical infrastructure is protected.
Because as we will continue to see over the next weeks and months in Haiti, without such basic infrastructure in place, communities can very quickly fail.
- Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor