What makes the Haiti earthquake so tragic? The fact that it happened in Haiti. The poverty-stricken, resource-stressed, historically potent republic couldn’t be in a worse position to host a major earthquake.
I found it hard to wrap my head around the situation. Elie Mystal’s great blog post helped by putting Haiti’s situation into a “perspective Americans can understand”:
People on television are emphasizing how “poor” Haitians are. Yes, yes, yes. Extreme poverty, dollar a day, Sally Struthers, we get that. But as we saw with Katrina, in these cases poverty is only a contributing factor. Total failure of government, that is also essential to turn a natural disaster into an epidemic of death. Twitterers are saying that every single hospital in Port-au-Prince is destroyed or abandoned. Every. Single. One. That’s not “natural.” That can only happen when you don’t zone for enough hospitals outside of danger areas. It happens when your infrastructure doesn’t have enough fallback options for people to be able to navigate to work in the middle of chaos. It happens when there are not enough trained medical professionals for your dense urban population in the first place.
Right now, literally as I type this, there are planes in Miami with food, water and relief workers sitting on the ground. Miraculously, the airport relatively survived the earthquake. So why are the planes on the ground in Miami instead of in the air on the way to Haiti? Because there’s nobody in Haiti at the airport to operate the air traffic control towers! Again, that’s not natural, that’s government baby.
In Haiti, and countries in similar situations, often the only authority that is capable of responding to a crisis like this is the military. And that is not a good thing. In Haiti right now, reports indicate that the military is the only functioning authority. That shouldn’t surprise anybody. We’ve seen the picture of the cracked president palace, but the parliament building was also swallowed up by the Earth. And a prison. That’s right, some reports say that as many as 4,000 prisoners escaped when the prison collapsed.
Enter the military. These disasters can be golden opportunities for warlords who would-be dictators. Westerners sometimes fail to realize that despots often have the support of poor people in their countries. It’s always bourgeois middle-class types that clamor for “democracy” and “liberty” and other soft concerns they teach in liberal arts colleges. Poor people want to eat. Poor people want to drink. Poor people want somebody, anybody, to help them lift the concrete slab off of their family matter. Children are literally trying to dig out their parents from collapsed homes. Charismatic generals can exploit these kind of tragic situations to further their political goals.
Read more at True/Slant.