The massively destructive earthquake that hit the impoverished island nation of Haiti earlier this month has dominated recent global news. Reams of newsprint and thousands of websites have been dedicated to chronicling recent and past misfortunes of this country, ranging from natural disasters to political upheavals.
The casual reader is left with the impression that Haiti is a country with a ruined economy, chronic unemployment, and extreme poverty. The media has not been slow to point out that Haiti is a country from which only bad news ever seems to come.
The name “Haiti” is derived from the language of the first inhabitants of the island, and means “mountainous country”. Haiti is the world’s oldest black republic and the second oldest republic in the western hemisphere, after the United States. As a failed state and a media whipping boy, the country has long played a dark shadow to the bright sunlight of the rest of the Caribbean. Recent optimism over Haiti’s impending renaissance has been buried again under last month’s earthquake.
Natural disasters have long had their part to play in the consistent destruction of Haiti. But the scale of destruction wreaked by these disasters cannot all be attributed to the disasters alone. Indiscriminate deforestation has had a major role to play. Being the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, oil has always been a commodity that Haiti could ill-afford.
Hence, charcoal from burnt trees has been the major source of energy. For decades, Haitians have relentlessly burnt and chopped down the lush forest cover of the island. This has meant that in times of storms and hurricanes, the rainwater rushes down unimpeded and the effects of destruction are greatly magnified.
A long history of political unrest and poverty means that the country is just not prepared to cope with disasters of this scale and magnitude. The most recent disaster has prompted yet another major international aid effort. Haiti is a country that is in serious need of help.