Nine years ago, Haiti witnessed its worst natural disaster–an earthquake which destroyed more than half of a capital city. A total of 300,000 people were reported dead and over 2.3 million residents displaced. The death toll was provided after thorough assessments from intergovernmental bodies.
In its statement on the earthquake, which struck on 12 January, 2010, the UN Mission in Haiti confirmed that 102 of its staff members were affected. Notably, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Hédi Annabi and his deputy, Luiz Carlos da Costa, were counted among the “lucky” victims.
It was the “biggest single loss of life in the history of UN Peacekeeping,” the then-President of the UN Staff Union, Stephen Kisambira, said 9 years ago.
One of the survivors was Sophie Boutaud de la Combe, who currently holds position as the Head of Communications for the UN Mission for Justice in Haiti (MINUJUSTH). She was 7 months pregnant at the time and just a few days away from home leave. The YN official had been in the headquarters of MINUJUSTH’s predecessor, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), when the quake hit.
The building completely collapsed, but Ms. Boutaud de la Combe managed to escape through a collapsed wall. For many hours, she and her surviving colleagues searched through the rubble, looking for anyone still trapped under the building. Two days later, she reluctantly left Haiti, a situation she describes as “a trauma,” her instinct being to help the UN and the people of Haiti. She eventually returned to the country in 2013, happy to be able to play a part in the rebuilding of the country, and honor her lost colleagues with her work.
Some nine years after the earthquake, the situation in Haiti is very different.
The government, says Ms. Boutaud de la Combe, is now much better prepared for similar natural disasters.
“A few months ago there was an earthquake in the north of the country. The state was prepared and they sent their people to support those affected, without MINUJUSTH involvement. It was not a major earthquake, but now the population knows how to react. And most importantly, we hear regularly how important it is to build better, to build strongly in case an earthquake would hit, not to endanger the people.”