Too little, too late for Haiti relief efforts

cameron.witbeck

On Tuesday, Jan. 12 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the island nation of Haiti, killing an estimated 200,000 people and causing incalculable destruction to homes and other buildings. The damage left behind by the earthquake is just as dangerous as the event itself, as it has left many Haitians without potable water, food or access to medical supplies.

The international community has bonded together in relief efforts. Countries from China to Iceland have pooled together resources, from food and clean water for survivors and volunteer workers to military aid to help in search and rescue efforts. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Doctors Without Borders and the American Red Cross have been actively providing medical support for the countless injured Haitians, along with setting up preventative measures to protect against the inevitable spread of disease in post-catastrophe areas. American media outlets have heavily monitored the situation in Haiti and featured opportunities for citizens to provide help and support for Haiti.

The outpour of support and empathy for the devastating plight of the Haitian people has been a welcomed change in an age of apathy. However, like Hurricane Katrina and the tsunamis in South East Asia, the response of the American people, media and government to the earthquake has been reactionary and not proactive. It seems as if we as a people can only be moved to compassion by a sudden and devastating act of nature. Only then are the deficiencies in infrastructure, prevalence of corruption and lack of resources that exacerbated the effects of these catastrophes made evident.

According the CIA World Factbook entry on Haiti, over 80 percent of its residents live below the poverty line and more than 54 percent are living in abject poverty. Even before the earthquake, Haiti was listed as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and the eighth poorest country in the world. The World Food Programme (WFP) has estimated that over 2.4 million Haitians have no immediate access to food, and The Guardian reported that due to a mixture of tropical storms, a poor economy and disastrous conservation techniques, many Haitians have resorted to subsisting on a “food” that is actually sun-baked clay mixed with salt and shortening.

While NGOs and countries like the U.S. have been active in Haiti for decades, there is little to show for it. The WFP has been working to provide food for Haitians since 1969; however, the food supply in Haiti covers only 55 percent of the population. Haiti’s lack of agricultural development, poor infrastructure (i.e. roads and water supply systems) and corrupt government have made the effects of the earthquake worse. Doctors and rescue teams can not get clear access to survivors and those who survived the initial earthquake are susceptible to starvation and sickness from stagnated water.

Had only a fraction of the resources currently being poured into Haiti been delivered and devoted to development prior to the earthquake, perhaps the death toll of the tragedy could have been reduced. The international community, and more specifically the U.S., must change their method of helping. If we are serious about saving lives and making a difference, we have to take a more active approach that includes helping countries develop and become sustainable instead of waiting for a natural disaster to clean up.