No one could have predicted it.
The devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti has crippled the island nation’s capital and has left a death toll in its wake that has already totaled over 100,000. So far 28 Americans have been pronounced dead, with thousands of others still unaccounted for.
Headlines over the past two weeks have been dominated with images of the ruined capital of Port-au-Prince and the subsequent humanitarian mobilization that has taken place.
The massive amounts of aid committed will result in immediate help and will provide relief for the time being.
But the attention span of America and the international community must be tested if we want to ensure that the Haiti recovers from this disaster. Yet the headlines in our newspapers do not acknowledge the long-term needs of the Haitian people.
Unfortunately America has a history of providing excessive media coverage on certain events and promising basic assistance to countries. This is, of course, before we jump ship despite the need for a long-term commitment (see: Darfur).
In 2008, Haiti was crippled by four hurricanes. In their aftermath, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised $100 million in aid. We weren’t even able to provide half of what we pledged.
If we want to ensure that the next natural disaster that could occur in the Caribbean doesn’t approach the magnitude of this one there are several issues that should be addressed over time and not just within the first two weeks Haiti flashes across the television screen.
Of the near 10 million people that inhabit the island, one million depend on international food aid in order to feed themselves. That number will only skyrocket in the coming weeks.
The island has also been completely stripped of its own resources and has little infrastructure to support itself once the aid tampers off and the world goes back into their casual routines.
In 2008 it was also reported that nearly 60 percent of the buildings in Port-au-Prince were poorly built and unsafe even for standard conditions. In fact, Haiti does not even have construction standards.
Since these shoddy buildings weren’t able to withstand the pressures of the earthquake, thousands died. If this earthquake occurred in a country where they had the wealth to ensure certain construction standards the desolation would have certainly been less.
Another earthquake in Haiti is also likely due to its location along a known fault line, although it is impossible to predict this.
While there’s no doubt the events in Haiti are horrific, there is a unique opportunity. We have the ability to rebuild the country, provide immediate aid and ensure the economic stablity of an island.