Tuesday, January 12, 2010 is a date that has scarred the minds of Haitians around the world. It was on this day at approximately 5:00 pm that their world literally collapsed. An earthquake of a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude struck, leaving a country and its nearly ten million inhabitants on its knees for the foreseeable future.
The numbers are staggering: an estimated 230,000 people dead, 300,000 injured and more than 1.5 million left homeless. Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, was completely flattened and citizens scrambled to confirm that their relatives were safe and had not been injured. Some remained trapped for days afterwards with no food and water. Those left homeless were forced to construct refugee camps with what little material they had so that they would have a place to sleep for the time being. Desperation overcame many; looting was the quick solution to obtain food and resources for their families. Their lack of resources coupled with the fifty-two aftershocks that racked the already destroyed nation for weeks created not just a desperate, but a hopeless situation.
Fortunately, it did not take long for other countries such as Jamaica, England and Canada, to respond with humanitarian aid and various relief efforts. For instance, the United States, among many others, deployed emergency relief personnel within hours to assist Haiti’s government in trying to piece together their destroyed nation and ensuring that the distribution of aid could begin as soon as possible.
Though it was slow to start, soon hundreds of thousands of dollars began to work its way into the country in the form of food, medical care and other much needed supplies – a small step towards Haiti’s reconstruction.
Sadly, weeks turned to months and soon Haiti’s still dire circumstances faded from the news. More current issues began to present themselves and the hundreds of thousands of victims faded to the back of people’s minds. Haitian orphans disappeared from dinner conversations as summer approached and the World Cup began. Most of the nearly nine billion dollars promised by the international community has yet to be seen and as a result, no progress had been made towards reconstruction. Haiti has become a victim again, but this time to the world’s short attention span.
Now, over a year later, though thousands are still homeless, a number of makeshift camps have been constructed to house displaced residents for the time being. Those homeless have found a way to still stand strong, finding a sense of community despite their loss. They hoped that, having been through the worst, the only place to go from there was up.
Unfortunately, on November 5th, tragedy struck again: Tropical Storm Tomas ripped through the already weakened nation, forcing thousands to be relocated to higher grounds. Yet this was the least of their problems.
The passing storm revealed a horrifying reality: cholera, an infectious bacterial disease of the lower intestine had gripped the country. Some one thousand five hundred people have already been killed and there are another five thousand reported cases. The disease is spread most commonly through infected water supplies and contact with an infected person, so it is not surprising that it has been able to spread so quickly through the camps of the homeless. But this level of contamination was inevitable. With few sources for clean water and thousands of people being forced to cohabit such a small area, it wasn’t long before the disease became an epidemic.
What will it take to save Haiti? It is clear that if Haiti does not receive and keep the attention and financial support it needs from the international community then it will slowly disappear completely. To their credit, the Haitian people are resilient. But even hope will fade away if we who can help continue to ignore their plight. As disease eats away at a ravaged nation, the aid efforts must be renewed. Haiti deserves a fresh start and there is no reason they shouldn’t be given the chance to brush themselves off and to get back on their feet. It is not fair for Haiti to have to watch as many more as the projected 200,000 of their people die from an easily treatable disease. It is time for the international community to step up in a way in which they can consistently and significantly contribute to the improvement of a country that has absolutely nothing left.
Words By: Nneka Jackson