Clay Naito is an associate professor of structural engineering. His research interests involve studying concrete structures that are subjected to extreme events, such as earthquakes and intentional blast demands.
I do agree that the country is in dire need of reconstruction and that a portion of the funds be used for this effort—but just how much and how to effectively use the funds is a much more complicated question.
From a distance, I assume that the critical issue in Haiti is still to feed, house and provide medical coverage for the population affected by the earthquake. How much should be put toward each effort is a decision that should be left to the people in the field, the experts in relief efforts, and members of the Haitian government.
But as for what can be done to prevent this from happening again, we can learn from past experiences. With every earthquake event we as engineers learn something new. In many cases the causes of failure are obvious: Poor quality materials, lax construction practices, or lack of engineering. The first thing which should be done is to examine the failures and evaluate why they occurred. Teams from the U.S. are already on-site going over the failures and documenting them. With this information one can determine cause, and more importantly, a solution strategy to prevent comparable damage in future events.
In the short-term recommendations can be developed to explain (in very simple terms) what changes should be adopted to enhance the earthquake resistance of typical Haitian construction. This will allow the local population to start the rebuilding process on their own. In the longer term a U.S. model can be followed. A reputable building code can be adopted, engineering licensing and enforcement can be implemented, and building inspection can be conducted to ensure that the structures meet the design requirements. This of course takes a significant governmental infrastructure which may not be in place in the foreseeable future.
The question remains, “Whose obligation is it to make this happen?” I am an engineer and this is a question for a politician; however, I firmly believe that a nation should govern itself. If help is needed and requested perhaps the U.N. can assist to divide the work up between the developed countries...