It was two years ago today that the Caribbean Sea reminded us that it is seismically active and has produced earthquakes that have leveled cities and changed the direction of human events. Two years ago today, it leveled the city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, killed 316,000 people, injured 300,000 and made a million homeless. A quarter-million residences and 30,000 business buildings were destroyed or damaged.
The recovery has been incredibly slow. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. It had no resources to call upon to deal with any disaster. The Haitian side of the island was deforested decades ago when timber was its only resource. The deforestation caused the land to be eroded until it can barely grow anything. The Haitians didn’t even have truck farming to fall back on.
After two years, only half the debris has been cleared away, a necessary first step to being able to rebuild. About half the homeless have moved into temporary housing, small wooden buildings to replace the tents and tarpaulins they were living in. Six hundred schools have been rebuilt, and a major effort went into rebuilding or replacing medical facilities. Tens of thousands of people have lost limbs, thousands of children are orphaned. The island’s residents have now lived through two hurricane seasons, and were not spared. They also have a new government, after a highly contentious election that included rioting.
The recovery has been complicated by an epidemic of a super strain of cholera that has now been linked to the rescue teams. It originated in Nepal, where many of the United Nations peacekeepers came from. An estimated half-million Haitians have been infected and 7,000 have died. Haiti had never had a single case of cholera before the peacekeepers arrived from Nepal, and the epidemic started in the region where they were working.
The anniversary has been marked with quiet observances in both Haiti and South Florida.
But through it all, the aid workers have reported that the Haitian people have dealt with it with their characteristic resilience and surprising humor. There is something about being so low that there is no lower to go that makes people choose between the proverbial depths of despair and finding moments that make life worth living. Most of the Haitian people have chosen the latter.