Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti earthquake

One of the countries we cover regularly here at the blog had a devastating disaster overnight. Haiti suffered a 7.0 magnitude earthquake which has destroyed the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The death toll is already in the hundreds of thousands but aftershocks keep increasing that total.

The International Red Cross has set up a relief fund for Haiti. They have already released $200,000 of emergency aid to the earthquake victims. Also this post from the ONE Organization did a good job in summarizing the response of aid charities.

From this AFP story that we found at Channel News Asia we read more about the disaster.

Bodies littered Haiti's capital Wednesday after an earthquake that may have killed thousands of people as it collapsed shantytowns, luxury hotels and even the presidential palace.

With victims pinned under debris and powerful aftershocks rattling the country, looting broke out soon after the 7.0-magnitude quake which spared no part of the capital Port-au-Prince, which was close to the epicentre.

Injured residents of the crowded city poured into the streets screaming in panic with each new tremor. Many bodies were just left in the streets or crushed under debris.

The quake toppled the cupola on the gleaming white presidential palace, a major hotel where 200 tourists were missing and the headquarters of the UN mission in Haiti where up to 250 personnel were unaccounted for.

Estimates of the death toll ranged from hundreds to thousands but with every hour passing it was becoming clear that the destruction and loss of life was catastrophic.

A major international relief operation was set underway with the United States, France, Britain and other countries promising help.


Aid group World Vision said it would begin distributing first aid kits, blankets and potable water to survivors on Wednesday.

This "is especially devastating in Haiti, where people are acutely vulnerable because of poor infrastructure and extreme poverty," Edward Brown, World Vision's US relief director, said in a statement.

Already the poorest nation in the Americas, Haiti has been hit by a series of recent disasters.

As a background on Haiti, the Toronto Star printed this history on the troubled state. For our snippet, we fast forward to the present day and some stats on the woeful state of the country.

Since then, violent crime and drug trafficking have weakened the country as poverty deepened. Haiti's GDP is less than $8 billion a year, making it one of the world's poorest countries. The average salary is $70 a month, unemployment is rampant and inflation tops 14 per cent a year.

Life expectancy is 52 years, 10 per cent of infants die before age 4, almost a third of the population are either ill or underweight, almost half are illiterate.

A series of natural disasters has destroyed subsistence livelihoods in many parts of Haiti, and the deforested land cannot withstand tropical storms.

Heavily dependent on foreign aid, Haiti has turned to the international community for help. Canada – whose governor-general, Michaëlle Jean, is Haitian – pledged $520 million over a five-year period.

There are a few positives: a more stable political situation and a UN-backed cleanup of gangs that terrorized the capital Port-au-Prince. But some fear this latest disaster, a 7.0 earthquake, could be the tipping point toward a failed state.

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