President Obama promised that Haiti would have the “unwavering support” of the United States. Mr. Obama said that the United States aid agencies were moving swiftly to get help to Haiti and that search-and-rescue teams were en route. He described the reports of destruction as “truly heart-wrenching,” made more cruel given Haiti’s long-troubled circumstances. “This is a time when we are reminded of the common humanity that we all share,” Mr. Obama said. (Romero, 2010). On January 12, 2010, a massive earthquake – arguably the worst quake in over 200 years – struck the tiny country of Haiti. Haiti, a country that is roughly the size of Rhode Island, shares the island of Hispaniola, and sits on top of a seismically active region. The amount of devastation was akin to the damage done to lower Manhattan after the attack on the twin towers, except that the damage stretched across an entire country.
Listen to a first hand account of the suffering: “Things are very crazy here. I arrived in Haiti one hour before the earthquake hit. I came home and I was starting to unpack my bag when the house starting dancing. I was thrown from one side of the room to the other. We went out on the street, there were so many people running, there was a big cloud of smoke, a gas station had exploded, it was like a movie scene. After that we stayed in the house to try and understand what was going on. Other small shocks happened, so we went outside. I started getting phone calls from Haitians, many problems, people that couldn’t get to their house, people whose family were stuck, even people that died. “Right now I just came back home. I went to find some water. We need to stock up. There is a lot of chaos in this city. All the major buildings have collapsed, including the palace, the main church, the other churches, there is a university with more than 1,000 students, most of them dead or trapped.
“We don’t see anybody doing anything. The police don’t have enough men. What I saw was cars going in every direction, people stealing from stores, people walking with dead family members in their arms, people asking for help in the hospital, everywhere destroyed. “Apparently the prison collapsed, so many bandits escaped and many are dead. “For 20 minutes I was out, I saw four or five situations where looting was going on. One of them I was passing, because I am a foreigner, they became a little aggressive, and I had to drive away because they were coming after me.”
Andre Davila Brazilian, aid coordinator. (New York Times, The Sunday Times, 2010). Immediately after the earthquake, the Secretary-General of the United Nations called for a massive, international response. “Clearly, a major relief effort will be required,” Secretary –General Ban Ki-moon told an informal meeting of the UN General Assembly. (UN News Centre, 2010). This paper will discuss the extent of the earthquake, examine the quality of the response efforts, and evaluate the recovery plans to get this small, troubled, but proud nation back on its feet. Haiti: Before the Earthquake
Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most of its history. After an armed rebellion led to the forced resignation and exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004, an interim government took office to organize new elections under the auspices of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Continued violence and technical delays prompted repeated postponements, but Haiti finally did inaugurate a democratically elected president and parliament in May of 2006. (CIA, 2011). Haiti is a troubled country, even before the earthquake. It is important to mention this because some of the response and recovery efforts have been hampered due to the unstable nature of the Haitian government. While it is true that an earthquake of this magnitude would have severely crippled any of the more developed countries, everything has become exacerbated by the political and cultural unrest within Haiti itself. History – Haiti resides in the Western hemisphere, on the Island of Hispaniola.
Haiti shares this Caribbean island with its neighbor, the Domincan Republic. Haiti comprises 27,750 square miles, which is approximately 1/3 of Hispaniola. (CIA, 2011.) The island was originally inhabited by an Indian (native) tribe, called the Taino Amerindians. It is unknown how long the natives were living on the island, but they were discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. (World Facts, 2008). Columbus was the first known European to land on Hispaniola. Unfortunately for the Taino Amerindians, they were practically wiped out by the European settlers who invaded the island. Most of these settlers were Spaniards and they laid claim to the island for Spain. In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola, and in 1697, Spain ceded to the French the western third of the island, which later became Haiti. The French colony, based on forestry and sugar-related industries, became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean, called the “Pearl of the Antilles.” (World Facts, 2008). This may actually have been the highlight of this small country.
Haiti declared its independence from France in 1804, and was the first black republic to do so. (World Facts, 2008). However, it has been torn apart through years of violence, poor and/or corrupt leadership and armed rebellions. In recent years, with support from the United States and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), Haiti elected a democratic government in May of 2006. (World Facts, 2008). Economy – Haiti is a poor country and, in fact, is known as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. (CIA, 2011). “Poverty is widespread – 76 percent of the Haitian population lives on less than $2.00 a day – and social indicators are among the worst in the world.” (Fasano, 2007). It is estimated that 80% of the population in Haiti lives at or just below the poverty line. Of that number, an amazing 54% live in what is described as “abject poverty.” (World Facts, 2008).
