Substandard design and materials, lax regulations and shoddy construction methods all played huge roles in the devastation. Anyone who has spent time in Haiti could see how badly buildings were made, though the main concern has always been hurricanes, not earthquakes. An earthquake in Haiti? And of this dimension? Impossible. Even so, the head of a nonprofit design group who visited Haiti last fall was horrified by the quality of work. He told the NYT that it was far worse than other developing countries.
Most houses and other structures are built of poured concrete or block, there being very little lumber available due to mass deforestation, said Alan Dooley, a Nashville architect who designed a medical clinic, built of reinforced concrete, in Petite Rivière de Nippes, a fishing village 50 miles west of Port-au-Prince. Concrete is very expensive -- much of the cement for it comes from the United States, Mr. Dooley said -- so some contractors cut corners by adding more sand to the mix. The result is a structurally weaker material that deteriorates rapidly, he said. Steel reinforcing bar is also expensive, he said, so there is a tendency to use less of it with the concrete.
Also, building codes are limited or nonexistent and concrete blocks are often made in small batches at people's homes.