The recent international focus on Afghanistan has led to the unfortunate neglect of a many-sided humanitarian crisis in Haiti which has aggravated around the same time. First, a high-intensity earthquake struck, and this was followed very soon by a tropical storm which brought heavy rains and flooding.
This mountainous country is very prone to mudslides and landslides at the time of heavy rains and so this is an additional worry. Already over 2000 have died while nearly 10,000 are injured and around 40,000 are homeless, while many are reported to be still buried under debris, awaiting rescue.
The rescue and relief work has been badly hampered by heavy rains. The limited number of hospitals have been overwhelmed. Many of the people who have been rendered homeless have been under the rain with just plastic sheets or covers, on more or less empty stomachs.
To be able to appeciate the full dimension of the humanitarian disaster, we need to keep in mind four other factors. First and the most obvious fact is that it has come in the middle of a pandemic with all its problems, restrictions and uncertainties.
Secondly, this is just one of a wave of disasters during the last decade or so. In fact the country has not yet rcovered from the highly disastrous earthquake in 2010 which claimed as many as 250,000 human lives and turned as many as 16 million people into homeless people in need of immediate shelter.
In a country with a popualation of 110 million this meant that one out of seven persons suddenly became homeless. The United Nations which came into help instead contaminated the water supply with the wastes generated from its own activities. This is reported to have played an important part in starting a chilera epidemic which claimed an additional 10,000 lives.
Thirdly, about a month back the President of Haiti was assassinated, plunging the country in a governance crisis.
Lastly, it may be added that criminal and violent gangs have been a problem in some parts of the country and this adds to the difficulties and delays in moblizing quick relief work.
Thus the country badly need attention and relief support but care has to be taken to ensure that poweful interests do not misuse the exceptionally distressing situation for their narrow pursuits. Several outside interventions in the past turned out to be harmful and guided by narrow interests. Hence it may be a good idea to set up a committee of eminent citizens, to be guided by some relief experts, who can take ahead the relief effort, while donors should ensure that there is no shortage of funds and essential supplies. Doctors and health personnel from Cuba in particular can play a very helpful role if conducive conditions and adequate emergency medical supplies can be ensured for them as they have good experience of providing essential health care in emergency and disaster situations.
Beyond the immediate emergency, moreover, there should be a new vision for balanced and justice based development initiatives in this country which has so much unrealized potential with its beautiful beaches and mountains. The only country which rose to freedom from a successful revolt of slaves, one of the first free countries of the Americas, Haiti had once shwn so much promise for justice-based progress but outside forces were largely responsible for hindering this and instead supporting regimes of cruel dictators. It is time now for focusing on development and governance based predominantly on welfare of ordinary people of Haiti, combined with protection of environment and reduction of damage from disasters as risk from these is clearly increasing fast in these times of climate change.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Man over Machine.