The economy is primarily agricultural and most people survive on small gardens of crops that they grow themselves. It is estimated that two-thirds of the population depend on this small-scale subsistence farming to survive. (World Facts, 2008). In 2009, Haiti received a debt forgiveness from the Highly-Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative. The forgiven debt was over $1 billion dollars (American). (World Facts, 2008). This was the state of the economy before the earthquake devastated the countryside. Population – According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) web page, there were approximately 9,719,932 inhabitants of Haiti. (CIA, 2011). Estimates seem to vary with this number, due to inaccurate accounting, difficulty of counting people who live in the countryside and the earthquake.
The median age is 21.1 years and the average life expectancy is around 50-55 years old. (CIA, 2011). It was a hard life, to be sure, one that has been made much more difficult since the earthquake. Government – The country has a republic form of government and its Constitution was approved in March 1987. (CIA, 2011). The Capital is Port-au-Prince, a seaport city that is home to 47% of the country’s residents. (CIA, 2011). In January, 2010, the President was Rene Preval and the Prime Minister was Jean-Max Bellerive. This government (and these leaders) were in place when the earthquake struck. Their ability to lead the country immediately after the earthquake rivals the mistakes made in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and will be a topic for discussion later.
“There is no way to even begin to share the things we’ve heard and seen since 5pm yesterday. To do so would take hours that we don’t have to give right now. Some of them feel wrong to tell. Like only God should know these personal horrible tragedies. The few things we can confirm – yes, the four story Caribbean Market building is completely demolished. Yes, it was open. Yes, the National Palace collapsed. Yes, Gov’t buildings nearby the Palace collapsed. Yes, St Josephs Boys home is completely collapsed. Yes, countless, countless – countless other houses, churches, hospitals, schools, and businesses have collapsed. There are buildings that suffered almost no damage. Right next door will be a pile of rubble. Thousands of people are currently trapped. To guess at a number would be like guessing at raindrops in the ocean. Precious lives hang in the balance. When pulled from the rubble there is no place to take them for care Haiti has an almost non existent medical care system for her people. I cannot imagine what the next few weeks and months will be like. I am afraid for everyone.
Never in my life have I seen people stronger than Haitian people. But I am afraid for them. For us.” Troy Livesay, American missionary who lives in Port au Prince with his family. (New York Times, 2010). On January 12, 2010, at approximately 5p.m., a massive earthquake struck Haiti, about 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince. It was believed to be the worst earthquake to strike the region in over 200 years. (New York Times, 2010). The earthquake caused a massive amount of damage; buildings were toppled, the shantytowns on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince were destroyed, and even the presidential palace sustained severe damage. Calling the death toll “unimaginable” as he surveyed the wreckage, Haitian President Preval said he had no idea where he would sleep. (Romero, 2010). Nothing was spared schools, office buildings, and the tax office were in ruins. “Parliament has collapsed,” Mr. Preval told the Miami Herald.
“The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed. There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them.” (Romero, 2010). The country went dark and silent because there was no electricity and the phone service went dead. Thousands of people lay dead, injured or trapped inside the rubble of one the many buildings that had collapsed in the quake. (New York Times, 2010). Most medical facilities were damaged and medical supplies were lost or ruined. Making matters worse, many of the people and organizations that were in Haiti to offer assistance were devastated by the quake: 16 U.N. peacekeepers were killed, at least 140 United Nations workers were killed or missing and the city’s Roman Catholic archbishop, Msgr. Joseph Serge Minot, was found dead in the rubble of the Port-au-Prince cathedral. (New York Times, 2010).
The Jordanian army stated that three of its peacekeepers had been killed and 21 were wounded, the Brazilian army said four of its peacekeepers were killed and a large number were missing, and China reported that eight of its peacekeepers were buried and feared dead – with another ten that were unaccounted for. (BBC News, 2010). It was estimated that the earthquake reduced most of the capital city to rubble. The death toll has been estimated to be anywhere from 200,000-250,000, but the Haitian president believes that the number is closer to 300,000. (New York Times, 2011). More than a million people were displaced from their homes. (New York Times, 2011). A study by the Inter-American Development Bank estimated the total cost of the disaster to be between $8 billion to $14 billion, (based upon a death toll of 250,000). (New York Times, 2011).
