Forgetting Haiti



Since people have attention spans that last, oh, about 5 seconds longer than a fruitfly, its time to remind everyone that the suffering continues in force for the wrecked Caribbean nation. From today’s New York Times’ Editorial:

The emergency in Haiti isn’t over. It’s getting worse, as the outside world’s attention fades away.

Misery rages like a fever in the hundreds of camps sheltering hundreds of thousands of the 1.3 million people left homeless by the Jan. 12 earthquake. The dreaded rains have already swamped tents and ragged stick-and-tarp huts. They have turned walkways into mud lakes and made difficult or impossible the simple acts of collecting and cooking food, washing clothes, staying clean and avoiding disease. The rainy season peaks in May.

Worsening the weather crisis are the unchecked sexual assaults and rapes in the camps, where families are squeezed side by side in flimsy quarters and women and girls are left unprotected after dark.

A new report from Amnesty International affirms that security is inadequate, that police and soldiers are often missing, that every nightfall brings terror. Victims stay silent because rapists go uncaught and unpunished; what little policing exists is focused on other priorities.

Both the shelter and safety crises demand an urgent response, and while feelings of urgency abound in Haiti, their impact is only sporadically felt. The little country is swarming with well-intentioned organizations, each trying to do their little bit of help. One group is trying to distribute thousands of flashlights to women and girls. It’s a kind and practical gesture, but what they really need are shelters from sexual violence, and adequate policing. Haiti has neither, Amnesty International reports.

Any effective solution would need to be coordinated with the government of Haiti, whose leaders have been absent from the lives of Haitian citizens since the disaster. When former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton visited the capital of Port-au-Prince this week, they joined President René Préval in touring the camp in Champ de Mars, across the street from the slumped-over presidential palace. Screams of frustration greeted them. Where have you been? Why have you not helped us?

The Haitian people are suffering. I ask that you continue to pray for them, and if you have not done so, donate to a reputable charity. Especially as Lent is coming to a close, a small financial sacrifice would be fitting.

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