World Water Day has come and gone. About 1.1 billion people still do not have access to safe drinking water, and two in every five people on the planet still have no access to a proper toilet. The international community has become increasingly aware of the disastrous consequences of the status quo for public health and economic growth. It will take more than awareness to change the current situation - it will also take political will, long term committment, and a new approach.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former U.S. President Bill Clinton will visit Haiti March 9-10 to promote international aid for Haiti. According to UN Peacekeeping Chief Alain Le Roy, ''Clearly it's a fragile situation in Haiti. There are still lots of difficulties but we think Haiti is winnable." Also noteworthy is that a long awaited donor conference has been set for April 13-14 and will be chaired by the Inter American Development Bank. Expect food security to be an important part of these discussions.
Search and rescue operations in response to the Petionville school collapse have concluded and there are no more survivors. In the Miami Herald article below, Jacqueline Charles notes that 89 individuals were killed and 150 survived, although many were badly injured. Thank you to Martinique, France, the United States and other countries that contributed equipment, search and rescue teams, or financial support. For the families, the mourning process begins. For the Haitian government, the pressure is on as they try to develop a strategy for preventing a similar tragedy from happening again. Nationwide school inspections would be a good start.
By most accounts, the Haitian Government responded well to Gustav. The Haitian Ministry of Interior’s Office of Civil Protection (DPC) played an active role, gathering information and establishing shelters nationwide. However, Hanna overwhelmed the country's capacity and produced a national catastrophe that was exacerbated by Ike. The storms affected 600,000 people in nine of ten departments. Of them, the UN is reporting that 331 people have died and 70,000 people remain in shelters. Relief has been slow because of damaged infrastructure but it is arriving.
Natural disasters are a fact of life in Haiti, both in terms of the inevitable tropical storms/hurricanes and the floods/ mudslides left in their wake, largely as a result of the unabated deforestation. Gustav resulted in 22 deaths, but certainly could have been worse. While Haiti can't stop the storms, it is possible to mitigate the damage that they cause. Preparedness is key. Topix carried a Scoop Media World article on the efforts of the international community to help Haiti better prepare for and respond to natural disasters.