Last year, on January 12, a massive earthquake shattered the island nation of Haiti, leaving from 250,000 to 300,000 fatalities in its wake. It was the most devastating disaster for a nation that has witnessed its share of catastrophes.
A month after the destruction that left the capital, Port au Prince, and nearby cities in total ruin with miles of debris, rubble, and crushed lives, I was fortunate to get a chance to see the tragedy first hand, courtesy of the Haiti Support Project, founded and headed by Dr. Ron Daniels.
I, along with several other journalists, was his guest as I have been on five other trips to the island, and to see the disaster close up is unbelievable. I was reminded of the film clips I’ve seen of war-ravaged European cities during World War II, or the atomic bombs that ripped Hiroshima and Nagasaki apart.
That imprint was indelibly marked and when I returned to Haiti last August in a follow up trip to complete a documentary, very little had changed. The streets were still virtually impassable with miles and miles of rubble from wrecked buildings and homes clogging the streets, making transit an hours-long journey.
Tent cities sprung up on nearly every vacant space that wasn’t littered with concrete or twisted metal. Near the National Palace, once a remarkable edifice, thousands of people struggled in makeshift dwellings, eking out an existence the best way they can.
More than a million people remain homeless, and they are the lucky ones when you consider that some 3500 residents have succumbed to the deadly menace of cholera with thousands more afflicted and waiting for medical attention and supplies.
Obviously, this is not a pretty scene, and only the resilience of the Haitian people exceeds the hope on the horizon. Many of the downtrodden and injured have refused to surrender to the rampant misery, determined to get back on their feet and to stabilize their lives.
They face, however, a daunting task, and one wonders when the millions of dollars earmarked for the island will arrive in a meaningful way; when will the wherewithal of the NGOs kick in and provide the assistance the people so desperately need?
The forecast is not a rosy one for Haiti, but for a people that overcame the ravages of slavery and oppression, the merciless brutality of colonialism, it may not be unwarranted to advance a degree of optimism and though it may take a score of years, Haiti, like the legendary phoenix, will rise from its ashes.