Rash behaviour of Haitians understandable


Desperate. That’s the word we now hear so often in reference to the people left alive after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook the Haitian capital city of Port-au-Prince and its environs on the afternoon of Jan. 12. It is hard to say how any of us would really respond in similar circumstances, but knowing how easy it can be to become irritated if we are late getting to a meal should be a clue. Not for nothing is it said that “a hungry man is an angry man”. Reports are that people are in desperate need of food and potable water. Lack of places to rest properly, meaning lack of sleep, is no doubt also contributing to the chaos and frayed nerves.

However, in support of the Haitian people, let us not be overwhelmed by media reports that colour the human response to the disaster in this manner. More people than the TV camera records rise to the challenge of such crises bringing forward their better nature to help each other, even as Mother Nature has proved once again that it is not partial.

Haiti and its people have been devastated in recent years by hurricanes, flood rains, subsequent flooding and mudslides that each time left the economically weak country even more battered. Now this. There’s an old joke that follows the saying: “God never gives us more than we can bear”, which is, “maybe He shouldn’t trust us so much”.

Much has been said since the earthquake devastated Haiti about the resilience of the people there. It has to be a pointed characteristic that comes with being born in Haiti.

One of the ironies of this horrendous event is that there is a historical link with the people of New Orleans, which took a direct hit in September 2005 from Hurricane Katrina, which as a Category Three storm has been described as the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

Just over two centuries ago when Haitians revolted in their struggle to emancipate themselves from French domination, some 10,000 refugees fled Haiti, then called Saint Domingue, and settled in New Orleans. The refugees doubled New Orleans’ population while strengthening the city’s distinctive African-French culture and language.

Nature has been acting out in titanic fashion to devastating effect in this decade and, for the most part, the ones who have fared the worst as a result of her tempestuous outbursts are the humans. In her wake, armies of emergency rescuers race from one monumental crisis to the next.

In the past six years alone there have been the flattening of Grenada by Hurricane Ivan and the record setting magnitude 9 earthquake in the Indian Ocean that cause the Boxing Day tsunami that not only tore into Indonesia but had waves sloshing up onto shores as far away as East Africa and even Alaska. Then there was Hurricane Katrina, the magnitude 6.3 earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy in April 2009 and in May 2009 there was the magnitude 7.9 earthquake in Sichuan Province, in Western China, that caused the death of about 70,000 people.

Whether a small tremor or a hurricane, or even seeing water rush over Niagara Falls, any person who has felt or experienced the awesome power of this planet while at the same time being keenly aware of human powerlessness in the face of it can have some sense of what people in places that have been hardest hit have gone through. While we each do what we can to help the people now suffering the aftermath of this latest disaster, it would do us all some good to remember that we are not all the masters of the planet as we sometimes like to think. Nature can be a humbling force.

By the way, in Jamaica, which is 160 kilometres (100 miles) west of Haiti, two aftershocks measuring magnitude 5.5 and 5.9 were felt in the eastern section of the country, in Kingston, St. Thomas, St. Mary and Portland. Also, immediately after the earthquake the coastal areas of Jamaica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas were on a tsunami watch high alert. And, this Tuesday, a magnitude 5.6 earthquake was felt off the Cayman Islands.

On a note of the unfulfilled promise…

If as promised the updated St. Clair streetcar line was supposed to provide faster, more efficient service, why are commuters left waiting as much as 20 minutes in the freezing cold for the arrival of a 512 streetcar? And, if the new dedicated lanes were supposed to create better flow why are streetcars not spaced out four to five minutes apart as indicated on the TTC schedule but instead often travel together in groups of three?

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