Economics

Why Is Everything Still Standing In the Dominican Republic?

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Center for Constitutional Rights has a list of organizations that look legit for any and all Haiti earthquake donations. If you are not yet aware of the YELE phone-contribution app, read all about it. (I don't vouch for it.)

Haiti is a geopolitical oddball like Papua New Guinea or Ventnor, New Jersey: a separate polity on a divided island. Keeping in mind that there can always be a bigger earthquake, in general the poorer you are, the more vulnerable you will be to any natural disaster. There is a stark contrast between the damage in Haiti, where the government is estimating 100,000 dead, and that in the Dominican Republic, where the news is mostly of undamaged buildings, no casualties, and surveillance footage of leisurely customers strolling out of shaking stores.

The faultline labeld EPGF is what done in Haiti.

But the important difference here is not (yet) economic. Port-au-Prince, for the infiniteenth time, just got unlucky. The quake originated out of the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault system, which in the University of Texas' elegant phrasing, "forms a continuous and prominent geomorphic lineament from the Enriquillo Valley of the Dominican Republic, through the southern peninsula of Haiti, across the Jamaica Passage between Jamaica and Haiti and along the Plantain Garden fault zone bounding the southern edge of the Blue Mountains of eastern Jamaica." But the epicenter was Port-au-Prince itself, and there are limits to how much higher-quality buildings and infrastructure can ever prevent destruction. (Commenter oaktownadam sends along this very illustrative graphic to show how limited the heavy shaking was geographically.) The Kobe earthquake of 1995 pretty well shellacked a modern urban area in a quake-conscious country.

Major differences in earthquake survival come at the stage we're in now, when it's a question of limiting deaths from after-effects—and that is undoubtedly a matter of wealth. The Kobe example is instructive here, because that event ended up taking fewer than 7,000 lives, while Port-au-Prince (which also suffered a higher-magnitude quake) is already expecting a much larger death toll. This list of the 20th century's biggest earthquakes demonstrates how variable casualties-to-magnitude numbers can be, with variables including the magnitude of the event, where the epicenter is, and how prepared the community is. Haiti has lost on all three of those counts.

Which means (thankfully) there can be no scoring of cheap ideological points in this horrible event. But in the we-hope-something-good-may-come-of-this department, maybe Haiti and its neighbors (including the Dominican Republic, which despite its relatively free economy and participation in CAFTA is unable to conclude a bi-national free-trade agreement with Haiti) can look more seriously at helping the country through free exchange of goods, people and capital. The United States could kick in with an immigration policy that focuses less on killing sick old men and more on getting all the Haitians to Brooklyn, where they were meant to be.