Monday, January 13, 2014

Blouin Beat: World - The Haiti quake, four years later

The Haiti quake, four years after
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Blouin Beat: World
January 13, 2014
Originally published:

On January 12, 2010, a massive earthquake hit Haiti, long regarded as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and arguably the least prepared to withstand an earthquake of that strength.
While the overall impact the Caribbean nation suffered has generally been well-reported, recent media reports continue to give different estimates of how many people lost their lives. For examplea January 2014 report by NPR mentions that 200,000 people died, while an Associated Pressreport says “officials say more than 300,000 died, but no one knows for certain how many people lost their lives.” Meanwhile, the website of OXFAM International explains “more than 220,000 people were killed and over 300,000 injured.”
After the earthquake occurred, the international community mobilized to help the impoverished nation. Washington deployed several military units as part of Operation Unified Response, including the USNS Comfort, the Navy’s medical assistance vessel. There was even a telethon,called Hope for Haiti Now, in which American celebrities helped collect money for the relief effort. Nations like France also sent emergency personnel.
Most memorably, then-president of the Dominican Republic Leonel Fernandez ordered hisgovernment to send trucks with food, along with eight ambulances and medical staff, to help Haiti. This was an important development: Haiti and the Dominican Republic have had a long history of tensions — particularly after the 1930s massacre of thousands of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, known as the Parsley Massacre, during the Trujillo dictatorship. Analysts (myself included) believed that due to the earthquake relations between Port-au-Prince and San Jose would improve. Sadly, recent events show that this optimism was too much to hope for.
Four years after this tragic event, it is debatable whether this Caribbean nation is on the road to recovery. The aforementioned Huffington Post explains that the quake left some 1.5 million citizens living in camps, and four years later, the number has been reduced to 146,000. A massive improvement — but the number of displaced people is still significantly high. There has been some progress regarding maintaining the government’s rule on the country. Haiti held presidential elections in 2011, a sign that the country’s electoral system is working. And while the presidency ofMichel Martelly has been controversial, there is little to suggest that a coup could occur, as it did in 2004 when then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was deposed. And at least one high-profile international investment has occurred in the interim. The hotel chain Marriott is building a four-star hotel in Port-au-Prince. A ceremony to break ground was carried out in December 2012, and in August 2013, the construction received a $26 million-investment boost.
Nevertheless, the Haitian nation still has plenty of woes. As previously mentioned, it was hoped that the quake would serve as a (tragic) catalyst to improve bilateral relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, this has not happened, best evidenced by the controversial law passed by the government in San Jose that withdraws citizenship from undocumented migrants (mostly Haitians)  living in the other country of Hispaniola island.
To make matters worse, nowadays the country is suffering from a health crisis:  cholera, most likely brought by U.N. peacekeepers.
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that given these hardships, Haitians are attempting to migrate. But since the situation in the Dominican Republic looks grim, Haitians are trying to reach other nations. This development means that we regularly hear about vessels sinking or capsizing which carried Haitian migrants across Caribbean waters. This past November 2013, a boat sank off the coast of The Bahamas, killing around 30 Haitians who were trying to reach the U.S.
Haitians can take pride in the fact that their country was the second nation to become independent in the Americas, only second to the U.S. (in 1804 from France). Sadly, Haiti has faced a continuous series of perils and hardships during the 20th century and so far during the 21st. It is to be hoped that when we commemorate the 5th anniversary of the quake, we will find this nation in a stronger position as regards development. But don’t hold your breath.

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