When one looks at the historic legacy of the Haitian people, the first thing that resonates is the consistent theme of resisting foreign domination, standing up to the grandest colonial and “post-colonial” powers-principally the US-since the early 19th century. This is why the January 12th 7.0 earthquake that struck Port Au Prince, the Haitian capital, is particularly disturbing.
Hidden in the subtext of any “natural” disaster, is the structural violence that precedes the event and thus defines both the scale of the disaster and the pace/direction of recovery. For people in the US, Hurricane Katrina made this painfully evident. The structural violence and inherent contradictions were laid bare, and then televised to boot.
This report came in from David Wilson, of the Weekly News Update on the Americas, who happened to be in Port-au-Prince at the moment the quake struck.
I’m writing from the southern part of Port-au-Prince; I have been in Haiti since last Thursday on a delegation in support of Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP), the Papay Peasant Movement. The earthquake hit less than 12 hours ago, and damage here is extensive. The Olaffson Hotel, where I was waiting to be picked up, hasn’t had serious damage, but one of the walls in front fell. Street vendors were working there; at least one was injured and taken away. Another was killed. Her body is still lying under the blocks-there’s no time to deal with the dead.
In the hour after the first shock, people passed by carrying the injured, one in a wheelbarrow, another on a stretcher improvised of planks.
People come here and report damage all through the city, although the stories are contradictory: the National Palace is totally destroyed, the National Palace is partly destroyed, the General Hospital is destroyed, no, it’s a little hospital in Petionville.
To add to the trauma, there are aftershocks, mostly small, some substantial. Many people in the neighborhood are singing. I suspect they’re praying, but I can’t make out the words.
What is most obviously missing from this picture is any organized relief. Where is the 9,000-strong U.N. mission? One helicopter flew over the city about an hour after the first shock, but we’ve seen and heard nothing since then.
People in Haiti have paid dearly in material comfort (including disaster risk management) for their collective effort to preserve and cultivate a dignity they call their own. This too has been made evident in the aftermath of the quake.
For those who want to support the re-building of Haiti but do so with an eye toward addressing the deep divisions within Haitian society, we suggest the following sources/sites:
Founded by Dr. Paul Farmer, this nonprofit health delivery program has served Haiti’s poor since 1987. To donate for earthquake relief, go to https://donate.pih.org/page/contribute/haiti_earthquake?source=earthquake&subsource=homepage
In an urgent email from Port-au-Prince, Louise Ivers, Partners in Health clinical director in Haiti, appealed for assistance from her colleagues in the Central Plateau: "Port-au-Prince is devastated, lot of deaths. SOS. SOS… Temporary field hospital by us at UNDP needs supplies, pain meds, bandages. Please help us."
Doctors Without Borders was working in Haiti prior to the quake with a staff of 800. Here is a report on January 13, 2009 with a link to their donation page.
Haiti’s grassroots movement – including labor unions, women’s groups, educators, human rights activists, support committees for prisoners and agricultural cooperatives – will attempt to funnel needed aid to those most hit by the earthquake. Grassroots organizers are doing what they can with the most limited of funds to make a difference. Please take this opportunity to lend them your support.
Long time Food First partner Grassroots International has a long history of working with organizations on the ground in Haiti. Grassroots has committed to the extent possible to, “provide cash to our partners to make local purchases of the items they most need and to obtain food from farmers not hit by the disaster.”
Oxfam video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxrBiq2XNNc
Photo from UNDP Global