Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Thursday, January 14, 2010

When Lightning Strikes: Thoughts About Haiti's Earthquake

When disasters occur, such as this week's massive earthquake in Haiti, many of us reflect on what we would do in similar circumstances, and what we can do as those fortunate to not be in such circumstances.

Haiti, we know, is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and it is in our backyard. On world scales, it is not the poorest and most disadvantaged of countries, but to most of us it is about the lowest we will know and see up close. One of its problems is that for two centuries it has gone through difficult economic and political times. I am not going to rehash Haiti's history here, but it has left a legacy which will be staring it in the face as it tries to get over this disaster. Failed government; malfunctioning infrastructure; damaged economy; angry people. These are not the ingredients for success. But, the world will rally and try its best to help and hope that the disaster does not happen again, and better still not soon.

My direct connections with Haiti are few, but I have friends who have Haitian roots. I can hear in their tones and see in their words the pain that comes from knowing that 'your country' is going through Hell. But what to do? In discussing this briefly last night, it seemed clear that besides offering financial aid, most of us could do little. I have an urge to go and help claw away rubble and maybe help find bodies. But, I know too that my willingness is not enough in such situations. I can easily be a hindrance, with my almost total lack of knowledge--apart from being able to speak French--of where I would be and what really is going on. But, if I could find a way to be there and help I would feel better than just looking on. I heard discussions of how best to get over the initial problems of this disaster, and much thought was being given to whether it should be an effort led by military personnel or by aid agencies. The conclusion was that this was an operation to be led by the military, for various logistical reasons, and that away from the country, much could be done and coordinated by aid agencies.

Most of us in the Caribbean think of our disasters in terms of weather-related events, such as hurricanes. But earthquakes are different. They cannot really be predicted with much accuracy, though one can know of their likelihood because of where the Earth's fault lines are: as the media are now reminding us, there is a Pacific Ocean 'ring of fire' (see link), which covers the tectonic plates covering both sides of the Pacific Ocean, and stretches through central America to the Caribbean Sea. So, it is hard to prepare for earthquakes, other than building appropriately and being aware of their occurrences: they do not happen with equal frequency and do not have seasons. When your country's last experience of something is 100-200 years ago, it's hard to expect people to know what to do. Looking back to Jamaica's history, many people talk about the 1907 earthquake, but we can see that the timing of disasters has its own rhythm (see Gleaner summary). Kingston was rebuilt to be able to withstand another earthquake. But, generally, as we know, even if the prospect of disaster is annual, as with hurricanes, we still do nothing till it's very late.

We should all send out hope to Haiti, at the very least, and those who have prayers to send should keep those flowing. Money. Time. Clothes. Other assistance. If you have it, try to share it. Former President Clinton, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, yesterday appealed to the public to support programs that will provide food, water, shelter and medical supplies to the impoverished country: "The most important thing you can do is not to send those supplies, but to send cash," to relief agencies. As we are often told, but often ignore, we never know if disaster will strike us next.

1 comment:

acox said...

The appeals for help to haiti are world wide.People please do your best in the relief funds.
My hope is out of all the rubble they would finally be a government the people can trust and lead them into better time.