Despite the plethora of differences that divide the world’s peoples—cultural, religious, economic, ideological, and otherwise—those same peoples never fail to rally together in support of nations and regions that have suffered major catastrophes. It happened with the Tsunami of 2006, it happened with the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, and now the world is once again coming together to provide aid to Haiti after a 7.0 earthquake decimated the country on January 12.
Within a day of the earthquake, financial aid and other supplies—like food and water—were already pouring in from around the globe. There are countless ways for any individual to help in Haiti’s recovery, most of them financial. Among those ways there are countless organizations—like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders—contributing to the recovery. It is truly noble and inspiring to see the world come together to help one nation in its need.
However, in wake of this catastrophe we cannot forget that Haiti has been plagued by more than just a natural tragedy. Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, has been wracked by natural disasters, economic woes, and political troubles for decades. One must not forget the hurricanes of 2008, which caused the UN head of the Haiti mission, Hedi Annabi, to warn that Haitians would have little to eat and wouldn’t be able to send their children to school without humanitarian aid (“U.N. Mission Head Grappled With Haiti’s Many Woes”, NY Times, Jan. 13, 2010).
Since 1991, Haiti has been plagued by troubles with its democracy. Its government has been wracked by corruption and has experienced its fair share of military coups in a short period of time. The result? A large majority of Haitians live below the poverty line. The most immediate effect of Haiti’s unlucky past can be seen in how difficult it is to get foreign aid to the Haitians who need it. In some places the infrastructure—both physical and bureaucratic—is so weak that aid organizations have to transfer supplies by boat and rescue teams are forced to identify where survivors might be found without government help, which is usually never the case. Haiti’s woes have prompted numerous UN mandates for peacekeeping missions in the country, the latest being the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
The United Nations is a peacekeeping body, and so its role in this and other crises has been to manage the state of chaos within the nation. However, the UN has routinely found its mission in Haiti difficult to carry out. The first deployment of UN peacekeepers—the International Civilian Mission in Haiti (MICIVIH)—was met with military opposition. Now more than ever the UN mission in Haiti is jeopardized. In addition to the tremendous loss of life among Haiti’s civilian population, more than 100 hundred UN staff have been either confirmed dead or unaccounted for. Among the fatalities is the head of the mission, Special Representative Hedi Annabi.
In light of the tremendous loss of life and damage to property endured by the earthquake, and also in consideration of the social, economic, and political troubles that have plagued Haiti, it is more important than ever that The United Nations and the countries of the world come together not only to help Haiti recover from this catastrophe but also to rebuild the nation. Any disaster that causes even a small loss of life is a tragedy; this earthquake is one more blow to an already weary nation. Now is the time for Haitians and the world to come together and make sure that the nation that emerges from the rubble will be equipped not only to survive other disasters but also to join the world in peace and prosperity.
(To contribute to the UN relief effort in Haiti, send donations to one of the many UN agencies in Haiti: CERF, UNIFEM, UNICEF, WFP, or the UNHCR. For more information on the UN relief effort in Haiti, visit http://www.un.org/en/.)