That is poor cause for consolation as rescue workers, the government in Port-au-Prince, hospitals and aid agencies struggle to cope with hundreds of thousands more victims who have been injured, or left with damaged or uninhabitable houses — in addition to the preexisting political chaos, violence and economic meltdown that millions of Haitians have endured for months. A measure of the nation’s despair and dysfunction is that gangsters who control a key route heading from the capital to the earthquake zone, 80 miles to the west, have pledged a one-week cease-fire to allow aid convoys to pass unmolested — and this development counts as good news.
We have previously called for U.S. troops to step in to provide a modicum of stability that might ease humanitarian relief efforts. For now, the earthquake and its resulting misery should be taken as a call to action by the United States and other wealthy countries, whose interventions after past disasters in Haiti, however well intentioned, have too often proven ineffective — and in some cases have even been counterproductive. The epicenter, in the southwestern peninsula, hit Haiti’s breadbasket, and the damage is very likely to exacerbate an already severe food shortage. That same region, wrecked by a hurricane five years ago, was also expected to be battered Monday by torrential downpours as Tropical Storm Grace swept by to the south; flooding and mudslides were expected.
Within hours of the quake, the U.S. Agency for International Development deployed a humanitarian response crew to Haiti — a sort of SWAT team for disasters — and that was quickly followed by an urban search-and-rescue group from Fairfax County, Va., skilled in extracting survivors from rubble. Social service and religious groups in communities across the country — especially South Florida, home to many Haitians and Haitian Americans — are also mobilizing. For those who wish to help, reputable aid organizations can be found on charitynavigator.org, among other websites.
The staggering array of travails that has befallen Haiti is not the fault of those who have borne the brunt of the country’s heartache — 11 million citizens, well over half of whom live in abject poverty, subsisting on just over $1 a day. Natural disasters, a cholera epidemic, political turmoil and, most recently, a soaring covid-19 caseload have all ravaged the nation, contributing to economic contraction for the past two years. Now an earthquake has raised the specter of more hunger, more disease, more suffering. On Monday, it was reported that an exasperated Prime Minister Ariel Henry appealed privately to the American ambassador in Port-au-Prince to accelerate U.S. aid. The Biden administration, along with other Americans, can and must do more.