The huge earthquake that hit Haiti this week only brought back bitter memories for me of a quake that struck the state of Gujarat, India on January 26, 2001 killing 20,000 people and injuring 167,000. The Gujarat quake was 7.9 on the Richter scale, compared to 7.0 for the Haiti quake, but the sights, scenes, and sounds of the devastation were remarkably similar.
Like in Gujarat, building in Haiti were poorly-designed concrete structures that simply “pan caked” down, crushing most of the inhabitants. On my hard drive I’ve got photos taken by some of my friends who quickly traveled to assist survivors of the Indian quake; photos of little kids’ hands sticking out of concrete slabs, mothers crushed with their babies; all of which look resoundingly similar to the images coming in from Haiti. Those photos are heartbreaking.
No country deserves an earthquake. Statements by Christian Ayatollah Pat Robinson to the effect that the Haitians “swore a pact to the devil” and are being punished by God are neither useful nor responsible. I’ve never been to Haiti, but I’ve spent weeks and weeks in Gujarat. The Guajarati’s are predominantly Hindu. I have lived, eaten, and worshiped with them. I know firsthand that God loves them as much as he loves any people on this earth, and he loves the Haitians as well. Natural disasters are a part of the natural order. Like floods, hurricanes, and tornados, earthquakes kill some people and spare others; there is no grand plan as to who dies and who survives.
Both Haitians and Guajarati’s were hammered by giant quakes, but the future for Haiti is much grimmer that that of Gujarat, which has moved on to rebuild schools, homes and infrastructure. Gujarat is a state within India, the world’s largest democracy. I’m not going to tell you that there is no corruption among politicians in Gujarat, but the place operates generally in an orderly fashion without gangs and violence. You’re safe walking the streets of Gujarati cities.
The same cannot be said for Haiti. For years Haiti has been rife with corruption, poverty, and anarchy. Haiti’s natural resources were exploited by the French and it was ruled by Papa Doc Duvalier and his son Baby Doc from 1957 through 1986. Both rulers ran incredibly repressive regimes, to the extent that the US government and most other nations cut off all aid to Haiti. Since 1986 Haiti has been “held together” by a UN peacekeeping force and many charitable organizations, who hand out medicine and other needed supplies. This has not kept Haiti from becoming a lawless place, run by thugs who loot much of what is charitably given. Even some of the world’s most respected charitable organizations have given up on Haiti. No tourist would want to visit there.
Before the quake, Haiti was on life support; now she is in critical condition. Much aid will come to Haiti over the next few months, but in the long run, if Haiti is to become self-sufficient, it needs a non-corrupt, functioning government complete with reliable police and a good court system. Only when law and order is permanently restored will tourism and business flourish. Once the quake mess is cleaned up, Haitians would be wise to move on and quit dwelling on the exploitation and corruption of the past. Ultimately, no country is better than its people. 0nly Haitians can save Haiti.