Thursday, January 14, 2010

Earthquake in Haiti: Port-au-Prince picks up the pieces

No one really knows how many people have died in Haiti’s earthquake; it is far too early to count the bodies. The country's prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive told CNN the final toll could be well over 100,000. Another senior Haitian politician Youri Latortue told AP the number could be as high as half a million, but both men conceded that nobody really knew. What most people did know was that the impact was utterly devastating. The 7.0 quake that struck 15km southwest of Port-au-Prince yesterday afternoon affected two million people and destroyed most of the capital’s buildings including the presidential palace, the parliament, the cathedral and most critically, all of the city’s hospitals.

Port-au-Prince is struggling to deal with the enormity of the disaster. The Times said the city's central Champs de Mars square resembled a huge open-air refugee camp but one without food, water or medicine. Medicins Sans Frontiers say there are hundreds of thousands of homeless people now sleeping in the streets. One of MSF's senior staff in Haiti, Stefano Zannini, was out for most of the night, assessing the needs in the city and looking at the state of the medical facilities. Zannini said the situation was chaotic. “I visited five medical centres, including a major hospital, and most of them were not functioning,” he said. “Many are damaged and I saw a distressing number of dead bodies.”

The country’s president René Préval said the damage caused by the magnitude 7.0 tremor was "unimaginable". The Huffington Post had a before and after shot that showed the extent of the damage at the presidential palace. But wondering where he would sleep that night was the least of Préval’s problems. “Parliament has collapsed, the tax office has collapsed, schools have collapsed, hospitals have collapsed” Mr. Préval told the Miami Herald. “There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them. All of the hospitals are packed with people. It is a catastrophe.”

The five-storey UN base at the Christopher Hotel was not spared; it also crumbled in the quake. The international body said 16 of its personnel were confirmed dead and between 100 and 150 more workers were still missing, These included UN mission chief Hedi Annabi of Tunisia and his deputy, Luis Carlos da Costa of Brazil. Annabi was meeting a Chinese delegation at the time of the quake. The Chinese are also among the missing. Just about the only good news from Haiti was the fact that most other areas of the country were spared - the capital took the brunt of the quake.

Mashable have listed ways people around the world can help. These include direct donations to organisations in the field such as Care, Direct Relief International and Oxfam, as well as via a site Google has updated to respond to the crisis Google Support Disaster Relief. Meanwhile Haitian hip-hop musician Wyclef Jean has used his Twitter feed to rally people to contribute to his grassroots Yele Haiti fund via text messages which automatically charge $5 to users’ mobile bills. The LA Times said the campaign has raised $400,000 in 24 hours.

Reuters's Lesley Wroughton says Haiti will need a lot more money than that to recover from this catastrophe. The impoverished country was already the poorest in the western hemisphere and it will take a massive, sustained global effort to rebuild the country. Wroughton says Haiti was rebuilding from its failed state status and had gradually impressed donors and investors through economic reforms, efforts to stamp out corruption and improve conditions for the four out of five Haitians who live in poverty. The IMF and World Bank had canceled $1.2 billion of debt, freeing up crucial funds for the government to build roads, bridges and prepare social programs.

Wroughton quoted CARE’s CEO Helene Gayle who said Haiti could no longer survive from crisis to crisis and needed to get on to a path of long-lasting, sustained change. Gayle called it Haiti’s Asian tsunami, and said it was a chance for the world to be generous and commit to helping Haiti beyond the current disaster. "We need to make sure that we're building back in a way that does not only return them to where they were but gives them an opportunity to really get a leg up after this is all over," Gayle said.

1 comment: said...

The situation in Haiti is dire, and will only get worse over time. It is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, so it is up to wealthier countries to try to lend support. The United States will undoubtedly play a major role in the recovery effort, but I hope everyone remembers that the United States also has its own problems, like a high unemployment rate and Americans struggling to support their families.