A few days ago I came back from a trip to Haiti. I was part of a team taking out medical supplies to a hospital on the island of La Gonave as well as a recently established field hospital in Petit-Goâve, near the earthquake’s epicentre. The charity we were going on behalf of are called Lemon Aid and they had worked hard to collect and pay for about 1000 kg of medical supplies including a large amount of tetanus vaccinations. They have had a relationship with the hospital for a couple of years now and responded quickly after the earthquake, sending out a similar team prior to this trip and preparing for a third to leave in a few days time.
Since arriving home I have been asked numerous times what it’s like in Haiti right now. I can only say that I have seen and experienced very, very little of the full scale of what has happened there. I am a healthy, wealthy, well fed and comfortable man who has never lost a family member to anything other than old age. It’s hard, therefore, for me and for many of us to be able to fully empathise with the plight of the Haitian people. However, that doesn’t give us an excuse not to act. As we drove through Port-au-Prince at 6 am one morning, I was struck by the rows and rows of people sleeping on the streets, fearful of the concrete buildings that killed so many. As the rainy season starts next month, this is likely to bring a whole host of sanitation and general health issues. And whilst many have managed to create makeshift shelters, these are unlikely to withstand the hurricanes that so often sweep the island.
What really impacted me is the sheer scale of the situation. A whole city lies in ruins with over a million people homeless and around two million people needing food and water. The current media attention and concentration of humanitarian aid is to be fully applauded. Many, many people are working very hard. However, what may end up being the real challenge is continuing this support for the next five to ten years. After the tsunami of 2004 some governments ending up giving only 50% of the amount they had pledged. This isn’t good enough. Haiti’s already fragile economy has suffered a devastating blow with many of the middle class business owners falling the furthest and essentially losing their life savings as they saw their houses collapse. This will make it even harder for Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas to rebuild, and long-term international aid must be made available long after the news crews have left. We don’t want to see thousands upon thousands of Haitians living in refugee camps for years to come.
I passed a school where 4000 children had died in a single minute. 2995 people lost their lives in the September 11th attacks and the ramifications of that event are still felt today, almost ten years on. Let it be the same with Haiti, let us not forget this in the years to follow.
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