There’s no disaster that can’t become a blessing, and no blessing that can’t become a disaster, says Richard Bach. It’s an end of the world I guess. It is no longer news that on Tuesday, thousand were perished in Haiti due to the massive earthquake that shocked the city, the death toll is likely to be even higher in the nearby squalid slums such as Cite Soleil, where tens of thousands of the poorest Haitians live in wooden or tin shacks, with no running water, no sewage systems, and no electricity. Haiti, as an entity previously had more than its fair share of political turmoil, misrule, paucity and natural disasters.
On Tuesday, a catastrophic earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The full extent of the damage is still being assessed, but the — already in the thousands — is climbing fast.
This is the worst earthquake to hit the area in more than 200 years. Entire communities have been ripped apart and as many as 3 million people have been directly affected, including tens of thousands of American citizens who are in Haiti.
As it has happened so often in the nation’s past, just when the situation was getting better, a fresh tragedy struck, writes Nick Caistor. “Many of these slum denizens have been coerced to come into Port-au-Prince because, if anything, conditions in the countryside are even harsher. Serious malnutrition, Aids, and other chronic diseases are widespread. Haiti occupies the mountainous western third of the island of Hispaniola. When the Europeans first arrived more than 500 years ago, they were amazed at how wooded the country was.”
Now only some 3% of those original forests remain. The rest have been hatchet down for trudge or for charcoal, which is still the most widely used fuel in the countryside.
It is this deforestation that increased the mayhem caused by a series of storms in 2008, when almost a thousand people were killed and up to a million were made homeless after four hurricanes struck around the important town of Gonaives in as many weeks.
In 2004, a tropical storm struck the northwest of the country. The historic port of Cap Haitien bore the brunt on that occasion, with an estimated 3,000 people killed.
In appendage to these natural disasters, Haiti has suffered throughout its history from political turmoil and misrule.
When ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier was forced from power in 1986, it seemed as though the country might eventually take pleasure in a period of democratic rule. After several years of turbulences, this new hope was symbolized by the election in 1990 of a young former Catholic priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. But his period in office came to an end after only a few months, when army colonels confiscated power.
The democratic experience was cut short, several thousand people became victims of the new government, and thousands more tried to escape from the country on homemade rafts. It was the huge influx of these boat people into the United States in 1994 which helped persuade President Bill Clinton that the time had come to kick out the colonels.
Once again, Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned to power, and a new, more promising political era seemed about to begin. Under his rule, and that of his successor Rene Preval, and with the help of the United Nations and other international aid organizations, life improved a little, although Haiti remained one of the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with average income of less than two dollars a day.
It was when Mr Aristide was elected president for a second term in 2001 that the political situation began to slip back into confusion and growing violence.
We’ve seen, we’ve heard, the next is the vindication of the prophecy as William Bulter Yeats wrote:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?