On August 14th, a deadly 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. The death toll stands at over 2,000, as of Sunday, but is expected to rise as more bodies are discovered among the rubble. Hundreds of thousands have been made homeless as governments and non-governmental organizations scramble to assemble a cogent relief effort.
Dr. Lucette Gedeon, a pediatrician volunteering at the makeshift neonatal ward, said the hospital had used all of its antibiotics and anesthetics. “There have been babies that came in needing limbs amputated after they were trapped under the rubble,” Gedeon said. In addition, the B.B.C. writes, Nadesha Mijoba of the Haitian Health Foundation is warning that the country is bracing for “a public health disaster.” “The sanitation situation is quite critical,” Mijoba said. “[I]t is our hope that we don’t have an outbreak of cholera.”
Haiti, an already impoverished nation, is still in a state of convalescence after its president was assassinated only one month ago. The late President Jovenel Moise left behind a bulimic bureaucracy; the posthumous stains of his consecutive constitutional changes, dissolution of parliament, and forced early retirement of three supreme court judges are still seeping deeper and deeper into Haiti’s socio-administrative fabric. Haiti’s beleaguered government is also embarking upon a mass vaccination roll-out. Now, the nation has the humanitarian costs of an earthquake, stronger than the one that struck in 2010, to contend with. And to make matters worse, Tropical Storm Grace battered Haiti in the days after the quake, the unsuitably-named torrent giving the nation no reprieve. UNICEF estimates that the cost of basic, stop-the-bleeding aid is now $15 million.
In many regions, relief effort is still fetal; a coordinated and effective response is difficult due to gang warfare and dilapidated infrastructure, which complicate relief convoys and food and medical transportation. UNICEF reports that armed gangs control about 1/3 of Port au Prince, the nation’s capital, and had been hijacking humanitarian vehicles until a truce was announced on August 22nd.
Unfortunately, Haiti is familiar with devastating earthquakes. In 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit the Caribbean country, killing approximately 250,000 people and forcing an additional 1.5 million to seek shelter in temporary displacement camps. Haiti is also the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a GDP per capita of $1,149.50 and a Human Development Index ranking of 170 out of 189 countries in 2020.
The path forward is occluded, or at best clouded in a thick and increasingly menacing fog. Haiti’s priority ought to be the formation of a stable and trustworthy governing body. At the moment, the scheduled November elections have been plunged into doubt as the country rankles with a shortage in competent elected political figures. Nobody wants an interventionist solution. Thus, the next steps for the international community should be maintaining peace with local gangs and increasing aid provision (especially to southern regions). Increasing the presence of humanitarian organizations and continuing their work post-earthquake could lift the paralysis of chronic impoverishment and release social and economic mobilization.
Robert Fatton, professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, contests that the Biden administration should facilitate the creation of a government of national unity. He argues that Haiti needs “civil society leaders who are above the traditional politics that has been rather disastrous for the country.” Let us heed his call and welcome political reformers and advocates of peace in a country that has seen far too much heartache.