A “Short Memory”: Devastating Earthquake in Haiti Brings Long-Standing Problems to Light

Blog contributor: Jessica M. Keralis

Bodies heaped on street corners.  Thousands aimlessly wandering the streets.  A once-busy port city strewn with rubble.  These are just a few of the images crowding the media coverage of the earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Last Tuesday, a quake registering 7.0 on the Richter scale hit the Haitian capital with such force that it killed over 100,000 people in 60 seconds.1 It was the worst the region had seen in 200 years.   This, compounded with the country’s poverty, the poor construction quality and the underdeveloped infrastructure, left the region without power, shelter, or substantial medical response.2 Witnesses described mass chaos and mayhem as aftershocks rippled through the area.  The U.N. Headquarters, the National Penitentiary, and the presidential palace had all collapsed.3,4 As rescue and relief operations began, so did violence: by Thursday, gunfire could be heard in the streets at night.  The Red Cross estimates that one in three Haitians were affected. 4

The havoc wreaked by this most recent disaster, however, should draw significant attention to the Haitian government’s neglect of its own people.  Its land and resources have been repeatedly plundered, and its governance revolves largely around the U.N. relief agency.  The Caribbean nation is the poorest in the Western Hemisphere:  80% of its people live below the poverty line, and it has the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality.5 Its poverty and political instability have been repeatedly exacerbated by earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes; as such, it has been the recipient of substantial international humanitarian and financial aid. 2 Salvano Briceno, the director of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, has pointed out that the government seems to suffer from a short memory.  He said on Wednesday that while neighboring countries cope better with natural disasters, “the Haitian Government, once the relief effort is over, just wants to forget.”5 This time, however, there can be no forgetting: with the international relief effort must come a re-evaluation of the political and financial aid needed to best help the country.  The Haitian people deserve more than to go back to the status quo after the world helps them clean up the rubble.

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