The epic devastation in Haiti is about much more than an earthquake, Mercy Corps' President Nancy Lindborg told a crowd of supporters in New York assembled at the Action Centre to End World Hunger to hear a briefing on the situation on the ground after her recent trip to Port-au-Prince. Ultimately, it's a human rights issue.
Flying in a helicopter over Port-au-Prince, she encountered a surreal landscape. "It looked like someone had jumped up and down on top of a toy city," she said. In contrast, she recalled the 7.1 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake that struck San Francisco in 1989. More powerful than the recent quake that essentially leveled Haiti's cities, it killed 63 people. In Haiti the death toll is 200,000 and still climbing.
"Of all the emergencies, the earthquakes, the tsunamis and even the conflict that I've visited, I don't think I've ever seen an emergency as complete, as complicated and as utterly devastating as the earthquake in Haiti," Lindborg said. "That so many people were so devastated by this earthquake, that's a poverty issue. That's poverty. That's poor governance. There's no reason that a country can't withstand that kind of earthquake with the kind of resources and the kind of governance that every person deserves."
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As the initial phase of the relief effort ebbs and the process of clearing rubble and rebuilding starts, people want to regain some of the control they often lose after a disaster. To that end, Mercy Corps will operate a strong cash-for-work programme to put money in the pockets of Haiti's people, so they can buy what they need in local markets and jumpstart the local economy.
Dr. Fabienne Laraque, a Haitian-American doctor in the crowd for the briefing, said Haiti was in dire need of economic opportunities before the earthquake and that need will only grow now. "I want to thank you and thank Mercy Corps for your commitment," she told Lindborg. "Haiti needs all of our help. But more than anything, it needs jobs, it needs jobs, it needs jobs."
Alone, Laraque said she could only do so much. So, she decided to organise her fellow Haitian and Haitian-American employees at the New York City Department of Public Health to see what they could do support long-term relief and rebuilding efforts as a larger group. She also intends to spend more time at the Action Centre in order to stay plugged into Mercy Corps' efforts in Haiti.
But the best chance of rebuilding a strong, successful Haiti will take more than governments and relief agencies. Everyday citizens, in Haiti and beyond, will play important roles.
"Remember that this won't be over once it's off the news and it's already off the front page of the papers," Lindborg urged the crowd. "Every January 12 for the next five years, take a moment. Check in on Haiti. See where it is in its effort to rebuild. See what you can do to help."
Act today. Learn more about Mercy Corps' response in Haiti and visit actioncenter.org to write your elected officials and make sure help for Haiti and other developing nations remains a priority in Congress.