Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Reach out to Haiti: The epic disaster befalling one of the world’s poorest nations demands a global response.

Orlando Sentinel Editorial

Nothing prepared the hemisphere’s longest suffering people for the catastrophe that befell them on Tuesday. Not Haiti’s abject poverty. Not its history of political corruption and military coups. Not even its disproportionate experience with natural disasters. And nothing will allow the Haitians who survived it to get back to their feet, save an international response on the scale of the earthquake that killed perhaps hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more.

The world hasn’t glimpsed such devastation since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed almost 300,000 people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

Hospitals and schools demolished. Entire neighborhoods leveled. The country’s parliament and government palace turned to rubble.

Unable to respond to the crisis, Haiti’s government fell to imploring the international community to rescue the nation while its now countless homeless wandered, dazed, with nowhere to go.

Many of Haiti’s 80-percent majority Roman Catholics prayed, but without their leader. The quake killed Joseph Serge Miot, the archbishop of Port-au-Prince.

Some tried extricating the wounded from debris that had been a house, a shop, a pushcart, a car, but with few around to coordinate a response. The United Nations missions chief in Haiti, Hedi Annabi, was feared dead. As were scores assisting him.

Others worried the nation’s always precarious social order might break apart, with ragtag efforts to ferry food, clothes and medicine potentially falling victim to criminal bands recently brought under control by international peacekeepers. Worse still, the national penitentiary collapsed, allowing its inmates to escape.

Government leaders outside Haiti, from President Barack Obama and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said they’d respond swiftly, aggressively, comprehensively.

For its part, the U.S. can’t do anything less.

Haiti presents the U.S. with the opportunity to again remind the world — with its short memory — of its readiness to offer humanitarian aid. That it can reach out — Hurricane Katrina notwithstanding — better than any other nation.

It can, and in the case of Haiti, it must. And also for strategic reasons. The U.S. and the world community, spanning nations from Brazil to Jordan to China, have sent staff and resources to Haiti over several years to help bring it some stability.

That’s vital so Haiti’s internal strife doesn’t spread to other nations, adversely affecting trade and even providing breeding grounds for terrorism.

Meanwhile, individuals and their favorite charities, as they did after the 2004 tsunami and other natural disasters before and since, need to step up. The World Bank’s headquarters in Haiti has collapsed. As has the outpost there for Doctors Without Borders. As have other facilities that could have provided some relief.

For Central Florida’s 30,000 Haitian-Americans, many with family still on the island nation, the devastation’s too much to bear.

Doing nothing, doing too little in its wake, aren’t options.

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