Tragedy struck Haiti on January 12th when a 7.0 MMS earthquake rattled the nation. The quake had an epicenter 16 miles west of the capital Port-au-Prince, its effects spanning 8.1 miles and leading to 52 aftershocks of magnitude of at least 4.5 MMS. Roughly 3.5 million people lived in the areas affected, making much of the nation’s population vulnerable to the effects of the quake. In the weeks since, over 170,000 fatalities have been confirmed while over three million people have been affected by the quake. Approximately 250,000 buildings were collapsed by the quake, leaving hundreds of thousands without homes. Among those killed were Archbishop of Port-au-Prince Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot, opposition leader Micha Gaillard, and United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti’s Chief Hedi Annabi.
The crisis was followed immediately by an outpouring of humanitarian aid from across the globe, leading to the dispatch of medical teams to the nation as well as vast sums of monetary donations. The United Nations initiated an emergency phase of relief that ended on January 22nd, along with an extensive search for survivors. Such dilemmas are not new to Haiti, which experienced 3 hurricanes in the summer of 2008 alone.
Though aid was provided from around the world, these efforts faced many obstacles. As Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, emergency services were proven to be unable to handle a disaster of this magnitude. Very few hospitals were left standing following the quake, causing the Argentine military field hospital to be the only one available the day the earthquake occurred. Doctors Without Borders, which has played a key role in relief efforts, reported that medical facilities were so flooded with the injured that many swift amputations were forced to take place. Furthermore, the limited amount of medical supplies led to crude reinforcements including cardboard splints and frequently reused latex gloves. The amount of injured citizens was such that nearly 20,000 Haitians died each day who would have been saved by surgery, had sufficient medical facilities been in place.
An unfortunate complication of relief efforts was that most of Haiti’s communication and transportation systems were destroyed by the quake, making such efforts significantly less effective. Air traffic became thoroughly congested, as were the capital’s morgues that had no choice but to bury tens of thousands of bodies in mass graves. US traffic controllers handled this by assuming control at the Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport, making sure that planes equipped with emergency medical supplies could not leave the country. These complications were met with confusion over who was in charge, followed by violence from injured survivors who felt that aid was not properly distributed. Aid workers from the region took issue with US dispatched workers, who were accused of letting a number of relief trucks remain unused at the airport. In response to these and other disagreements, US officials as well as Haitian president Preval acknowledged that diplomatic cooperation is central to guide the nation toward recovery.
While there were many complications along the way, Haiti received a remarkable amount of international assistance. In the two days following the quake, over 20 countries dispatched military personnel to the nation to provide medical care and search for survivors. After arriving at maximum possible speed on January 15th, the USS Carl Vinson super carrier delivered 600,000 emergency food rations, 1 million liters of water, and 19 helicopters for victim recovery. These helicopters became essential in the distribution of these rations, as the damage from the quake made many areas inaccessible by land. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Haiti on January 16th to survey the damage, and announced that the U.S. had raised $48 million in relief aid. Two days before, President Obama pledged $100 million to the nation, stating that the victims of the disaster “will not be forgotten”. The European Union was another key contributor, promising $474 million in long-term aid. Recognizing that crowding was a source of much hindrance of relief efforts,
President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal allowed Haitians access to free Senegalese land. The positive response to this may lead to an entire region being allocated for this purpose. In addition to immediate fiscal contributions, corporations including Coca Cola and AT&T instated donation strategies that allowed consumers to donate digitally from around the world at the click of a button.
Though the emergency phase of relief efforts has concluded, Haiti is nowhere near the end of its ordeal. The damage of the quake was such that the economy will take years to fully recover. Trade and Industry Minister Josseline Colimon Fethiere predicted that 1 in 5 jobs would be lost, while many citizens will need continued medical care for serious injuries. As Vice President Joe Biden explained, President Obama “does not view this as a humanitarian mission with a life cycle of a month. This will still be on our radar screen long after it’s off the crawler at CNN. This is going to be a long slog.”