Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti's Sorrow

Born in Bangladesh. Experienced devastating cyclones and floods. Saw bloated bodies floating on ponds, rivers and the Bay of Bengal. Cry of orphaned babies pierced the heart. Relief inadequate to the humanitarian disaster.

These random thoughts passed through my mind as images of death and destruction from Haiti filled the media. Hospitals, schools, shops, homes have collapsed from the 7.0 earthquake that struck the island nation on January 12, 2010.

Preliminary reports indicate that more than 100,000 Haitians may have perished. The infrastructure, hardy any to begin with, has been completely destroyed. Rescuing people trapped beneath the rubble seems impossible at the moment.

Fate has dealt Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, a particularly cruel blow. As aid pours in from around the world, the means to distribute food, water and medicine to the approximately 3 million affected Haitians remain precarious.

Whatever we can do to bring relief to the living, we must. When tragedy strikes in any corner of the world, we become aware of our common humanity. For Americans, the Katrina debacle remains a vivid reminder that such lapses cannot repeat. Already the Obama administration has dispatched several hospital ship and planeloads of emergency supplies to the devastated nation.

In the next few days and nights, Haitian will try to come to grips with what has befallen them. But perhaps they can find some solace in that people from around the globe have opened their hearts and pocketbooks for them, to help them bury their dead with dignity and bring a semblance of normalcy to their lives again.

But after the world moves on to grapple with the next crisis, Haitians themselves must bear the responsibility for reconstructing their country. The history of Haiti is tragic. The French were brutal slave owners and grew wealthy beyond their dreams from sugarcane plantations. Americans occupied the country for almost two decades. Haitian dictators killed their own countrymen by the thousands. Against this backdrop, rebuilding Haiti becomes even more challenging. But unless Haitians step up to the task, they will always be dependent on the generosity of others and that can never be a long-term solution.

Thoreau said: "If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life." Same should be true for nations. In the long run, local leadership that promotes self-reliance will be the only catalyst for fundamental national changes. In the disaster that has hit Haiti, there is obviously the need for as much aid as possible. But a few months from now, Haitians will have to think long and hard about their own responsibility and accountability.

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