By all accounts it was probably a normal (as normal as it could be in the impoverished nation) day. Warm. Sunny.
Unknown to the vast majority of them, the very ground they stood on, sat in chairs in offices, homes, businesses, classrooms, and legislative chambers on, was about to deeply betray them.
At 4:53p.m. 250 years of accumulated strain along the Enriqillo Fault Zone, which strikes across southern portion of Haiti like a great scar in the earth and marks the southern boundary of the Caribbean Plate and the tinier Gonaves Microplate, finally gave way. A rock formation adjacent to the boundary some 10 kilometers (7-8 miles) deep, 60 kilometers (40 miles) long and 25 (16 miles) kilometers from the capital city of Port-Au-Prince suddenly heaved roughly 1.8 meters (5.9 feet), propagating upward and westward and outward from the epicenter. The resultant energy release was an M7 earthquake, roughly equivalent to a 32 megaton nuclear explosion.
While the earthquake itself was not unique (roughly 20 M7s rattle the Earth a year), indeed it was even "forecasted", the geographic location could not have been a worse place on Earth. The quake leveled Port-au-Prince. It leveled small and large towns. It buried hundreds of thousands of people in the rubble. Tens of thousands died instantly in homes, schools, hospitals, government buildings, commercial offices, stores, and more across the capital and southwest Haiti, and more died trapped each passing day until the death count reached 316,000. It is a catastrophe that is almost beyond imagining. And a good deal of it did not have to happen.
Haiti has not had a nice history. For that matter, what country really has? But Haiti's has appeared, to outside observers, to be particularly tough.
European colonizers and the newly independent Americans were terrified that Haiti's revolution, the one that made it the first independent black country born of a slave revolt, would spread. So they punished it, a land rich in resources. They isolated it. And they kept punishing it, through supporting dictators like Baby Doc and his equally malevolent father, and periodic American interventions. And through sanctions. France twisted the knife particularly well. They only recently discharged Haiti's debt.
Science suffers too. The complex boundary Hispaniola sits upon is infrequently active. The last big earthquake in southern Haiti was in 1770. A very large quake struck Northern Haiti in 1842. The northern part of Hispaniola sits on the Septentrional-Orient fault zone and there's some evidence the two fault zones that cross the island east to west "switch", meaning when one zone is active, the other is not. If confirmed, the quaking Earth is not done with Port-au-Prince in this half-century. Unfortunately, the confirmation will be the next earthquake. Time is of the essence, in Haiti and elsewhere, to make sure buildings are safe enough to withstand significant shaking. Earth's population is simply too vast now, and so much of it living in harms way, to avoid an earthquake disaster that will take a million lives.
360,000 people still live in tent cities. A cholera outbreak, bought by UN Peacekeepers from southern Asia has killed almost 8,000 Haitians and sickened nearly a million. Tuberculosis has broken out. Much of the rubble is gone but very little rebuilding has begun. I realize it takes time to reconstruct a capital city though, but it really appears that there's no plan. Haitians think so too.
In trying to rebuild, Simin and other former tent dwellers say stitching back their tattered lives is proving to be as elusive as the lofty promises. They say little has changed since the quake as poverty deepens, reconstruction stalls, political paralysis take root and cholera and chronic disasters become the norm.I just have to wonder if we'll continue our neglect of our neighbor, only paying attention to them when disaster strikes. Hurricane Sandy caused significant crop damage to the island as it passed in October, but that hurricane's subsequent strike on New Jersey erased that from the news.
“The country is becoming more and more difficult to live in,” said Simin, sitting outside a friend’s one-room home, where she sleeps on the floor with her two children. “We haven’t seen change. People have problems with food, problems with schools, problems with housing. Once you have a problem with finding a place to sleep, you just might as well just die. There’s no living.”
Simin and others say it’s clear that neither the government nor the international community had a plan for what would happen to them once they left the tent cities. Their growing sense of despair comes as the aid groups that flooded Haiti in the aftermath either cut programs or leave as funds dry up — and as half of the promised $5.3 billion in donor pledges remain outstanding.
When the aid is dispersed, will there be real change for the island nation? I don't know.
Here's a charity that I like. They're local to Haiti and are focused on sustainability. They're called the Lambi Fund.
We are a diverse group of individuals from many walks of life who work together toward economic justice, democracy and alternative sustainable development in Haiti.Please consider them in your donations.
The Lambi Fund of Haiti is a 501(c)(3), tax exempt not for profit organization.
The Lambi Fund's mission is to assist the popular, democratic movement in Haiti. Its goal is to help strengthen civil society as a necessary foundation of democracy and development. The fund channels financial and other resources to community-based organizations that promote the social and economic empowerment of the Haitian people.
The Lambi Fund supports projects that embrace the following principles: non-violent, non-partisan, community-based, promoting the advancement of women, using education and training for empowerment, and promoting the overall democratic movement.