The 12 January 2010 earthquake in Haiti devastated the centre of Port-au-Prince. Photograph taken at the corner of Centre and Miracle Streets (Haiti, 2010). © BRGM - Jean-Marc Mompelat

Natural risks in Haiti: BRGM studies for urban risk reduction plans

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has commissioned the BRGM to undertake a study of natural hazards in the municipalities of Ouanaminthe and Cap-Haïtien.

Natural risk zoning of Cap-Haïtien

Natural risk zoning of Cap-Haïtien © BRGM


Because of its geographic and geodynamic situation, Haiti is exposed to exceptionally severe natural events, whether geological (earthquakes, land movements), hydrological (tsunamis, storm surges, river spates) or meteorological (cyclones, droughts).

On 12 January 2010, Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, was hit by a magnitude 7 earthquake that killed over 200 000 people. The cyclones that devastated the island in 2014 killed nearly 5 000. Torrential rains over cities have destroyed means of subsistence and caused disease epidemics. Sprawling urban growth in highly vulnerable areas (on steep slopes, in river floodplains, at the foot of cliffs) has worsened the scale of these disasters.

The BRGM won a USD364 000 call for tenders from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under its programme for natural risk prevention and reduction in Haiti. From January to December 2017, it conducted an assessment study of natural risks - seismic, ground movements, flooding and storm surges - in the municipalities of Cap-Haïtien and Ouanaminthe, in northern Haiti. The results have been translated into Urban Risk Reduction Plans (PRRU) for both municipalities, which include recommendations for reducing the level of risk.

Studies undertaken

The studies were conducted in collaboration with Signalert, a French engineering consultancy which co-handled the flooding/storm surge component, and three Haitian sub-contractors, the Mining and Energy Bureau (BME), the Construction and Public Works Laboratory (LNBTP) and the National Centre for Geospatial Information (CNIGS).

The study was organised into successive phases:

  1. event mapping of past and present natural phenomena,
  2. characterisation of seismic sources and assessment of regional seismic hazards,
  3. risk mapping of seismic activity, ground movements, flooding and storm surges to the scale of 1:10 000,
  4. mapping of key issues (distribution of the population, linear infrastructure, sensitive or strategic buildings, land use changes),
  5. translation of different hazards and key issues into a multi-risk zoning plan to the scale of 1:10 000,
  6. formulation of risk reduction recommendations for each zone.

The transfer of competences to the Haitian partners was a key concern throughout. The study also adopted a participatory approach in both municipalities, organising working groups of local players in charge of planning and/or natural risk prevention.

The Bay of Cap-Haïtien from the heights overlooking the town.

The Bay of Cap-Haïtien from the heights overlooking the town. © BRGM - Monique Terrier

Discussion on risk zoning with the Ouanaminthe working group.

Discussion on risk zoning with the Ouanaminthe working group. © BRGM - Didier Bertil

The PRRU: a strategic tool for natural risk reduction in Haiti

Given the steadily increasing population of Haiti's large towns, integrating natural risks into planning documents has become a matter of urgency, hence the production of natural risk reduction plans (PRRU) for Cap-Haïtien and Ouanaminthe.

The PRRU documents are intended for the national, département and local authorities as a basis for discussions and consultations with a view to applying statutory regulations on land use, building practices and emergency relief.  For example, they are used to define zones where construction is banned because of their high level of vulnerability to natural hazards, or to determine the conditions in which urbanisation can proceed in certain zones.

The BRGM in Haiti

Since the devastating earthquake of January 2010, the BRGM has been conducting assessment and prevention studies almost continuously in Haiti - PRRU, building vulnerability diagnoses, seismic microzoning, atlas of natural hazards, etc. - in close collaboration with local institutions and development agencies (UNDP, World Bank, etc.).

BRGM - 3 avenue Claude-Guillemin - BP 36009 45060 Orléans Cedex 2 - France Tel.: +33 (0)2 38 64 34 34