World unites for people of Haiti

One week after an earthquake devastated one of the world’s poorest and least developed nations, fallout from the disaster continues to command the international community’s attention and dominate headlines across the globe.
 
On Jan. 12, just 25 km outside of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, an earthquake rocked the unsuspecting island nation with force not seen in the region for 200 years.

In a matter of seconds, the 7.0 magnitude quake left thousands of Haitians and foreign nationals dead, sent the international community scrambling and left a trail of devastation in its wake.

Haiti shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. While the country’s turmoil only recently won airtime in international dialogue, Haiti’s plight is not a new phenomenon by any means.

According to Wilfrid Laurier University global studies professor Timothy Donais, “Haiti has suffered greatly in the last decades.”

For years, the nation has been plagued by political turmoil and extreme poverty, and has endured the wrath of tropical storms on an almost annual basis.

Donais explained that Haiti’s vulnerability in the face of this most recent natural disaster is because “it is a fragile society and has relatively underdeveloped infrastructure.”

When disaster strikes in such undeveloped areas, Donais said “they have more of a human impact.”

According to Donais, Haiti’s instability and fragility stem from a number of problematic “layers” including: “political weakness, economic weakness and environmental degradation.”

Donais described Haiti as a fragile place with a far too ill-equipped network of social services to manage a disaster relief effort of this scale alone.

As a result, in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the international community rushed to aid the poverty-stricken nation.

As of Jan. 19, Ottawa increased its relief pledge to 135 million CAD. Additionally, the Canadian government agreed to increase troop numbers on the ground. The boost will make the Haiti effort the largest relief mission in Canadian history.

However, Haiti is no stranger to Canadian handouts.
 
Even before the earthquake, the island nation was the second highest recipient of Canadian financial assistance in the world – only second to Afghanistan.

As Haiti is an established beneficiary of Canadian funds, it is also a popular site of humanitarian missions. For this reason, the safe evacuation of Canadian nationals from the decimated country became a mounting issue for the Canadian military.
 
Within the Laurier community, the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union is making significant steps to contribute to the worldwide Haiti relief effort.

According to WLUSU president Laura Sheridan, the students’ union will be donating all of the cover from the Turret on Saturday night, $1 from every meal served at Wilfs on Friday and $1 from all purchases at the Terrace on Saturday.

Donais believes that “in the short term there is no choice other than to provide the certain massive financial influx to be able to: (a) save lives and (b) allow people to return to some semblance of having a dignified life.”

However, Donais said that in order for a long-term solution to be realized, a “10 to 20-year commitment at minimum” from the international community will be necessary.

Donais spoke of a tragic reality all too typical on the international stage.

“Haiti falls off the headlines, people forget about it and then the situation goes back to where it was before.”

Donais pointed out that “the international community does not have a particularly good track record in this type of commitment, especially in Haiti.”

Ideally, in the long term, key issues such as Haitian economic and political development, as well as the issue of environment vulnerability must be addressed for the rebuilding process to be a success.

However, as the humanitarian crisis worsens and the lives of three million Haitians hang in the balance, it appears that long-term development issues will be on the international community’s backburner for some time.

Donais concluded that “Haitians need international help now because the government has effectively collapsed and people are very much on their own right now.”

The global studies department is sponsoring a roundtable session to help the Laurier community better understand the situation currently unfolding behind Haitian borders.

On Wednesday, Jan. 27, a number of Laurier professors well-versed on Haiti will put the earthquake and its aftermath into perspective in Arts 1C18 from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

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