The Jan. 12 earthquake is the latest in a string of terrible tragedies for this poor island nation. The death toll as of Feb. 5 is 212,000, and the devastation is so great that the true number of dead will likely never be known.
Haiti's buildings and infrastructure were not built to withstand a quake of this magnitude. That is why everything, from the presidential palace to the poorest shanties, lies in ruins. Decades of political corruption have robbed the country of any chance to provide a high quality of life and health for its citizens. Investment capital has fled the nation, along with many of its brightest citizens—gone to safer havens, like America and Europe, to build better lives.
Haiti has suffered almost from its beginning when it was a slave colony of France. After a 13-year uprising, the slaves threw off the French yoke and gained independence in 1804—just as America was expanding westward after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Yet no major power recognized this fledgling nation immediately, largely because other nations feared losing their own slave colonies in the Caribbean. Finally France was the first country to recognize Haiti in 1825, followed by Great Britain in 1833. However, the United States did not recognize this Caribbean country until 1862 after the secession of the Southern states following the start of the American Civil War in 1861. Brazil did not recognize Haiti until 1888.
This isolation kept needed trade relations from developing that would have led to a stronger economy that could have provided for better education and better health. Lacking the technological development of the modern world, Haiti has largely been left in the hands of corrupt leaders.
With limited natural resources, Haiti falls prey to other forms of corruption. It is strategically situated between Latin America and the United States, making it a natural pipeline for international smuggling and drug trafficking.
On top of this, the country lies along two geologic fault lines, one of which caused this quake. Hurricanes storming through the Caribbean often make their way over the island, leaving destruction and misery in their wake. Deforestation has left the country with even fewer natural resources.
In the wake of this disaster a great deal of international aid flowed into the country. But it will take years to recover. Beyond this tragedy await others, if only because of Haiti's geographic location. No doubt thousands of Haitians will immigrate to other nations seeking escape and a chance at a better life.
What disaster reveals
A disaster of this magnitude among the world's poorest reveals much about the social fabric of a nation. Experts had warned officials that buildings needed to be reinforced to withstand earthquakes. But there was no money to accomplish the task. Even if it had been made available, government corruption likely would have siphoned off much of the money into the pockets of the powerful.
Since hospitals were also destroyed, in the aftermath there was no place to adequately care for the injured. This means doctors had no proper instruments with which to operate, no medication to ease the patients' pain or to treat wounds. Sanitation procedures were bypassed in the urgency of the moment.
It is likely that many Haitian health personnel were themselves victims of the quakes. Health workers flown in from other nations set up makeshift hospitals as near to the victims as they could.
The piles of bodies in the streets being lifted by earthmoving equipment into waiting dump trucks testified most poignantly to the collapse of norms. The dead could not be identified and given a proper burial. Threat of disease mandated quick removal and mass burial. They were not mourned; there was no time. And for many there was likely no one left to mourn their passing.
Whatever level of community existed before the quake vanished in some areas in the aftermath. This is not uncommon with disasters. However, it is particularly acute in Haiti, given its history of political and business corruption.
Rebuilding must be accompanied by changing the basic nature of the system and its people. New leadership must be demanded if there is to be any future for this country and its people. Haiti needs leaders with a heart to serve the people—not themselves.
What will help Haiti?
A great deal of foreign aid will be needed to meet immediate needs. Much more will be needed to completely rebuild the nation. But is money the key to a solution?
Haiti has been the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid. A 2006 report from the National Academy of Public Administration, titled "Why Foreign Aid to Haiti Failed," showed that the outcome of financial assistance was unsatisfactory and the long-term institutional benefits were negligible (Bret Stephens, "To Help Haiti, End Foreign Aid," The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 19, 2010).
The report faulted a high level of financial dysfunction and mismanagement in the government. The more foreign funds flowed in, the more it fueled corruption.
The Wall Street Journal article showed a key to building a lasting future for the people of Haiti: "A better approach recognizes the real humanity of Haitians by treating them—once the immediate and essential tasks of rescue are over—as people capable of making responsible choices. Haiti has some of the weakest property protections in the world, as well as some of the most burdensome business regulation. In 2007, it received 10 times as much in aid ($701 million) as it did in foreign investment."
Many Haitians who immigrate to developed nations create productive lives when given education and proper support. Given a decent, working government, one that serves the best and highest interests of every individual, Haiti could develop a much higher standard of living than it now has. The nation needs proper government with leaders of integrity working to serve the people and transform the country into a just and productive society.
There is a well-known saying: "Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime." Haiti has been a neglected and forgotten nation. As the milk of human kindness continues to pour into this devastated nation, let's continue to pray that wisdom will prevail and that Haiti will become a society in which everybody fishes and everybody eats!
We pray for the people of Haiti in their present suffering. We hope a better day will rise from the rubble of their distress. If you have opportunity to help these impoverished and devastated people in any way, by all means do so. God, of course, expects all of us to help our fellow human beings made in His image as we are able.
May God speed the day of Jesus Christ's return to establish the Kingdom of God throughout the earth—when perfect leadership, instruction and help will deliver not just Haiti, but all the world from anguish and poverty, leading all to an abundant and happy life. GN