On January 12th, the world took a moment to reflect on the one-year anniversary of the devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck the island nation of Haiti and killed thousands. It had been over a century since an earthquake nearly as powerful had hit Haiti, and understandably, it came as a massive shock to native residents. The event was also an eye-opener to outside observers that no matter how unlikely a natural disaster may appear to be, there should always be an infrastructure in place in the event that the worst possible scenario does occur. Moving forward, Haiti is now dealing with three serious issues: an electoral quagmire, a severe cholera outbreak, and the lasting possibility of another major quake.
Cholera struck Haiti in mid-October, and it moved rapidly from sewage to drinking water sources in all provinces of the country. Over 3,000 people have died from cholera and the numbers continue to rise, as the nation has thus far been unsuccessful in efforts to help curtail the epidemic. The sputtering electoral process has only exacerbated the damaging effects of the cholera outbreak in Haiti.
Unsurprisingly, there is virtually no healthcare administration in the country, as there is a lack of a central governing body to make policy decisions. A sound governmental system would help to stabilize the chaos, but unfortunately it does not appear that there will be one in the near future. If there is a silver lining to the somewhat dire outlook on the situation, it is that on the ground level, there have been concerted efforts by individual Haitian scientists who work with Ministry of Public Health to identify the causes of the cholera outbreak. The Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population does indeed deserve credit for effectively using resources to address immediate challenges. For example, the health ministry enabled rapid diagnostic tests for malaria to be available in remote areas of Haiti. However, the explosive cholera outbreak underlines the fact that there remains much more to be done.
One cannot question the reality that Haiti is a vulnerable nation at the moment. Further exacerbating the political and medical woes facing the nation is the likelihood of another quake. Scientists have reported that the region around Port-Au-Prince faces additional earthquake risks because significant strain still remains on the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault. The earthquake last year released some of the tension on the fault line near the capital, but upon further analysis, seismologists have found that there are other areas along the fault that have become potential quake zones.
Overall, it is clear that one year after the disaster the ultimate fate of Haiti still teeters on the balance. Global aid agencies have been doing what they can to help rebuild schools, and offer as much health care as possible. The humanitarian business has boomed as a result of the earthquake, as the International Red Cross has hired over 250,000 new employees since last January and led the effort in restructuring the ravaged nation. Nonetheless, it is important to be cognizant of the fact that in addition to the possibility of future natural disasters in the region, the rebuilding process will be painstakingly gradual. Thankfully, in spite of these obstacles, there remains an undeniable desire among Haitian natives and those invested emotionally in the country to keep the hope alive.
Photo Courtesy of Beth Kanter