It was estimated that tens of thousands of people were forced out onto the streets of Port-au-Prince. Others were trapped in the collapsed buildings, seriously injured or dying. (UN News Centre, 2010). People were frantically seeking assistance, but many of the support services were seriously crippled. Basic services, like electricity, telephone service and drinking water, were either in short supply or non-existent. (UN News Centre, 2010).
A Lack of Leadership
International firefighters and paramedics have cordoned off recovery sights and are busily trying to rescue anyone who still might be alive. The United Nations forces guard the sites, trying to keep order amid the sometimes frantic desire among family members outside anxious for news. International relief organizations have started to land at the airport, and are slowly setting up operations. One thing that is sorely missing on the scene: the Haitian government. (Llana, 2010). It seems evident that the Haitian government was not adequately prepared to handle this level of an emergency. While foreign governments, international relief agencies, and volunteers rushed in to support Haiti in any way possible, their own government was missing in action. The Haitian government seemed immobilized, or at best, slow to act. In fact, some of the Haitian people complained bitterly that their government was nowhere to be found. (Llana, 2010).
“’It is not an easy situation,’ says Ralph Stanley Jean-Brice, the head of the Haitian National Police in the zone that covers Port-au-Prince. He says his force is down by about half, both because of casualties and because officers are attending their own ruined homes and deaths in their families.” (Llana, 2010). As stated previously, the capital building was buckled and many of the government buildings were damaged or destroyed. Some members of the parliament were trapped inside the presidential palace. (Wikipedia, 2011.) It was stated that the Parliament was not force after the quake and all decision-making authority was left to President Preval and a handful of his cabinet members. (New York Times, 2010). In an effort to establish continuity of operations, President Preval moved the government to police headquarters. Still, it seemed that he was “over his head” and allowed others to make decisions. He relied on former President Bill Clinton for assistance, he allowed the United States Air Force to take over control of the airport and he worked with UN relief personnel in the response efforts.
However, no one was sure who exactly was in charge. To some, the Haitian government was not capable of leading the country out of the mess. The New York Times echoed this sentiment and said, “Mr. Preval initially seemed incapable of pulling himself together. . .Several weeks after the quake, he began to take steps to reassert his authority and restore his government.” (New York Times, 2010). Moreover, a group of Haitian scholars wrote an article in a local Haitian newspaper that demanded the government to step aside and allow the international relief agencies to run the response efforts. They were asking for a dual role in governance where there would be international governance that gives Haiti’s politicians a say, but not the last word. (Charles, 2011). Further, in a survey conducted by The Miami Herald, ten days after the quake, Haitian-Americans living in South Florida overwhelmingly stated that “they lost faith in the Haitian government’s ability to rebuild the shattered nation.” (Charles, 2010).
Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive defended his government’s actions and told the newspaper he detected “some contradictions” in the poll that measured dissatisfaction among Haitians in the United States with the performance of the government of President René Preval in the crisis. (Charles, 2010). This may be true, but it is undeniable that the Haitian government was not prepared to handle such a large scale disaster, response and recovery. “Weak before the disaster and further weakened by it, the government has been overwhelmed by the logistical complexities of issues like debris removal and the identification of safe relocation sites,” (New York Times, 2010). Therefore, the world had to respond and an international relief effort was born.
The Immediate Response
World Health Organization (WHO) is working with local authorities, United Nations agencies and humanitarian partners to respond to the emergency. More specifically, WHO is supporting the Haitian government to best coordinate international health assistance to the country. WHO is also collecting data on the health impact of the earthquake to disseminate to other humanitarian aid providers. In addition, WHO is deploying a 12-member team of health and logistics experts. The WHO experts being sent include specialists in mass casualty management, coordination of emergency health response and the management of dead bodies. UN buildings, including the WHO premises, have suffered damage in the magnitude 7.0 earthquake, which struck on 12 January. The main force of the earthquake was felt 17 kilometres south-west of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Haiti is a country that has already suffered from years of humanitarian crisis and natural disasters, including a series of hurricanes that battered the country in 2008. (WHO Media Release, 2010). The United States quickly offered support to Haiti and the Haitian government asked the United States to manage the international response.
The White House coordinated over 30 nations and hundreds of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) in the response effort. U.S. AID declared that the “U.S. response to the Haiti earthquake has changed the U.S. approach to international crises and answered President Obama’s call for a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort ‘to save lives and to deliver relief that averts an even larger catastrophe.’” (USAID, 2010). This effort was characterized by LGEN Ken Keen, Commander, Joint Task force Haiti, as “This is one of the worst natural disasters our world has ever witnessed. It required a response of immediacy that the international community could never have imagined. The number of countries and nongovernmental organizations that converged on this Caribbean island was unprecedented.” (Keen, 2010).
