Haiti Quake: First Seismic Aftershocks, Then Economic Ones

The first aftershock since Haiti's deadly earthquake last week hit Wednesday morning at 6:03 local time, and seismologists expect aftershocks to continue for around a year. The 6.1 aftershock was less severe than last week's 7.0 quake, which officials estimate killed at least 72,000 in the capital of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.Earthquakes are rare in Haiti, but natural disasters are not. Haiti was hit by four hurricanes in 2008, and deforestation has made mudslides a hazard. But Haitian officials had not acted on scientists' advice to install a network of earthquake monitoring stations, and a plan to train the nation's officials in earthquake science at the University of Puerto Rico fell through.

"There are more aftershocks than would be the norm if there was a similar earthquake in California," says Jim Devine, a senior advisor to the director of the U.S. Geological Survey. Aftershocks, he adds, are very destructive psychologically to both survivors and rescuers. Indeed, CNN reports that hospital patients near the Port-au-Prince airport began praying as the ground shook this Wednesday. At least one injury was reported, though there does not appear to be any serious damage.

Seismic and Economic Aftershocks

The aftershock also underscores the multitude of challenges facing Haiti. Once the search-and-rescue efforts end, the rebuilding efforts will need to begin. Early estimates of the International Monetary Fund show that the disaster could be much larger than the 2008 hurricanes, which were estimated to have cost about $900 million.

The U.S. wants to stabilize Haiti to rebuild, which is expected to cost billions of dollars, much of it supplied by U.S. taxpayers. Both the U.S. and Haiti are discouraging shellshocked earthquake victims from fleeing to America.

The international community is also assisting. The World Bank last week said it would provide a $100 million aid package, on top of $1.2 billion in debt relief that the World Bank and the IMF provided Haiti in June. The World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank have delivered almost $900 million in additional debt relief to Haiti over the past six months. And the IMF says that further debt relief for Haiti is under consideration.

A Marshall Plan for Haiti

It won't be easy to figure out how to spend the money. Few foreign companies were investing in Haiti before the earthquake. Some U.S. companies quit Haiti in the 1990s after activists complained about sweatshops there, but with an illiterate workforce, a devastated infrastructure, and a reputation for corruption, Haiti seems to hold few attractions for outside investors.

"We need to go into Haiti, we need to work with the government to see exactly how-from their point of view and from our point of view-things can be done," IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn said on CNN. Haiti, he says, needs something similar to the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II. "To do that, we need to take some time."
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