Haiti Was Forgotten Too Soon
LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN, 1 Nov 2010
It was only 10 months ago that the international spotlight was focused on the misery of Haiti after an earthquake killed at least 200,000 people. But 10 months is a long time in the aid world.
Recent reports of an outbreak of cholera, which has already killed more than 250 people, are a reminder that once the spotlight of attention shifts, disaster-stricken countries are too often left more or less to their own devices. That this contagious disease has already moved into the overcrowded capital, Port-au-Prince, claiming several lives there, is another ominous development.
Many people who gave money at that time will be shocked to read that a disease that was eradicated in the Caribbean half a century ago has reappeared in Haiti. After so much money was raised for the earthquake victims, they are entitled to wonder why clean water still appears not to be universally available to the homeless refugees living in the country’s tent cities and why, indeed, so many people are still living in temporary encampments and not in reconstructed towns and villages.
This patterns tends to repeat itself. For a brief period after a devastating natural disaster, governments in the developed world sit up and take notice and relief workers, politicians and even the odd film star pour in. Hastily assembled donors’ conferences give the impression that root-and-branch changes to the way that poor, neglected countries are run are being planned and put into action.
But then the attention wanders, claimed by new disasters that have erupted somewhere else. Alas, there is no shortage of these. As a cause of pressing concern, Haiti dropped down the list the moment it became evident that much of Pakistan had been submerged by floodwater.
Fortunately, cholera is no longer the automatic killer that it was in Dickensian Britain and the United Nations says it is confident that it can deal with the latest health threat in Haiti.
Even so, the memory of the victims of this cholera outbreak will have been ill-served if all we can do is to stop the spread of the epidemic by handing out pills to people in camps. If this distressing episode does not provoke more fundamental questions about the way that disaster relief is managed, it is depressingly obvious that we will be dealing with another emergency in Haiti before too long.
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