Engineers urge overhaul of Haiti's archaic, anarchic building practices

a study concluding that a far less serious natural disaster would destroy many of Haiti’s buildings. It detailed a litany of flaws: weak or missing reinforcement, structures on steep slopes with unstable foundations, inadequate or nonexistant inspections, poor designs, materials, and techniques.

The findings, which the agency has not yet released, would surprise no one in Haiti. They are common across much of the Caribbean and in developing communities.

“The people tend to do whatever they want to do. If I want to build my house, I can just go and do it,”’ said Pierre Fouche, a Haitian working on a doctorate in earthquake engineering at the University of Buffalo, with the goal of finding affordable methods to strengthen his country’s lax standards and structures.

Woeful building seems a particular plague for Haiti. Last year, for instance, a church-run school in Pétionville suddenly collapsed — with no push from nature — killing ninety-one students and teachers and injuring 162 others.

Patterns in the rubble

Most Caribbean countries, Haiti included, have building laws based on the Caribbean Uniform Building Code, said Cletus Springs, director of the OAS’ Department of Sustainable Development in Washington, D.C. In many places, however, rules exist only on paper.


Few people in Haiti build to resist major hurricanes that routinely rake the island. Almost no one drew blueprints for a major earthquake, which had not hit in more than two centuries.

The Digicel building was one notable exception. The office tower, which would look at home along Miami’s Brickell Avenue, was designed with what engineers call “ductility” — the capability of bending, but not breaking, under violent side-to-side shaking of seismic waves.


Haiti’s prevailing form of construction, lightly or unreinforced masonry that is rigid but brittle, ranks among the most vulnerable to seismic shocks. The cheapest and most common building materials are homemade cement and blocks of inconsistent strength. Reinforcing steel, or rebar, is often disdained as an expensive luxury.

Even some Haitian architects admit to undervaluing it. One of them, Philip Magloire, now is glad he lost an argument with his engineer on