Commentary: Haiti's misery keeps growing

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramNovember 19, 2010 

The poorest country in our hemisphere can't seem to avoid calamity, which comes frequently and disguised in many viciously destructive forms.

Having long endured the plagues of abject poverty, neglect and government corruption, the people of Haiti today continue to suffer from their latest afflictions brought on by earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, mudslides and disease.

One wonders how much one people can endure and how much the rest of the world will allow them to suffer.

Despite what one self-righteous televangelist has said, Haitians have not been cursed by God because some people on the island of Hispaniola practice voodoo. They are not evil people who have been damned to unending torment.

They have fallen victim to both natural and man-made disasters, and yet there continue to be signs of resiliency in the wake of unthinkable loss and hardship.

It is still difficult to imagine the severity of the earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, destroying its capital city, killing well in excess of 200,000 people, injuring 300,000 more and leaving more than 1 million homeless, many of them living in overcrowded, unsanitary tent cities with little left except hope. Their conditions are not likely to change for the better anytime soon.

Our nation and people around the world did respond with aid, resources and dedicated volunteers willing to help. The response was so great initially that there was no way all of the assistance could be coordinated through the tiny country's damaged air and sea ports.

I was particularly proud of the many individuals and companies from North Texas who not only sent monetary donations but packed their bags and went down to help.

Several teams of doctors from the area went to treat the injured.

Church groups that already had missions on the island wasted no time in starting rebuilding efforts, and companies and giant corporations like AMR (parent of American Airlines) and Alcon Laboratories immediately began shipping food and medicine.

There are still many foreign volunteers and relief organizations on the ground in Haiti, but they have been overwhelmed by the need - a need that grows with every approaching rainstorm or hurricane and new epidemic.

Our attention span can be quite short, and we tend to shift our focus to wherever the national media direct us.

It's not uncommon for the media to have a "crisis of the week" and, with each new disaster, we forget about the old one even though it doesn't go away, not for the people who are suffering and dying.

While we have been distracted by other pressing stories, some serious and some frivolous, the situation in Haiti is growing worse with the outbreak of a cholera epidemic.

There have been almost 10,000 confirmed cases of the disease, which the country has not seen in 50 years. More than 600 people have died since the outbreak.

Health officials fear that cholera will continue to spread rapidly through the encampments across Haiti, including its capital of Port-au-Prince, still home to more than 2.5 million people.

The pictures of ill children and the elderly being carried to overcrowded hospitals and clinics are haunting.

Overworked aid workers try desperately to treat them for their ailments but unfortunately can do little to treat the conditions that help breed the disease.

Haiti still needs help from the international community. The great shortages of housing, clean drinking water and medical supplies make it difficult to fight off this latest menace.

All I ask is that we not forget these people.

We must encourage our government to do more, and we should continue to support those groups like the American Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders that have people on the front lines of this battle.

Pray for them.

But also, be a person who will help answer their prayers.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may write to him at: 400 W. 7th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102, or via e-mail at bobray@star-telegram.com.

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