Photo: Rubble in Haiti in the aftermath of the Aug. 14 earthquake
The death toll from a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on Saturday climbed to 1,941 and 9,900 injured as rescue teams frantically recovered bodies from widespread rubble. Further deepening the crisis, rescue efforts had to slow as the country braced for tropical storm Grace. And finally, emergency relief efforts are exacerbated by the political chaos gripping the country in the wake of President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination last month.
The epicenter was approximately 78 miles west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, and aftershocks continued until Sunday. Haiti’s civil protection agency estimates that the earthquake destroyed 13,694 homes and damaged another 13,785 homes. Lacking adequate shelter, survivors in some areas slept outside on the streets or on soccer fields as the cities plunged into darkness with intermittent electrical blackouts.
The massive displacement of survivors brought the healthcare system to the brink of collapse as supplies and hospital beds are scarce. UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said on Saturday that humanitarian assistance is urgently needed as health facilities, schools and bridges were affected. Reports from the hard-hit city of Jeremie described doctors treating injured patients on gurneys underneath trees and on mattresses by the roadside due to space shortages.
Haiti is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes because the country’s infrastructure has been systematically underdeveloped as part of centuries of colonial plunder that continues to this day. As revenge for carrying out the first successful revolution of enslaved people at the end of the 18th century, various colonial powers have sought to impoverish, destabilize and periodically wage war on the country. In the 20th century, the United States looted Haiti’s national treasury, invaded and occupied the country for 19 years and installed a puppet government that oversaw widespread repression and mass killings of innocent people.
Haiti also became a source of cheap labor to be exploited by multinational corporations. The United States has sponsored corrupt and brutal governments in Haiti that have little interest in developing the national economy. The consequences are seen in the lack of infrastructure, healthcare, and social development in the country.
While Haiti may be geographically in an area that frequently experiences earthquakes, that does not mean that widespread suffering and casualties are inevitable. This is a direct result of continued U.S. and other imperialist interference in the country, hindering Haiti’s ability to resolve social crises like healthcare shortages, poverty and underdeveloped infrastructure.