Paragraphs To Ponder—Haiti

By Maria Abi-Habib.

“With broken bones and open wounds, the injured jammed into damaged hospitals or headed to the airport, hoping for mercy flights out. A handful of doctors toiled all night in makeshift triage wards. A retired senator used his seven-seat propeller plane to ferry the most urgent patients to emergency care in the capital.

A day after a magnitude-7.2 earthquake killed at least 1,300 people and injured thousands in western Haiti, the main airport of the city of Les Cayes was overwhelmed Sunday with people trying to evacuate their loved ones to Port-au-Prince, the capital, about 80 miles to the east.

There wasn’t much choice. With just a few dozen doctors available in a region that is home to one million people, the quake aftermath was turning increasingly dire.

‘I’m the only surgeon over there,’ said Dr. Edward Destine, an orthopedic surgeon, waving toward a temporary operating room of corrugated tin set up near the airport in Les Cayes. ‘I would like to operate on 10 people today, but I just don’t have the supplies,’ he said, listing an urgent need for intravenous drips and even the most basic antibiotics.

The earthquake was the latest calamity to convulse Haiti, which is still living with the aftereffects of a 2010 quake that killed an estimated quarter-million people. Saturday’s quake came about five weeks after the Haitian president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated, leaving a leadership vacuum in a country already grappling with severe poverty and rampant gang violence.”


The Decade’s First Global News Story

Paul Collier in a January 17th Guardian story.

“Humanitarian crises around the world have shown that, while disaster response is often fast, effective and well-funded, reconstruction attracts fewer resources and, in many instances, fails to deliver an opportunity for a better future. Aceh, on the tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and a region often taken as a model for focused development efforts after the 2004 tsunami, now faces new challenges as aid agencies reduce cash handouts and a lack of employment opportunities threatens stability.”

The media spotlight is shining brightly on Haiti just as it did Aceh in 2004. What are the odds that in six years, we will read that Haiti “now faces new challenges as aid agencies reduce cash handouts and a lack of employment opportunities threatens stability.”?

People’s recent generosity towards Haiti strikes me as odd given how little attention most people typically pay to desperately poor people and places.

In the medium and long-term, what impact can we expect an “ignore, give generously, and ignore again” style of philanthropy to make?

We need to commit to more serious and sustained global citizenship that rests on historical knowledge of colonialism, of specific places like Haiti, of globalization and neo-liberal economics, and less on one-off, media-inspired, charitable giving.

I would be more optimistic about Haiti’s future if people checked out books by Sachs, Collier, and other experts on global poverty and formed groups to debate the merits of their proposals for reducing global poverty.

If we don’t press our government to give more generously and intelligently, and we don’t consider changes in our own lifestyles, I can’t help but wonder if we give at times like this out of a sense of guilt.