South Carolina's Flagship University

Haiti: A Pathfinder to Post-Earthquake Responses for Environmental and Natural Resources

Managing Haiti's Post-Earthquake Waste

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Compiled by: 3rd year University of South Carolina Law Student, W. Guy Quinn.


Haiti's waste management systems have never been particularly effective or environmentally sound. The country's post-earthquake situation promises to seriously exacerbate these issues, particularly with regards to the material resulting from collapsed buildings.


Haiti's already problematic waste management systems must now deal with the additional stresses caused by the earthquake. One concern is that much of the waste being produced will remain in neighborhoods close to homes. This fact causes a variety a public health issues. Nowhere are these concerns more evident than with medical wastes. Safely disposing of blood and other tissues and body parts resulting from treating wounds and amputations, in addition to bandages, bedding, and other medical implements is particularly challenging. These issues are exacerbated by the disease-carrying rats that are attracted to these sites.

The rubble created by the earthquake presents the most pressing waste management issue by far. According to Muralee Thummarukudy, of the Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch of the United Nations Environment Programme, 40 to 50 percent of the buildings in Port-au-Prince and surrounding localities collapsed in the earthquake. It has been estimated that the earthquake left 20 million cubic yards of debris in Haiti. According to Col. Rick Kaiser of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, "the rubble remaining from destroyed buildings in Haiti's capital could easily fill to the top five football stadiums the size of New Orleans' Superdome."

Thummarukudy has reported that "Roads need to be cleared so aid can get through," and "We have to clear debris from where houses, buildings and warehouses once stood so reconstruction activities can begin." In addition to the logistical issues, the rubble presents several environmental challenges. The vast majority of waste in Haiti is landfilled. Haiti's landfills are subjected to very little regulation. Therefore, depending on site selection and management, these landfills can threaten biodiversity, groundwater supplies, as well as wetlands and other important natural resources and structures.

Finally, while no significant chemical or industrial spills have been reported, the risk remains that recovery processes will result in secondary oil and chemical spills from sources including destroyed industrial sites and electric transformers.

Possible Ways Forward:

The amount of medical waste being produced has decreased dramatically since the days immediately following the earthquake. Additionally, efforts are underway to deal with these wastes. Particularly, UNEP, the Haitian government, and the World Health Organization are working together to get effective systems in place.

Efforts to deal with the rubble and debris are also underway. For example, Cash-for Work programs have been instituted by Oxfam, the United Nations Development Programme and others. These programs will get paychecks to Haitians in exchange for cleaning up the wastes the earthquake left behind.

For its part, UNDP plans to eventually hire 200,000 people.

There are also opportunities for recycling some of the rubble. These opportunities include reusing building materials in new construction; crushing concrete and other materials to make roads; reusing or possibly selling melted down iron and steel; using concrete and other materials for artificial reef construction; reinforcing Haiti's badly deforested slopes, ravines and hillsides to mitigate the dangers of mudslides.

Where reuse and recycling are not feasible, care should be taken to dispose of the materials properly. If landfilled, modern liners and leachate collection and removal systems should be employed. Additionally landfills should be sited to avoid threats to natural resources, biodiversity and public health in general.

For Further Information:


This project was researched primarily by the Spring 2010 Environmental Law Seminar students at the University of South Carolina School of Law: Victor A. Dorobantu, Erin Kee, Daniel Y. Lee, Katherine M. Malloy, W. Guy Quinn, William R. Timmons IV, Amanda B. Turner. They were supervised by Professor Kim Diana Connolly, and assisted by librarians Terrye Conroy, Rebekah Maxwell and Stephanie Marshall. Coordinating partners were certain staff of the Environmental Law Institute, Konpay, the University of South Carolina Moore School of Business, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Technical assistance with web design was provided by USC School of Law webmaster Tobias Brasier. All questions or comments regarding the pathfinder should be directed to Professor Connolly. Broken links should be reported to lawweb@law.sc.edu. This website is NOT intended as legal advice, and particularized analysis by professionals should be sought wherever appropriate. It is current as of March 26, 2010.