A recent report suggests that for every $1 spent on natural hazard mitigation measures for homes and businesses, society will on average benefit $6 in avoided direct and direct losses. As the political will is generally lacking to mandate and enforce building code revisions that would require owners in earthquake and hurricane zones to make such investments, these considerable economic and societal benefits will only be realized by discovering what would persuade building owners, and especially homeowners, to voluntarily invest in mitigation measures. As few studies have explored this question, this project addresses an important gap by documenting the recovery of two demographically-similar communities, Leogane and Les Cayes in Haiti, respectively affected by a catastrophic earthquake (2010) and major hurricane (2016) that resulted in the need for extensive repair and reconstruction of homes. By focusing on such a post-disaster setting, this study captures the mitigation measures homeowners actually implemented, rather than what they speculate they might adopt in a hypothetical scenario. Furthermore, doing so in a setting like Haiti provides a nuanced view of the attitudes and factors driving the a homeowner’s voluntary adoption of hazard mitigation measures, given the severe resource constraints and the absence of insurance payouts and government relief packages.
The analysis of over 500 door-to-door surveys from each of these disaster-affected communities reveals that these homeowners, much like their counterparts in coastal regions of the United States, overwhelmingly sense an increase in the frequency and intensity of disasters like hurricanes. Yet the vast majority (over 95%) have no intention to relocate to another, less hazard prone community, making adoption of mitigation measures for their home essential to reducing catastrophic losses in future disasters. Both communities had similar levels of pre-disaster home protection, on average implementing about half of the measures necessary to protect them from the earthquakes and hurricanes that damaged their homes, comparable to the levels of pre-storm protection documented in US coastal populations. The findings further reveal that households recovering from the major earthquake have taken more mitigation actions to date in comparison with the households affected by the hurricane. In fact, as the hurricane-affected households repaired their roofs swiftly, the average homeowner did so in a manner that did not increase their roof’s protection level beyond what it was prior to the hurricane. While a strong majority express intentions to improve these roofs at a later date, these findings reiterate the importance of reaching homeowners with viable mitigation strategies swiftly following major hurricanes. By contrast, catastrophic damage following earthquakes was shown to follow a more gradual recovery process as entire houses were reconstructed, affording more time to positively influence homeowner mitigation decisions, with stronger materials more likely to be adopted than major changes to the building system or construction sequence. These findings can better guide timing and nature of support offered by governmental and non-governmental actors interested in influencing more resilient construction practices following major disasters.
These homeowner decisions are driven by more than just the recovery timelines associated with the type of disaster and extent of losses. Their thought processes are constrained by complex social, economic, and political forces, though the study interestingly did not find that income substantively affected the types of mitigation actions homeowners took in their post-disaster recovery. Another often overlooked factor in such decision making is religious beliefs. This research underscored the relationship between earthquake victims’ belief in end times and a lower rate of adoption of mitigation measures to protect their homes against such cataclysmic forces, suggesting that religious context surrounding infrequent yet catastrophic disasters like earthquakes has some effects not observed following frequently recurring meteorological disasters like hurricanes. Moreover, the study found that households subscribing to certain moral and religious beliefs that promoted generosity and sharing, were less likely to reduce their own home’s risk when making repairs post-hurricane. While the study did not conclude that religious beliefs pose a substantive barrier to understanding disaster risk or adopting mitigation measures, those attending church more frequently in Leogane did have a lesser rate of adoption of mitigation practices. Thus, it is plausible that church networks could play an important role in informing these respondents about disaster preparedness and home mitigation measures.
Herein users will find the de-identified datasets from Les Cayes, Haiti and Leogane, Haiti, the respective Question Labels needed to interpret the data table headings, and the full bilingual survey for each community, with response codes.