Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010 is a date that has scarred the minds of Haitians around the world. It was on that day at about 5 p.m. that their world literally collapsed. An earthquake of a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude struck, leaving a country and its nearly 10 million inhabitants on its knees for the foreseeable future.
The numbers are staggering: 316,000 people dead, 300,000 injured and more than 1.5 million left homeless. Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, was completely flattened, and citizens scrambled to confirm if their relatives were safe. Some remained trapped for days afterward with no food and water. Those left homeless were forced to construct refugee camps with what little material they had. Desperation overcame many; looting was the quick solution to obtain food and resources for their families. The lack of resources coupled with aftershocks that racked the already destroyed nation for weeks, created not just a desperate, but also a hopeless situation.
Fortunately, it did not take long for other countries such as the United States, Jamaica, England and Canada, to respond with humanitarian aid and various relief efforts. For instance, the United States, among many others, deployed emergency relief personnel within hours to assist Haiti’s government in trying to piece together their destroyed nation and ensure that the distribution of aid could begin as soon as possible.
Georgetown’s own Caribbean Culture Circle responded quickly, and, along with the university’s administration and other social justice groups on campus, was able to organize a number of fundraising efforts to help the broken country in any way they could. The profit from the CCC’s annual Date Auction as well as the contributions they received from tabling at both the men’s and women’s basketball games were donated to a special Haiti earthquake relief fund the university set up.
Though it was slow to start, foreign aid has begun to work its way into the country in the form of food, medical care and other much needed supplies — a small step toward Haiti’s reconstruction.
Sadly, weeks turned to months and soon Haiti’s still-dire circumstances faded from the news. More current issues began to present themselves and the hundreds of thousands of victims faded to the back of people’s minds. Haitian orphans disappeared from dinner conversations as summer approached and the World Cup began. Most of the nearly nine billion dollars promised by the international community has yet to be seen and as a result, almost no progress had been made towards reconstruction. Haiti has become a victim again, but this time to the world’s short attention span.
Now, several months later, though an estimated 810,000 people are still homeless, a number of makeshift camps have been constructed to house displaced residents for the time being. Those homeless had found a way to still stand strong, finding a sense of community despite their loss. They hoped that, having been through the worst, the only place to go from there was up.
Unfortunately, on Nov. 5, tragedy nearly struck again: Hurricane Tomas brushed Haiti, forcing thousands to be relocated to higher grounds and causing minor damage. Yet this was the least of their problems.
The passing storm revealed a horrifying reality: Cholera, an infectious bacterial disease of the lower intestine had gripped the country. Some 500 people have already been killed and there are another 500 reported cases. The disease is spread most commonly through infected water supplies and contact with an infected person, so it is not surprising that it has been so viral through camps of the homeless. But this level of contamination was inevitable: With few sources for clean water and thousands of people being forced to cohabitate in such a small area, it wasn’t going to be long before the disease became an epidemic.
What will it take to save Haiti? It is clear that if Haiti does not receive and keep the attention and financial support it needs from the international community, then its future is dim. To their credit, the Haitian people are resilient. But even hope will fade away if we who can help continue to ignore their plight. As disease eats away at a ravaged nation, the aid efforts must be renewed. Haiti deserves a fresh start and there is no reason they shouldn’t be given the chance to brush themselves off and to get back on their feet. It is not fair for Haiti to have to watch as many more than the projected 200,000 of their people die from an easily treatable disease. It is time for the international community to step up and consistently and significantly contribute to the improvement of a country that has absolutely nothing left.
Nneka Jackson is a junior in the College and a columnist for The Hoya’s Opinion section.