Help Haiti

Tens of thousands of people are feared to have been killed in the massive earthquake that shook Haiti on Tuesday. The quake which measured 7 on the Richter scale is said to be the largest to hit the Caribbean in over 200 years. Over three million people are said to be affected by the quake. The country is in ruins and the capital Port au Prince has been reduced to rubble. The Presidential Palace, the UN headquarters and a host of government buildings, indeed much of Haiti’s infrastructure is said to be in shambles. Rescue efforts are on. But humanitarian agencies say that the rescue effort is poorly coordinated. Equipment that is available is inadequate given the magnitude of the disaster. Relief has started coming in. But it is still only a trickle.

Haiti is a country that has been repeatedly hit by disasters, natural and man-made. Tropical storms that hit it in 2004 left several thousands dead. A series of deadly hurricanes ripped through the country in 2008 leaving millions homeless. But more devastating in their impact have been the man-made problems. Haiti is desperately poor. With 80 per cent of its population living below the poverty line, it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The country has also suffered on account of decades of dictatorial rule, bad governance and corruption. Political instability and social unrest have plagued it for many years. These multiple problems will stand in the way of Haiti’s capacity to cope with and recover from the earthquake.

Haiti will need help to recover from this horrific disaster. The international community must not hesitate to be generous in funding the relief and reconstruction effort. Many will complain that international aid to Haiti has in the past brought little visible change. Indeed, foreign aid has been rather ineffectual here. This is not surprising given the fact that aid has rarely reached the intended beneficiaries. However, this is not the time for governments and aid agencies to debate whether Haiti is a failed state or to quibble over the quantum of aid. Haiti is staring at a humanitarian crisis and the international community must not turn its back on the Haitian people in their time of need. Failure to help Haiti through this challenging period could prove critical in preventing this country from crumbling under social unrest.

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