Disastrous Earthquake Leaves Haiti Struggling To Recover

On August 14th, southwestern Haiti experienced a magnitude 7.2 earthquake. Damage from the earthquake itself was devastating and left the country in dire straits, but the difficulty of the recovery has been exacerbated by subsequent environmental crises, combined with political turmoil. Just over ten years after its catastrophic earthquake in 2010, Haiti is facing another harrowing recovery, complicated by the intersection of several long-term challenges.

According to UNICEF, the August 14th quake affected 1.2 million people, including 540,000 children. Tens of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed, as was much of the region’s infrastructure, and damage to roads and other essential structures has complicated relief efforts. UNICEF has also reported that in Haiti’s badly-affected south administrative region, 94 of the area’s 255 schools (almost 40%) were destroyed by the earthquake, which hit just weeks before school was set to begin. This poses major challenges for both the country’s education system and its children’s quality of life.

The healthcare system has also become overwhelmed in the earthquake’s aftermath. Local Haitian hospitals have told C.N.N. that they have been inundated with injured survivors and are in desperate need of supplies.

Several humanitarian organizations and donor countries have increased their efforts to help Haiti, including the United States Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.), which has deployed medical and food supplies. The Pentagon’s joint task force is assisting U.S.A.I.D. with the disaster relief. UNICEF has been actively distributing vital practical necessities, including showers, water reservoirs, hygiene kits, and tarpaulins, while the U.N. and the E.U. have allocated 8 million USD and 3.5 million USD respectively to aid the ongoing efforts. Although aid has rushed into Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, transporting the vital supplies to the affected regions has been challenging.

In addition to the earthquake’s direct effects, other environmental challenges have further disrupted relief efforts and worsened the overall situation. Due to years of deforestation, which have left the majority of the highest mountains devoid of vegetation and left the country with only 1% of its primary forest remaining, Haiti is prone to mudslides. Just a few days after the quake, Tropical Storm Grace hit landfall. The earthquake destabilized much of the soil. The tropical storm introduced a short period of torrential rainfall. These combined events led to dangerous flooding and sudden mudslides, putting vulnerable victims of the earthquake at further risk. “Countless Haitian families who have lost everything due to the earthquake are now living literally with their feet in the water due to the flooding,” UNICEF’S representative in Haiti, Bruno Maes, said.

The earthquake and subsequent environmental crises are only the country’s most recent problems. The economically challenged Haiti has been made heavily reliant on donor countries and organizations for relief efforts. Moreover, the July assassination of its previous president, Jovenel Moise, has caused a political shock. UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore listed political instability, a rise in gang violence, high rates of malnutrition among children, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as additional issues aggravating earthquake recovery.

Haitian prime minister Ariel Henry has encouraged solidarity among the population, despite the dire circumstances. Henry urged the country to “unite to rebuild Haiti,” stressing the government’s commitment to the effort. He also reminded Haitian citizens to be mindful of COVID-19 as recovery efforts continue. “We lost many people in the disaster,” Henry said. “Let’s avoid losing more because of the pandemic.”