Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Death Comes To Haiti

Haiti: a small island nation in the Caribbean Sea, sharing that island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. A former French colony which threw of the yolk of Imperialism to gain independence, and then spent generations struggling to create itself. A poor country, ravaged by poverty, lack of services, political corruption, and hurricanes. And now, it suffers the gross indignity of its position on the boundary of the North American and South American crustal plates, by being shaken by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, leading to death, devastation, and despair on a scale even larger than that left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and possibly worse than the Asian Tsunami of 2004.

This small, struggling, often destitute nation has been an afterthought in a hemisphere of afterthoughts. The Caribbean is more known as the destination of cruise ships and sun seekers, than a collection of small, struggling countries and colonies, dependent on tourism and their meager exports to maintain themselves. Haiti is certainly buried by its larger neighbors to the south, unable to compete with Brazil, Venezuela, and Argentina for the attention of the First World. Except of course, when political strife or natural disaster strike.

All disasters before pale in comparison to the fate that befell Haiti at around 5:00 PM local time on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010. At that moment, strain built up by decades of slow grinding of one tectonic plate against another was released in a spasm of energy rivaling the full complement of nuclear weapons on the Earth in power. The shock of the release surges through the crust of the planet, sweeping out in all directions, but the brunt of that energy was borne by the nearby island, specifically near its capitol, Port-au-Prince. In one moment, the earth surged and bucked and swelled, and poorly constructed buildings collapse in great numbers, trapping tens of thousands under tons of rubble, filling the streets with frightened survivors, and crippling an already underdeveloped and overwhelmed country.

This disaster is a combination of the worst parts of 9/11, the Asian Tsunami, and Hurricane Katrina, for beyond the death toll is the sheer destruction left in its wake. Power severed, communications cut, water nonexistent, hospitals either collapsed or swamped with the wounded and dying, government crushed under the weight of its own buildings, and even the United Nations forces buried in the rubble. The sole major airport in Port-au-Prince damaged, left without the means to operate properly, the port smashed into wreckage and made unusable.

Given the magnitude of events, the response must be on an even greater scale, but there are serious problems to surmount, and time ticks away. After 72 hours, those trapped in the rubble who remain unrescued or even unfound, will start to die, adding to an already horrific toll. The scenes show thousands of people, with little or nothing left, tearing at bricks, concrete, and steel with bear hands and any implement they can find, desperate to help those who remain pinned beneath the rubble. Aid organizations already in the country have exhausted their supplies, and can only make due with anything they can scrounge until help arrives, help slowed by the destruction of infrastructure and the lack of proper facilities for handling the massive flood of people and material required.

One cannot help but feel their heart break, to see the suffering and misery, and be unable to simply scoop these pour souls up, feed them, house them, and mend their wounds. That we could all simply drop what we are doing and run to the rescue is a dream, but we must do what we can. We must do our human duty, in whatever way we can, whether it be money, supplies, or manpower, and help this nation. We cannot, however, simply help them now and in the coming weeks. If anything good can be said to come of this, it is the idea that not only can we help these people through their time of fear and need, we can actually help to repair and improve and bolster this formerly disregarded nation, to make it better, to give its people a better chance to live a decent life, and to provide them with the means to help themselves in the future. We must not abandon this opportunity when it becomes inconvenient; this disaster is the direct result so many previously missed opportunities. If we are to prevent this from happening again, we must not simply prop Haiti up -- we must help it move forward.

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