It’s been an eternity for those trapped in rubble, those who lost their lives and homes and family, those trying to survive among dead bodies, without food, water or shelter and still, terrifyingly waiting for aftershocks. It’s been so hard to watch the coverage and read the news. Self-indulgent of course to react like that – the pain of watching from safe homes is nothing like the reality of living there. It’s very hard though, to see Haiti like this, of all countries, which has suffered so much in its history, already experiencing recent natural disasters in the form of Hurrican Gustave in 2008.
From my brief visit in October, my mind is still filled with images of broken-down buildings on many streets in Port au Prince – and that was before the earthquake. But there was much positive images from that trip as well – the hospitality of the people, the views from the Hotel Montana (which was hit hard by the quake), the lovely Caribbean food, the art and music that people surround themselves with. As a lawyer, it was also most telling that we were there the day they voted out the Prime Minister, yet life (outside Government offices) went on as normal, without the violence and chaos that in previous times might have met any of the frequent hiccoughs in the stability of the administration.
Hard enough for Haiti to be hit like this…worse that it hit the capital so hard. There is much being said, and much more will continue to be said about the adequacy of the immediate international response to actually get aid on the ground. The fact that even now, ten days later essential aid is not getting to people, rescue efforts amid the rubble seem to never have started in some areas, and still people are dying. I am not an expert on disaster responses, but I do feel that alot of that has to be because the quake hit Port au Prince leaving the government, in terms of persons and manpower, physical buildings and mental state, in shambles. Even the UN mission office was devastated and key relief agency personnel were lost. Lessons to learn for those of us who live in even smaller islands where we centralise our entire official administration in one single crammed capital. Not to name names – I try not to do that in this blog, but seriously, who would take the reins if Port of Spain were to be hit? The Mayor of San Fernando???).
Most of our Caribbean governments have received the disfavour of regional commenters (and of course bloggers) for slow or insufficient responses, whether it be for holding to a wait-and-see attitude or pledging relatively small sums to the aid effort. Again, I am not an expert. But I do know that none of us is equipped to deal with the disaster of the kind Haiti is experiencing. Not individually. Another lesson to learn for our own benefit. The response had to be international to secure the best of the best for Haiti, ever the poor outside child. If the response failed, we, the whole world failed. Not just the Caribbean. That’s not to let our people off the hook though. We might be small and only a few of us have standing militaries and heavy rescue and transportation equipment, and even if we were not the best placed for the immediate rescue and relief efforts, that is just the first stage. Haiti is our Caribbean sister. The responsibility to be there for Haiti and Haitians will not end for us. It does not end when the city is cleaned up and the emergency volunteers have left. Not even when things appear to be functioning with normal administration systems. The level of destruction Haiti has experienced cannot be reversed overnight. Or even in a few years. They had little foundation to begin with.
So, Caribbean leaders, I am not going to calculate what you have pledged in this the first ten days since the earthquake. Your accounting should continue for years and years into the future. We cannot leave Haiti to be rebuilt by the superpowers. Our first independent sister should not be subjected to newer forms of colonialism, well-meaning as they may be, not if all of us who celebrate the history beginning with Toussaint L’Ouverture really believe what we’re talking about when we take the victory of the black people in Haiti as part of our Caribbean history.
Maybe this is why I took this long to post…too much to say that I usually try to stay away from on this blog. I cannot end without noting that there have been responses from the Caribbean. It may not be reported, it may not be considered great by the international news media, or sadly even by the regional media, but there is a system in the Caribbean to respond to disasters and it was triggered. If you visit the website of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) you will see updates on the actions taken. Operations started with the Jamaica Defence Force including relief supplies and medical personnel. CDEMA is also coordinating and reporting on its member countries’ relief efforts. The Caribbean Community is also compiling volunteer information via a questionnaire on its website, so fill out the form if you have some special skill or time to give to relief efforts.
“Nationals of the Caribbean Community including French, French Creole Patois speakers, who are willing to make available their expertise and services to the Community’s response to this tragedy, are invited to submit contact details and other information using the questionnaire provided”
Although the focus right now is on financial contributions and medical assistance, it appears the information will be compiled for further relief efforts. I reiterate that I make no comment on the adequacy or efficiency of this action, but know that it is there.
And that’s just official responses, as in governments. The outpourings of private citizens and organisations, NGOs and commercial entities are encouraging. And I hope they persist. Check in with Global Voices Online special coverage on Haiti to get citizen-media updates, including from bloggers in Haiti right now.
As to where else you can make contributions, the listing on CNN is a good start as it gives you information on various organisations from which you can make your choice.
If you want to offer something more tangible than money, Jai and Bee of Jugalbandi have provided some information on the ShelterBox, a system designed to shelter 10 people, something really needed in Haiti right now.
So, go help. But remember the help shouldn’t disappear when the global attention moves on to something else.
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