Last week a magnitude 7.0 earthquake sent tremors through the Earth and hearts of Haitians alike. As of now the Red Cross estimates between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died. Now, as the focus turns from lost Haitians to those now struggling to survive, looting and violence has erupted in a country whose infrastructure is simply not capable of handling the logistics of such an operation.
A natural disaster has sent one of the poorest countries in the world spiraling into one of its darkest hours. However, the terrible death toll and struggles Haitians now face cannot be blamed solely on Mother Nature. Underlying poverty is the true culprit. Poverty is the reason a 1989 magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Northern California claimed 63 lives while Haiti’s claimed more than 45,000. Poverty is what led poorly constructed buildings to crumble and already bad infrastructure to become overwhelmed by relief efforts. Only 200 flights are able to come in and out of Haiti each day, now mostly reserved for the U.S. military, according to The New York Times.
The incoming aid will help provide Haitians who have lost everything with basic necessities like food and water. However, for the majority of the population who live below the poverty line, basic necessities were hard to come by even before the disaster struck.
Haiti has experienced a troubled history of oppression, dictators, foreign intervention and poverty. Commendably, development organizations have attempted to help through micro-loaning ventures and missions to break this cycle. They have certainly made an impact, but still more help is needed.
What Haiti, with international help, needs to do is seize this disaster as an opportunity to rebuild the country in a manner that can sustain them for years to come. Right now Haiti is in need of the basic necessities just to keep the Haitians surviving. However, what will happen when the rubble is cleared and the buildings are rebuilt?
It is this question that will define whether Haiti can truly recover and improve the lives of its citizens. Aid organizations need to take a deep look at Haiti’s culture and not assume they know more than the locals. It is only through this mutual understanding that they can best make a difference and address Haiti’s needs.
At the same time, they need to understand and address the factors that may be preventing Haiti from sustained development. The gap between rich and poor is one of the largest in the world. Why is it the Dominican Republic, which shares the same island as Haiti, is so much better off?
For a brief, but tragic moment Haitians from all social divisions were put on a level playing field. The elite, including the ambassador of France, Haiti’s former colonial ruler, were forced to sleep on the streets outside their destroyed residences. Haiti can use this as a time to finally move forward and use incoming aid for the betterment of the entire country. However, as development experts have discovered, this is easier said than done.
Presently, the focus remains on helping Haiti now. Donations from countless organizations have poured in, but aid is still vital to their recovery. This is the opportunity to help Haiti grow for years to come. Let’s hope with the same dedication and perseverance displayed by the slave revolutionaries who won Haiti its independence at the turn of the 19th century, Haitians can once again become an inspiration for their region and the world alike.
To donate locally visit http://www.cincinnatiredcross.org, or place a cash donation in one of the many Haiti Relief Fund containers located around campus.