By: Kate Good
When a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hits, the first reaction of most people would not be to think of the environmental consequences of the natural disaster, but rather of the people who have been affected. While the devastation on the population of Haiti, as a result of the January twelfth earthquake is the first and foremost focus for relief, the future consequences on the distressed country’s environment could be as detrimental as the quake itself. No systems or equipment have yet been placed to dispose of hazardous medical waste, over 1,000,000 people have been displaced, and the possibility of landslides on the already eroding island’s shore demonstrate both short and long term problems that will plague the exhausted country.
Haiti’s General Hospital, the largest public hospital in Port-au-Prince sustained massive damage in the earthquake and as a result, many makeshift medical stations have been put in place. Described as a “war zone”, the first objective of aid workers is to treat those in need, meaning normal procedures taken to properly dispose of used medical equipment and wastes are not always followed.
While this is one of the short-term problems affecting the Haitian environment, the spread of medical wastes throughout waterways could lead to further contamination outside of the capital. Similarly, wastes from oil and chemical spills from a large number of badly damaged small industry and storage sites have become a concern as the impact of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) have yet to be assessed.
It is estimated that in the epicenter of damage the percentage of destruction to buildings is 60-80%, not only does this mean tens of millions of tons of waste, but to make matters worse, cleared debris is deposited on roadsides because of the lack of other means of disposal. While efforts are being made to recycle as much material as possible, the waste generated by the reconstruction of these buildings will be equally significant in the future.
Approximately 1,000,000 people have been displaced into less affected rural and urban areas, however, the addition to the population of already stressed environments has put a serious threat on the area’s natural resources. With a dark history of deforestation and erosion, the addition of the earthquake makes the possibility of landslides much more likely. Due to the country’s natural dry conditions and coral sand geology, the already reported small landslides on hillsides in Port-au-Prince, will inevitably grow with the addition of heavy rains.