Early reports were of widespread devastation and many thousands of people killed and wounded. We had already set in type a report of hopeful efforts to reverse Haiti’s multiple problems (see page 10.) Even as we gird up for emergency action, we also report on the longer view of help for Haiti.
Today trees are getting planted where overharvesting has stolen away the shade, overheated the climate, sun-bleached the soil, and stripped nutrients from children’s food. Thanks be to God, the story of environment transforming mission in Haiti is both visionary and inspiring.
But, no planting could have prepared the people there for the earthquake of January 12.
As a struggling nation, Haiti has been making progress in recent years. The gang warfare that used to rule the streets has been contained. Government corruption seems to have lessened. Signs of democracy have been breaking out all over. In the past year, a major international hotel chain announced plans to build a resort there.
But they were unprepared for an earthquake. Nobody is ever totally ready, but in Haiti, “unprepared” is the ultimate understatement.
Shortly after news of the crisis hit, the regional representative of UNICEF, speaking from Panama City, Panama, began to outline the coming U.N. response. She said that in a situation like this the first thing to do is to make sure that water and sewage systems are restored to good operating condition. A lack of safe water and sanitation produces a medical crisis that can quickly multiply the devastation.
“Fact is,” John Winings, director of the Haiti Fund (see p. 10), told the Outlook, “the water systems already are bad and sewage systems don’t exist.” The strategy for immediate relief here is not like it would be in other, less impoverished, countries.
The greatest problem, which doubtless is unfolding as you read this, is delivering nourishment. Haiti has no operating train lines, few passable roads. The only road heading southwest has been destroyed along with those going north and the two fanning out to the east. And where there are no good roads, there is no food delivery. Winings said whether the Red Cross, World Vision, or any other outside organization sends food, the only way to deliver it to much of the country is by helicopter. Only governments, like that of the U.S., are capable of making such deliveries.
Within hours of the quake, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (pcusa.org/pda/) was flooded with offers to go to the island nation to help. Randy Ackley, PDA coordinator, responded, “The last thing the government needs is to have more people in need of food and water.” However, PDA immediately began allocating funds from the One Great Hour of Sharing to the Church World Service and other partners working in the region. Most of those partners already work cooperatively as Action by Churches Together (ACT), an ecumenical alliance that is “working to save lives and support communities in emergencies worldwide,” as their Web site summarizes.
As has been the case with the post-Katrina recovery process, PDA anticipates engaging for the long term with Haiti. It’s too early to tell if they will be able to set up tent villages of volunteers there, but in one way or another, they will be working and supporting others’ efforts for a long time.
The recovery process will be long and drawn out.
Our responsibilities and responses mirror that reality. Immediate needs demand action. But systemic, intransigent, multi-layered, ongoing needs also demand a response. Our hearts and hands go out to Haiti.