Today, Canada is hosting the first conference on Haiti’s reconstruction. The conference aims at helping Haiti to meet its numerous challenges. More than 100,000 people have died following the devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010. The shocking collapse of most of Port-au-Prince’s buildings left an estimated 1.5 million people homeless.
Two key factors related to the state of construction regulations aggravated the devastation caused by the earthquake. First, the absence of a national building code meant that a significant majority of buildings in Port-au-Prince were constructed with poor building standards. A recent study by the OAS highlighted some of the problems with Haitian building standards – “slopes without proper foundations, insufficient steel or improper building practices, etc.” Second, cumbersome administrative requirements for construction approvals provided a disincentive for compliance and meant that most buildings were constructed without sufficient oversight by the authorities.
As the reconstruction process begins, a set of different actions could be considered to improve the regulatory framework for construction. A new comprehensive building code that complies with international construction standards should be a priority, especially one that prescribes better safety standards to protect against natural disasters. But if previous earthquakes are any indication, having updated building codes is only part of the solution. When the tragedy of 1999 earthquake in Izmit occurred, Turkey had the appropriate regulations but lacked the means to enforce them.
Implementing a streamlined process with simple procedures and fair costs would permit the authorities to ensure a more consistent regulatory enforcement. A disconnect between local municipalities and the Ministère des Travaux Publics created inconsistent enforcement, and applications were not adequately reviewed. In addition, many key inspections didn’t take place. More streamlined procedures should also come with affordable construction permit fees that reflect the cost of providing the service and not deter builders from submitting an application for a permit. In 2009, the cost of dealing with construction permits in Haiti was about 570% of income per capita. If any good can come from the Haiti’s disaster, it might be the opportunity to put in place regulations that will help ensure better and safer construction for all.