The recent earthquake in Haiti, by all accounts, is absolutely devastating. If you’ve not donated money to the relief effort yet but plan to, keep in mind to make yours an unrestricted donation so that the organization can earmark can earmark your money for other charitable purposes (don’t worry about corruption if you’re doing this for Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders).
Garry Pierre-Pierre (an awesome name) from the daily Haitian Times wrote an article recently profiling the current situation in Rue Berne, a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, and what it is like to spend a night on the streets. The story is uplifting as it is depressing. While it is inspiring to see how people are banding together to survive, there’s no escaping the fact that the death toll has surpassed 50,000, that few hospitals are functioning, and that the entire city has become “a giant homeless shelter.”
One line stands out however: “In many ways, those in Rue Berne are better off than many.”
In Rue Berne, though it currently resembles a homeless shantytown, people can at least find shelter of some kind:
Those who cannot sleep among friends in the streets, have sought shelter in courtyards of various government buildings such as the Prime Minister’s Office, the National Television Network, known as by its French acronym, TNH.
However, several neighborhoods throughout the city were already in poor condition before the earthquake even hit. Pierre-Pierre traces the “degradation” began in the 1960s, when the city of professionals became a city of peasants when the dictator Francois Duvalier brought in bus loads of the poor from the countryside to praise him while foreign dignitaries came to visit. However, these peasants would remain in the city and abandon their farms, leading to the creation of several slums, such as Site Soleil.
Port-au-Prince was originally designed for 200,000 residents. An estimated 2 million lived there at the time of the earthquake, but Pierre-Pierre admits that this is an estimated number: “a Census hasn’t been taken in nearly three decades.”
I have to wonder, how many other cities are in a vulnerable position like this? The prevalence of slums and rapidly-growing populations is not a problem limited only to Haiti but in developing nations outside the Western hemisphere. Mike Davis’ brilliant Planet of Slums details the living conditions of the poorest of the poor all across the world and the dangers they face, whether natural disasters, economic disasters, or terrorism. (The one point of criticism I have, though, is that the book revels in the suffering of others without offering concrete solutions or pointing in the direction of steps to take to alleviate the problems associated with poverty).
Keep your donations coming, of course. I predict that within a month or two, most media coverage of the earthquake and relief efforts will dry up as other stories come to the fore (like the Winter Olympics), so people are going to start forgetting about Haiti and the fact that it’s going to take years before it gets back on its feet again.
Does anyone know how the Sichuan province in China is doing?