The devastating earthquake in Haiti is a double tragedy that will require long-term, sustained international help. The immediate tragedy, of course, is the loss of life and the suffering of those who survived Tuesday’s temblor. The secondary tragedy is that the quake severely set back efforts, which were finally showing results, to move the country forward economically and politically.
The first priority is for rescue workers to find and free those trapped by the rubble from the thousands of buildings that collapsed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. There is a dire need for water, food and medicine, a need that will be met by humanitarian groups, international aid agencies, private corporations and governments from around the world. The Red Cross estimates 3 million people — a third of the country’s population — need assistance. To donate to this effort, go to www.icrc.org. Numerous other organizations, such as Catholic Relief Services and Doctors Without Borders, are also assisting in the relief effort and accepting donations.
The scope of the tragedy is especially troubling because Haiti, after decades of turmoil, was stabilized and progressing economically.
“The earthquake really is a tragedy because there was an energy and a fantastic feeling about prospects in Haiti,” the World Bank’s Caribbean director, Yvonne Tsikata, told Reuters.
Foreign investors had recently increased their stakes in the country thanks to economic reforms and work to reduce corruption.
Still, Haiti remains a poor country. The average Haitian makes $2 a day, making it difficult for the country to build structures that can withstand the hurricanes that routinely strike there or an earthquake like Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude temblor, the worst to ever hit the region. Poor building standards — the president’s palace collapsed in the quake — and rampant deforestation, which exacerbates mudslides and flooding, worsen the consequences of regional natural disasters.
The neighboring Dominican Republic is wealthier and more politically stable and, as a result, has stronger buildings and better systems to deal with such disasters.
Haiti doesn’t have “the kind of resiliency that other nations have,” Susan Cutter, director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina, told The Associated Press. “It doesn’t take much to tip the balance.”
Ensuring the balance doesn’t tip back to the days of political anarchy will be a challenge to be met once the people of Haiti’s immediate needs are met.
“As we clear the rubble, we will create better tomorrows by building Haiti back better: with stronger buildings, better schools and health care; with more manufacturing and less deforestation; with more sustainable agriculture and clean energy,” former President Bill Clinton wrote in a Washington Post column. He is also the United Nations special envoy for Haiti.
The call, the president wrote, is “not just to restore Haiti but to assist it in becoming the strong secure nation its people have always desired and deserved.”