This month marks 10 years since a 7.0-magnitude earthquake and more than 50 aftershocks devastated Haiti and forever changed global disaster response. The tragedy that struck Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010 displaced 2.3 million people and killed an estimated 220,000 others.

Immediately after the earthquake, more than 20 countries, the United Nations and thousands of international organizations jumped to the rescue, sending people, supplies and $13.5 billion in pledges and donations. Rachel Granger, Americares’ vice-president of Global Programs, was on the ground within 48 hours of the earthquake: “Just seeing the level of devastation was heartbreaking; it was a tough thing to see,” she recalls.

Americares relief workers unload a planeload of medicine and relief supplies in Port-au-Prince after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Photo by Matthew McDermott/Americares.
Photo credit: Matthew McDermott/Americares.

To Granger, it was immediately clear that the response would be long-term. So much was visibly destroyed—buildings, roads, homes—not to mention the emotional damage to survivors, which often wasn’t visible.

But as the humanitarian response unfurled, many began to criticize the massive influx of aid, saying it was creating more chaos and problems than it was solving. A Guardian article published one week after the earthquake described conflicting calls for the U.S. or the U.N. to take charge of the relief effort. The article also quoted Haiti’s then-Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, telling the Washington Post that the government was “overwhelmed” by the crisis.

Much has been written about the post-earthquake effort over the last decade, and the criticisms have not dulled. Certainly, the humanitarian sector learned some big lessons in Haiti, but there were also many things that went well.

To begin with, the world’s generosity was unprecedented. Aside from contributions from national governments, there was an astonishing amount of individual giving. The celebrity-laden “Hope for Haiti Now” telethon alone, led by George Clooney and Haiti-born rapper Wyclef Jean, raised at least $61 million. Television-viewing habits have changed drastically over the last decade, but many non-profits learned the importance of being prepared to engage supporters immediately after a disaster. Rapidly changing news cycles means the window of opportunity to reach an audience closes quickly.

Additionally, some experts have praised the immediate shelter response as “remarkable,” considering that at least 1.5 million displaced people had some sort of shelter within five months. Some of the best practices that emerged from the housing recovery process included providing conditional cash transfers to displaced families in urban areas, upgrading slums, and including informal neighborhoods as part of the housing recovery strategy. Many of these practices, especially cash transfers, continue to be important strategies for effective disaster relief and recovery.

Read the full article about lessons learned from the Haiti earthquake by Joanne Lu at GlobalWA.