- Racial Equity
- Talk About Race
In Haiti, everyone is hurting. The inconceivable happened in Haiti on January 12, 2010 when a 7.0 earthquake struck miles outside of its densely populated capital. Port-au-Prince is home to twenty percent of the population. With the epicenter near such a large population center, the estimated death toll has been unimaginably high, in the tens of thousands and likely to go much higher.
More dire are the prospects for survival for millions even as local and international rescue efforts ramp up to provide food, water and shelter in a place where life has been violently turned inside out. Even cities and towns in Haiti far from Port-au-Prince are severely affected, as the normal transport routes that would bring commerce from the capital to outlying areas are no longer in existence.
For many, like me, who watched the PBS News Hour on January 11, which featured a story about economic growth following the increase in textile exports from Haiti after passage of the HOPE II Act in Congress last year, this was the height of horrific irony and tragedy.
As a former aid worker who had the opportunity to travel to Haiti years ago and experience the beauty of the people amidst the chaos of daily life, I have been filled with horror and overwhelming sadness. I’ve learned that hospitals and orphanages we worked with have collapsed, staff members have perished, and people have lost family. Despite this, on the ground there is no time to mourn. There is nothing to do but help others.
Rescue operations, medical care and water and food provision are appropriately the focus of current fundraising and assistance. Fortunately, response by the United States, other governments, international bodies and the public has been fairly swift (though logistics on the ground have made actual delivery of aid very difficult).
The Obama Administration immediately halted deportation proceedings (seems like a no-brainer but bureaucratic red tape can be very sticky), and the New York Times reports that adoption procedures have been relaxed somewhat to allow children in pre-earthquake approved adoptions to be united with their adoptive parents and small numbers of new orphans to be placed in temporary homes in Florida. Advocacy groups like TransAfrica Forum immediately called for Temporary Protected Status for Haitian refugees and debt relief. Now the Paris Club of Nations is calling for Haiti debt relief to help reconstruction efforts.
While the immediate needs for rescue and recovery efforts in Haiti are still raw and overwhelming, there is awareness that a long term development plan needs to quickly become a part of any recovery efforts. Despite some news coverage that has depicted Haiti as a hapless victim of history, advocates have pointed out Haiti’s contributions, from the Revolutionary War and its payments to France through the 20th century in exchange for sovereign recognition, to its exports of the manufactured products we use every day. TransAfrica Forum and others are pointing out that the extreme poverty on the ground in Haiti prior to the quake is tied to international debt incurred under dictatorships and international trade policy that has destabilized manufacturing and agriculture by dumping inferior goods into the local economy. The people of Haiti are also vulnerable to fluctuations in the price of international commodities. In 2008, the global price of rice, a staple in Haiti, tripled and left the 80 percent who live in poverty even more vulnerable.