A dilapidated wooden house on a farm in Haiti.

Haiti’s Natural Disaster Problem

When it comes to natural disaster hot spots, Haiti is among the most notorious. Its geography, coupled with environmental and socioeconomic conditions, makes it a soft target for acts of nature such as hurricanes (the North Atlantic equivalent of a cyclone), which can wreak widespread devastation on poor communities with flimsy housing.

Cross Catholic Outreach has seen and responded to many natural disasters in Haiti during the past two decades, and it has a strong track record for working alongside Haitian Catholics and other partners on both emergency relief efforts and long-term recovery plans.

As we look back on these years, it is the individual stories of lives restored that touch us most. For example, I am reminded of Monique Francois, a 70-year-old grandmother living with three adult children and three grandchildren who had her home destroyed by the 2021 earthquake. Monique’s house, like many other Haitian homes, had been built below basic safety standards. Even still, the family couldn’t afford to rebuild it after the earthquake, so the Church had to step in and provide a path to recovery. Cross Catholic Outreach was part of this intervention and provided Monique with a sturdy, new home as part of our major effort to help earthquake survivors.

While each natural disaster is different and creates a variety of challenges, there are always ways  you can restore hope to survivors and assist communities so they are better prepared for the next trial they face.

A Haitian grandmother and her three grandchildren on the porch of their new house.
Earthquake survivor Monique and her grandchildren at their sturdy new home provided by Cross Catholic Outreach. (Credit to Overture International)

Hurricanes in Haiti

2021’s Tropical Depression Grace was just the latest in a long list of severe storms to batter Haiti. This is because the country sits on an island in the middle of the Caribbean hurricane belt. Since Cross Catholic Outreach’s founding in 2001, Haiti has experienced 11 hurricanes:
  • 2004: Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Jeanne
  • 2005: Hurricane Dennis and Hurricane Wilma
  • 2008: Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Hanna and Hurricane Ike
  • 2010: Hurricane Tomas
  • 2012: Hurricane Sandy
  • 2016: Hurricane Matthew
  • 2020: Hurricane Laura
These hurricanes have caused thousands of deaths and an incalculable loss of homes, livelihoods and infrastructure, but they only represent one weather-related challenge the poor face.  Frequent floods and damaging periods of drought have also plagued Haiti and continue to be a hardship for the poor as well.

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Haiti’s Earthquakes: Tectonics at Fault

Haiti also has the misfortune of sitting on the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault line, which runs straight through the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Haiti also almost touches the Septentrional fault line that runs through the Dominican Republic. As tectonic plates slide past each other alone these lines, earthquakes are formed.

This geographical misfortune was the cause of the catacylsmic 2010 earthquake, which killed between 100,000 and 316,000 people and sparked a major humanitarian crisis and years of reconstruction.

The 2021 earthquake registered at a higher magnitude but struck a less dense population and inflicted far less damage. Nevertheless, the quake still managed to cause at least 2,207 deaths and stir up several small tsunami waves that struck surrounding areas.

Haiti’s Man-Made Catastrophe

Earth science alone does not account for the destruction wrought by the 2010 earthquake. Another reason so many buildings collapsed was substandard construction, which in turn was the result of widespread poverty and unfavorable socioeconomic conditions. Insufficient infrastructure and emergency resources then impeded survivors from getting food, water and medical care during the chaotic aftermath.

Similar stories can be said about many other natural disasters in Haiti. The cholera epidemic that began the same year was caused by U.N. workers and exacerbated by insufficient medical access, and the punishing floods that so often ruin families’ homes and farms are the result not just of strong storms but also of extreme deforestation, which has transformed Haiti’s lush hills into a desert-like landscape and increased sediment runoff.

Disasters Fuel Haiti’s Cycle of Poverty

Poverty increases the damaging impact of natural disasters. In turn, disasters drive communities deeper into poverty. This terrible cycle is one of the reasons Cross Catholic Outreach has placed a priority on serving the poor in developing nations like Haiti. Imagine working your way out of subsistence-level farming, only to have your new agriculture project wiped out by a flood and your house reduced to rubble. Far too often, Haiti’s economic advances are swallowed up by acts of nature. Only through the intervention of charitable organizations and individuals can these families overcome this terrible cycle of poverty.

Making Haiti Stronger

One reason the 2021 earthquake inflicted less damage than the 2010 earthquake was the improved structural integrity of Haitian construction. 2010 was a wakeup call to NGOs, government officials and the Haitian people to apply more rigorous standards. Sadly, many families simply could not afford quality housing, which is why Cross Catholic Outreach organizes campaigns to provide Haitian families with safe, sturdy, storm- and earthquake-resistant homes.

Cross Catholic Outreach’s houses, built in partnership with a local Catholic ministry called Pwoje Espwa, were put to the test in 2021 — and they passed with flying colors. Not a single one of these houses was destroyed. In fact, some of the houses became emergency shelters as the homeowners welcomed desperate neighbors into their homes.

Today, we continue to fight for improved housing for Haitian families and for people around the world who still lack safe shelter. The need is vast, but we can make an enormous impact by rallying Catholics to give. Please consider helping give vulnerable children and families in developing countries a safe place to lay their heads.

Related: Learn about the impact of Cross Catholic Outreach’s housing projects

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Proceeds from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures incurred through June 30, 2023, the close of our ministry’s fiscal year. In the event that more funds are raised than needed to fully fund the project, the excess funds, if any, will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry.