My thoughts and prayers are with the millions of people impacted by the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on Tuesday January 13. Print and online media is awash with stories and images of “one of the worst ever natural disasters in the western hemisphere.” No matter how many articles I read or how much live footage I watch the utter devastation, pain, and suffering are difficult to comprehend.
Amidst the endless stream of information detailing the destruction and tireless relief efforts there is also a plethora of suggestions of how and where to send donations, including information about the largest text-based fundraising campaign in history. As with most life-threatening emergencies there has been an immediate outpouring of support (an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review discusses why sudden crises pull heartstrings and loosen purse strings more than persistent, chronic conditions).
The media coverage is focused, in large part, on the current conditions, with only occasional reference to the historical and structural injustices that magnified the earthquake’s devastating impact. A provocative audio slideshow, published online in the July 2009 issue of Guernica Magazine, captures the reality that the current devastation is best understood as the manmade outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence. A May 2009 Times of London article points to the degree to which Haiti’s status as the poorest country in the western hemisphere – mired in historic debt, stricken by flood and famine, and rife with violence and abuse – was simply accepted.
It is critical that the international community confronts these historical and structural injustices as it considers the help that Haiti needs. An online post in Foreign Policy magazine calls on the international community to cancel Haiti’s debt. The Association for Women’s Rights in Development highlights the specific experiences and needs of Haitian women during this humanitarian catastrophe. If we are serious about Haiti’s recovery, we need to be as committed to addressing the country’s systematic injustices and inequalities as we are to emergency relief.