On Saturday October 6th, a magnitude 5.6 earthquake hit the northwest region of Haiti. The worst-affected area was Port-de-Paix, a city of just over 460,000 people and the capital of the North-West department. The quake killed at least 17 people and injured about 430.
The North-West Department is one of the most remote areas of the country. Running water, electricity, roads, hospitals, schools, universities, are mirages – the government talks about them but the people do not see them.
Indeed, the state does not provide any public services. The roads linking this department to other parts of the country are in a sorry state. In the houses anti-seismic or anti-cyclone standards have not been applied. The state does not apply them in public buildings either.
The area of Port-de-Paix struggles under the weight of poverty and ill-health, while the situation is even worse in the other communes of the department. With such a cocktail, any natural phenomenon, depending on its scale, can be transformed into a social catastrophe and a human tragedy. And it is always the poorest who are the most affected.
Some areas are difficult to access, because of the state of the roads, so relief is hard. The hospital in Port de Paix is inoperative and the humanitarian dispensary and the clinic in the suburbs of the city are insufficient to treat people injured in the quake.
Jovenel Moise, the president, and his government pretend to be active to help the people. He calls on the population to “keep calm” and states that “the risk management system and the regional directorates of the Civil Protection are on alert to assist the inhabitants of the affected areas.” His chief concern seems to be fear of a reaction of anger from the population rather than improving social conditions in order to minimise the loss of life from natural disasters.
In 2010, when Haiti was hit by a devastating quake that killed hundreds of thousands, it was the efforts and dedication of the population itself that were crucial to survival. It is the same today.
In the 1790s and very early 1800s, Haiti was right at the forefront of global struggles for freedom and a better life. The defeat of that revolution, and thus the country’s continuing exploitation by capitalism, have made Haiti a byword for poverty and oppression – the poorest place in the Western Hemisphere.
The per capita income is a meagre $US250 a year. A majority of the total population live in poverty; in rural Haiti this reaches 80% of the people.
However, there is wealth in the country. In fact, the richest 1% of the population owns the same wealth as the bottom 45%.
A new revolutionary movement could put Haiti on the road to freedom and a better life for all once again.
The article above includes most of the text of an article from the October 13 issue of Combat Ouvriere, a fortnightly paper based in Martinique and Guadaloupe. Additional statistics and historical information have been added by Phil Duncan. You can read Combat Ouvriere here.