This second-story kindergarten is in Cap-Haïtien's tsunami inundation zone. Waves could arrive a few minutes after a strong earthquake. With a masonry-constructed ground story, the building (and others like it) could also suffer heavy structural damage.

View of downtown Cap-Haïtien (foreground) and La Petite Anse, which connects by narrow bridges across Haut du Cap River. Photo credit: Wolf Saintilaire

Timoun an Aksyon!  Kids in Action

 

Location: Cap-Haïtien, Haiti

2019-2022

 

Nearly half of Haiti’s population is under the age of 20. Young people are especially vulnerable, both physically and mentally, from disasters. Through Timoun an Aksyon activities, Haitian youth are gaining knowledge to understand their options and building experience to take effective action. By enabling young people to make their communities safer from extreme coastal hazards, this innovative youth-led program is turning fear into empowerment.

Cap-Haïtien is Haiti’s second largest city, a port of commerce with a population of about 275,000. Its low-lying location on the north coast exposes residents to tsunamis, their most devastating hazard. The project focuses on two densely populated districts: downtown Cap-Haïtien where historic buildings line narrow streets, and La Petite Anse where people live very close to the sea and quite far from high ground. 

 

In 1842, a tsunami set off by a powerful offshore earthquake (estimated M8.0) that killed half the people in Cap-Haïtien; La Petite Anse was totally destroyed. When a similar earthquake occurs again, tsunami waves could reach the city in 10 minutes. Evacuation during rapidly rising waters is difficult for many people, particularly children farthest from high ground. Rough estimates indicate that 50 schools, many of them in downtown Cap-Haïtien, lie in the tsunami inundation zone as mapped by UNESCO.

 

Hurricanes and tropical storms bring some level of destruction to Cap-Haïtien and La Petite Anse every year, and flooding occurs on a regular basis. Risk from coastal erosion and sea level rise is likely to intensify as our climate changes. The threat of earthquakes and resulting liquefaction is always present. In Haiti's 2010 earthquake, at least 220,000 people were killed and nearly half the nation’s schools damaged. In 2018, schoolchildren's panicked behavior during a minor earthquake revealed their high anxiety about disasters and little awareness of how to protect themselves.

Timoun an Aksyon brings together a diverse group of students--across public and private schools and at elementary and secondary levels--to learn the science behind disasters and organize community activities. With their own voices and style, they are sharing new knowledge with peers and the public. Local schools are also implementing disaster preparedness and emergency planning.

While schools are not in session during the COVID-19 pandemic, a special COVID Action Team is addressing this threat. Seeing a lack of basic knowledge about the virus, young people recorded safety messages that explain how to avoid catching or spreading it, and the team played these messages via handheld radios at public markets, busy beaches and a popular park. They handed out free, washable cloth masks and were told by many recipients that it means a lot to see young people helping the community.

This project is generously funded by the Moran family.