I'm sure all of you know all about this already, but on Tuesday, January 12, the long-suffering nation of Haiti was struck by a giant earthquake, magnitude 7.0 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was about 16 miles from the capital, Port-au-Prince, and much of the capital was destroyed. The Haitian Interior Minister has estimated that the catastrophe will ultimately claim about 100-200,000 lives, or between 1 and 2% of Haiti's entire population.
As with most natural disasters, the poor were most severely hit by this earthquake, as they're more likely to live in poor quality housing. But the influential and powerful were not spared, either. As we have all heard, the Archbishop of Port Au Prince, Msgr. Serge Miot, was killed, as was the head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, the Justice Minister, and an important opposition politician. The Cathedral, the presidential palace, the National Assembly Building were all destroyed, as were most roads, hospitals, the airport, and other infrastructure.
Already by January 21, some 80,000 people had died and been buried in mass graves; the true number of deaths is probably many more. An estimated 1,000,000 Haitians, or 10% of the population, are currently homeless. Huge numbers of people are sleeping out in the open or under makeshift, hastily erected tents, without food or water, injured and sick, exposed to the risk of infection from contaminated water sources. All in all, some 3 million people are believed to have been personally affected by the earthquake.
Haitians are currently living in a horrible state of limbo, waiting to hear news of relatives or friends who may have been in the Port-Au-Prince area, and to find out if they are all right. Many more have been struck with the devastating news that someone they loved had their lives snuffed out in 45 terrible seconds on January 12th. Or- even worse- that they were trapped under rubble, or left suddenly homeless- and died after several days of pain, hunger or thirst because rescue workers could not get to them in time.
This horrible natural disaster has elicited sympathy and help from many quarters around the world. In a rare example of international cooperation, Venezuela and Cuba have joined together with the France and United States in sending aid. Cuba has sent teams of doctors (one of her most common and most direly needed forms of aid to other developing countries) while Venezuela was the first country to respond to the disaster, by sending free fuel, donations of food, search and rescue efforts, water purification systems, and electrical generators. Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez deserve our praise and thanks for stepping up and doing what was right, as do Barack Obama and Nicholas Sarkozy.
This was one of the most serious natural disasters in the last several decades, and has wreaked almost unfathomable damage on what was already a country wracked by severe poverty, hunger, and hopelessness. Please do what you can to help. Catholic Relief Services is a great organization, with a good reputation for low administrative costs and little waste. They are currently distributing emergency supplies to people- clean water, sanitation kits, shelter supplies, medical items, mosquito nets and nutritious food. Partners in Health is another great organisation, based in Haiti and founded by the American doctor Paul Farmer. Their mission was originally to bring high quality health care to the rural poor in Haiti, but they have in recent years been moving into agricultural development and poverty reduction as well, and have now taken charge of a lot of the relief efforts in Haiti. The Red Cross is also doing a lot of work there, as is Episcopal Relief and Development, Oxfam, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Doctors Without Borders. Please consider making a donation- as much or as little as you can afford, it will be helping to save lives in a very direct way. And remember, what you can afford is also a somewhat flexible term. You may consider, for example, skipping a couple meals each week in the next few weeks and adding that money to your Haitian donation.
I normally funnel my donations through Catholic Relief Services, and they have the nice feature that they will earmark your donation if you ask them (e.g. to 'Madagascar Food Crisis', 'Haiti Earthquake Relief', or whatever). They have currently put $5 million up front into earthquake relief there.
But yes, again, please do make a donation. Donations of money are better than food or clothing or medicine, but those could work too. You could also donate time- if you have time, or were planning on taking a vacation later this year, consider going to Haiti and doing some volunteer work with a good organization. Or donate your time here, by trying to raise awareness of Haiti's situation. If you know any Haitian immigrants, think about what they may be going through, and spare a thought for them. And if they might be in need of a favor, do it for them. Lobby your representatives in Congress to increase aid to Haiti, to send more money, more troops to preserve order, and more technically skilled people over there. And ask them, too, to make it easier for Haitians to immigrate to this country, and for Haitians who may be here illegally to be given protection and amnesty.
And, yes, if you're a praying person, then pray for Haiti.