When the Enriquillo fault line shifted at 4:53 p.m. last Jan. 12,
our bed was sent across the hotel room, the other side of the building
collapsed and, as we would soon find out, Haiti was devastated.
My 1-year-old son and I had accompanied my wife, an HIV
educator for health-care workers, to Haiti only two days before the
earthquake. In the immediate aftermath, the emergency medical
technician who was a guest at our hotel formed a makeshift clinic in
the circular driveway to attend to hundreds of badly injured Haitians.
My wife and I were quickly deputized as orderlies in his
driveway emergency room, and without any prior medical training, we
assisted in whatever way we could - stripping the sheets off hotel beds
to apply as bandages, breaking chairs to use the wood for splints,
and transforming the poolside deck chairs into hospital beds.
tens of thousands of Haitians didn't receive even this basic
first-aid, resulting in a much higher mortality rate. The catastrophe
can only begin to be grasped through comparisons; with some 300,000
people dead and another 300,000 injured, the total number of casualties
roughly equals the entire population of Seattle. More than the entire
population of King County - more than 2 million people - were rendered
homeless. Some 1.5 million still live in tent encampments today.
Upon returning home, we learned that half of all
American households had given a charitable donation to help the people
of Haiti and were overjoyed that Haiti's plight had not been
However, the overwhelming majority of the money pledged to
Haiti has yet to reach the Haitian people. Only $6 million of the $52
Haiti Fund had been spent by November, The Washington Post reported.
The U.S. government's pledge of more than $1 billion dollars was
completely unfulfilled until November, when it finally released $120
Worse, the U.S. is pursuing a development strategy
calling for garment factories (read: sweatshops) and tourism instead of
the sustainable agriculture programs proposed by Haitian civil-society
organizations that would create jobs, produce food for countless
Haitians, and allow Haiti to address the environmental degradation that
has crippled its economy for generations.
According to an extensive Institute for Justice and
Democracy in Haiti study, "We Have Been Forgotten," 75 percent of
families living in the tent camps had someone go an entire day without
eating, 44 percent drink untreated water, and 27 percent had no access
The terrible conditions of the tent camps have
contributed to the rapid spread of cholera in Haiti, believed to have
been introduced by United Nations occupying troops from Nepal. Already
some 2,600 Haitians have died from the disease with The New York Times
predicting, "cholera may become a way of life that could afflict as
many as 270,000 people over the next several years."
To tackle a problem of this proportion, Haiti will need
an effective government that understands the needs of its people and
can coordinate a rebuilding project on the scale required. Yet Haiti's
most popular political party, Lavalas, has been banned from
participation in the most recent election - with U.S. and U.N. support -
preventing any new government from truly representing the will of the
If any people can overcome these challenges, it is the
Haitians, who gained their independence through the only successful
slave revolt in history and who have as recently
as the mid-1980s deposed a brutal dictatorship through popular
As the people of Haiti struggle for a better future, we here would do well to remember the Haitian proverb, Men anpil chay pa lou: "Many hands make the load lighter."
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