The world responded as follows: Search and Rescue – The day after the earthquake struck, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said “The first priority is search and rescue.” The international community responded by sending a multitude of teams. Teams were sent from China, France, the Dominican Republic, and the United States. Within 10 days of the disaster, there were over 43 rescue teams, (comprised of 1,739 rescue workers and 161 rescue dogs), were scouring the rubble in search of survivors. (White House, 2010).
Six of the rescue teams were from the United States. USAID stated that it would normally deploy two teams, but the magnitude of the Haiti earthquake demanded a larger response – so they cobbled together additional teams, with the assistance of FEMA. (USAID, 2010). Their work was successful – by the first weeks these search and rescue teams were able to save 136 people, making this the “most successful search and rescue operation in the world.” (USAID, 2010). One source of American pride, those six rescue teams that deployed to Haiti located and rescued one-third of the lives saved. (Klapper and Riley, 2010). One of the most memorable scenes of the response was when an American team rescued a person as the bystanders began chanting, “USA! USA!” (Klapper and Riley, 2010). Basic Necessities –
USAid and Its Efforts
Recovery: Six Months After
One Year After
“I am here in Haiti on the UN peace mission. I arrived two days ago. “After getting lost we decided to return to the military base. Arriving near there, at around 17.00 local time, the vehicle stopped at a traffic light. We heard an enormous noise and thought it must be a gas explosion or a car crash. When I looked to my right, I saw a building falling down. When I looked to my left, I saw the same scene. “Two weeks ago I saw the film 2012. I simply felt that I was in the middle of that scene. People shouting, and running desperately to save themselves. I felt the ground moving in waves. A lot of dust came up. We got back in the car and rapidly went back to the base around 2km (1.2 miles) away. On the way, we saw houses coming down, people coming out in desperation, cars stopped, people in the street, totally lost. “It was an experience I will never forget.” Marcus Antonio da Silva, UN peace mission worker
BBC. 2010. “Haiti devastated by massive quake.” http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/mpapps/pagetools/print/news.bbc.co.uk./2/hi/americas/8455629.stm. Retrieved on January 8, 2011.
Central Intelligence Agency. 2011. The World Fact Book. http://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ha.html. Retrieved on January 19, 2011. Charles, Jacqueline. 2010. Haiti President Rene Preval quietly focuses on ‘managing country.’ The Miami Herald. http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/02/01/1458055_p2/staring-down-a-crisis.html##ixzz1COWVLFak. Retrieved on January 28, 2011. Embassy of Haiti. 2010. http://www.haiti.org/. Retrieved on January 17, 2011.
Fasano, Ugo. (2007). “Haiti’s Economic, Political Turnaround.” International Monetary Fund. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/survey/so/2007/CAR0917A.htm. Retrieved on January 20, 2011.
Keen, Ken. LGEN. (2010). General Keen’s Blog: Coordinate and Collaborate. U.S. Department of Defense.
http://www.defense.gov/news/newarticle.aspx?id=58427. Retrieved on January 8, 2011.
Klapper, M. and Riley, J. 2010. “Haiti Lessons: A Search and Rescue Corps…” The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/13/opinion/13klapper.html?ref=haiti&pagewanted=print. Retrieved on January 19, 2011.
Llana, Sara M. 2010. “Haiti earthquake: Angry crowds bemoan lack of government response.” The Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2010/0117/Haiti-earthquake-Angry-crowds-bemoan-lack-of-government-response. Retrieved on January 8, 2011.
New York Times. 2010. Haiti Earthquake of 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/info/haiti-earthquake-2010/?pagemode=print. Retrieved on January 19, 2011.
New York Times. 2011. “Haiti: Life After the Quake.” http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/haiti/index.html?scp=1-spot&sq=haiti%20earthquake&st=cse. Retrieved on January, 16, 2011.
New York Times: The Sunday Times. (2010). “Haiti Earthquake: Stories from the Survivors.” http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article6987620.ece. Retrieved on January 20, 2011.
Rand Corporation. http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG1039.html. Retrieved on January 16, 2011.
Romero, Simon. 2010. “Haiti Lies in Ruins; Grim Search for Untold Dead.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/world/americas/14haiti.html?pagewanted=print. Retrieved on January 19, 2011.