Rain compounding Haiti’s problems

By PAT WATSON

While Haitians and foreign aid workers continue the overwhelming task of digging out a new start from the rubble left by the magnitude 7 earthquake that hit Haiti early in the New Year, Nature proved once again that it has no probity. For a magnitude 8.8 earthquake – one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded – struck Chile on Feb. 27. The magnitude measurements may not seem that far apart but, in reality, with each number increase the effect is 10 times stronger, so a magnitude 7 earthquake is considered a “major” event while a magnitude 8 is considered a “great” earthquake.

The Jan. 12 earthquake devastated the capital city, Port-au-Prince and its environs, taking the lives of an estimate 240,000 people. The destruction left another 200,000 injured and more than one million homeless, as buildings now lie in overwhelming heaps of rubble. Even the presidential palace collapsed.

The reports are that the devastation in Chile though great does not in the same way compare with the absolute catastrophe that has been visited on Haiti, which has for too long endured a fragile socio-political and economic structure.

Apparently, Chile, which experienced the strongest earthquake since the advent of measuring devices at magnitude 9.5 in May 1960, was better prepared for this kind of phenomenon. However, based on the images from Concepción, for instance, there is no doubt that Chileans, like Haitians, are similarly overcome, especially those who, like so many Haitians, live in poverty.

News coming out of Haiti indicates that weeks ahead of the annual rainy season, early rains are compounding the earthquake’s destruction. Already, a numbers of deaths have been reported in connection with the early rain, and Port-au-Prince recorded above average rainfall in February. The usual rainy season begins in late spring.

According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which is organizing shelter there, nearly 40 per cent of the 1.3 million directly affected by the earthquake now have some form of shelter. That also means, however, that hundreds of thousands more are still living without shelter as the rains approach, with the inevitable mudslides, floods and drownings. There is, therefore, a pressing need for shelter, and we are being called upon again to give.

By the end of February, Canadians had donated $154 million to 14 charities in response to the Haitian disaster. The federal government had promised to match private donations up to $128 million. While there is a drive on now, both here in Toronto and beyond to raise money for tents, a concern is that tents will not provide strong enough shelter to withstand the rains. As such, while the effort is small in contrast to the size of the rebuilding task, locals are helping themselves by beginning to put up sturdier structures. That means building supplies are needed immediately.

It should also be noted that while we have received much information about the assistance being given to Haiti by North Americans and North American aid organizations, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has been making an active contribution to the recovery process, as well as the people of Haiti themselves.

Jamaica led the region’s initial response along with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency. Former prime minister of Jamaica, P.J. Patterson, heads the CARICOM committee that met with international representatives in Montreal last month to discuss plans to aid Haiti. And CARICOM will have an important role at the follow up meeting in New York this month.

“Haiti is dependent on CARICOM to provide…support and to ensure that, at every stage, Haiti’s sovereignty and views in respect to what Haiti wants will come to the fore,” says CARICOM chair, Roosevelt Skerrit, the Prime Minister of Dominica.

He is right. Haiti will need the help of its Caribbean neighbours to ensure its rights are protected.

There must be ongoing vigilance on the part of the Haitian people and government to ensure they are not overpowered by those who seek to lead in the reconstruction but who in effect would further handicap the nation. And fellow Caribbean leaders must stand with them.

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