News Releases

Five years since Haiti earthquake How far have we come?

For Release Upon Receipt - January 13, 2015

St. Augustine

ST. AUGUSTINE, Trinidad and Tobago – January 12, 2010. Five years ago a 7.0 earthquake of devastating proportions hit the island of Haiti. The University of the West Indies (UWI) Seismic Research Centre (SRC) joins the region in reflecting on this event and on the state of the region in terms of its vulnerability and capacity to withstand the effects of similar or larger magnitude seismic events today.   

That 2010 Haitian earthquake was the most calamitous earthquake in the recent history of the Caribbean. At magnitude 7.0, 10 km in depth and just 10 km from the capital Port-au-Prince, the earthquake produced shaking that destroyed the poorly constructed structures causing the deaths of more than 230,000 persons (near 10% of the population of the city) and upwards of US $10 billion in damage. This should have been the ultimate wake-up call for a fundamental shift in regional mechanisms for coping with seismic hazards.  Major earthquake disasters around the world (for instance, Sumatra 2004; Kobe, Japan 1995; Mexico City 1985 and Chile, 1960) stimulated similar shifts and resulted in greater resilience to seismic hazards in these regions. 

This has not happened in the Caribbean and the region continues to be extremely vulnerable to seismic events.

Research suggests that the region is capable of generating an earthquake of magnitude 6.0 or larger every 3-5 years. A more concerning fact is that we are long overdue for a magnitude 8.0 earthquake, which has 32 times more energy than the Haiti event.  In light of these sobering facts, it is imperative for the region to move expeditiously towards building resilience to such events.  We must develop, legislate and enforce building codes using up-to-date seismic hazard maps based on the latest available science.  Preparedness measures at the individual levels are insufficient and greater efforts are needed to facilitate self-resilience. 

There have been advances. Regional disaster management agencies, such as CDEMA (Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency), have been increasing awareness efforts and educational campaigns. Model disaster legislation has also been drafted and is available to be customised by each territory.  The effectiveness of the implemented strategy from country to country still needs to be measured. The need for broad based impact assessments for seismic hazards and risks is now greater than ever with clearly established short term and long term objectives. Every year that passes without the necessary measures being in place is a year closer to a repeat of the Haiti disaster.  Now is the time to be ready. 


About The UWI Seismic Research Centre 

The University of the West Indies (UWI) is the largest and most longstanding higher education provider in the English-speaking Caribbean, with main campuses in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and Centres in Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Christopher (St Kitts) & Nevis, Saint Lucia, and St Vincent & the Grenadines. UWI is an international university with faculty and students from over 40 countries and collaborative links with over 60 universities around the world. Through its seven Faculties, UWI offers undergraduate and postgraduate degree options in Engineering, Humanities & Education, Law, Medical Sciences, Pure & Applied Sciences, Science and Agriculture, and Social Sciences.  

Established in 1952, the Seismic Research Centre is a Centre within the UWI.  It operates the largest network of seismographs and other geophysical instruments in the Caribbean region.  The SRC monitors earthquakes and volcanoes for most of the English-speaking Eastern Caribbean, manages the Montserrat Volcano Observatory as well as it conducts education and outreach activities in these countries.  The Centre is involved in a regional effort to establish a tsunami warning system for the Caribbean. 


About The UWI

Since its inception in 1948, The University of the West Indies (UWI) has evolved from a fledgling college in Jamaica with 33 students to a full-fledged, regional University with well over 40,000 students. Today, UWI is the largest, most longstanding higher education provider in the Commonwealth Caribbean, with four campuses in Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Open Campus. The UWI has faculty and students from more than 40 countries and collaborative links with 160 universities globally; it offers undergraduate and postgraduate degree options in Food & Agriculture, Engineering, Humanities & Education, Law, Medical Sciences, Science and Technology and Social Sciences. UWI’s seven priority focal areas are linked closely to the priorities identified by CARICOM and take into account such over-arching areas of concern to the region as environmental issues, health and wellness, gender equity and the critical importance of innovation. Website: 

(Please note that the proper name of the university is The University of the West Indies, inclusive of the “The”, hence The UWI.)