The information overload in today’s technologically fast-paced world tends to produce short memories. So it might surprise people to know that it’s only been a year plus two days since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake ravaged the Caribbean island of Haiti. Estimates of how many people died in the quake vary, but the Haitian government’s most recent figures are about 316,000 dead, about 300,000 injured and about 1,000,000 left homeless. Other sources say the death toll could be anywhere from less than a third to about two-thirds of that estimate — still a massive loss of life.
Haitians on Wednesday, the actual one-year anniversary of the quake, gathered throughout the capital city of Port-au-Prince to mourn and reflect on the past, and look toward a future that doesn’t give much reason for hope. Port-au-Prince, where a third of Haiti’s citizens live, was flattened by the quake — and nothing much has changed in the last year. There have been no significant reconstruction projects; rubble and ruins remain everywhere. A million homeless, displaced people are living in camps, battling the elements and disease (like a cholera outbreak in October that killed more than 3,000).
Haiti already was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a government that has a long history of corruption and ineffectiveness. The quake and its aftermath have made life there nightmarish.
There is no question that people have tried to help. Relief and humanitarian agencies and religious groups mobilized and got to Haiti as soon as they could. The world has tried to help. A conference was held last March at the United Nations in which countries pledged more than $5.6 billion in aid over a year and a half (although less than half that total has been collected). A recovery commission was set up to oversee and coordinate efforts, co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton, who’s a U.N. special envoy to Haiti, and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. It hasn’t worked. The suffering in Haiti — in this hemisphere, only about 700 miles from Key West, Florida in the United States — continues.
Oxfam International, a group whose goal is to eliminate hunger, poverty and injustice, in a one-year assessment of the quake response, said things are at a “standstill” and blamed “inaction by the (Haitian) government and indecision on the part of the donor countries.” That needs to change. www.gadsdentimes.com/article/20110113/NEWS/110119926/-1/NEWS01?Title=OUR-VIEW-Haiti-one-year-later
This past June 2010 in Hong Kong, the three global social work organizations (the International Association of Schools of Social Work/IASSW, the International Council of Social Welfare /ICSW) collectively agreed to work towards the beginning of a larger movement that we aimed to lead as international organizations in response to:
- Economic inequalities within countries and among regions:
- Growing inequalities and their implication for marginalized populations
- Man- made and natural disasters, their management and prevention and again their implication for social work profession, and the environment;
- Political instabilities, violence, domination, erosion of peace building processes, development of terrorism and modes of responses by states, and modalities for handling global conflicts;
- Human right issues in relation to social, political and economical situations;
- Migration refugees, immigrants, immigration and modalities of handling these issues and their implications;
- Family issues and life challenges emerge as a major concern, in relation to the transformation of the world.
Many but not all of these issues are encompassed in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDG’s are global time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions – income, poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion – while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. They are also basic human rights – the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter, and security as pledged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN millennium declaration.
We know that our actions on these and other important issues are informed by policy makers, practitioners and educators. We are working to integrate the social, economic and environmental factors which are a core part of sustainable development. This interrelationship will help to inform what we do, why we do it and what we EXPECT to achieve. IFSW is delighted to know that there are so many committed and dedicated social workers, practitioners and educators who remain involved and committed to helping Haiti’s recovery. Our efforts on behalf of the Hong Kong Global Agenda contribute to those efforts success; I hope you will visit the website created for discussions as it relates to the Agenda at www.globalsocialagenda.org.
Social workers, often in our role as first responders work with people, their families and communities to adjust to and recover from the losses they have suffered. Social workers have played a vital role in assisting the people of Haiti as they began the process of recovering from this unimaginable disaster.
Often as first responders and disaster relief workers we worked with those who had been physically and mentally affected and continue to work closely with individuals and communities to further assist the recovery process. It is important that there be measures put in place by governments and the UN which will continue to provide the physical and mental health assistance needed to those affected by this disaster.
Current global situations require more social work unity and engagement. Beyond the shared understanding of the necessity to be organized and to be relevant in the international arena, we need to develop action plans which will influence the setting of an international agenda.
In closing I would like to share a poem that has come to have a great deal of meaning to me personally about Haiti. The poem is from a book called: IRON FLOWERS A POETIC REPORT ON A VISIT TO HAITI by Kalamu ya Salaam. First published in New Orleans in 1979, Salaam, an African journalist and poet, was sent to Haiti to write a feature article. He visited Haiti more than once over a period of months. His experience was one where he was overwhelmed by the poverty and hardship of Haiti, though he saw the beauty too.
Tomorrow’s Toussaint’s by Kalam y Salaam
This is Haiti, a state slaves snatched from surprised masters, its high lands, home of this world’s sole successful slave revolt. Haiti, where freedom has flowered and flown fascinating like long necked
Flamingoes gracefully feeding on snails in small pinkish sunset colored sequestered ponds.
Despite the meanness and meagerness of life eked out of eroding soil and from exploited urban toil, there is still so much beauty here in this land where the sea sings roaring a shore and fecund fertile hills lull and roll quasi human in form;
There is beauty here in the unyielding way our people, colored charcoal, and banana beige, and shifting subtle shades of ripe mango, or strongly brown-black, sweet as the such from sun scorched staffs of sugar cane, have decided we shall survive, we will live on
A peasant pauses, clear black eyes searching far out over the horizon. The hoe motionless, suspended in the midst of all this shit and suffering forced to bend low still we stop and stand and dream and believe
We shall be released, we shall be released, for what slaves have done slaves can do and that begets the beauty slaves can do.
Haiti – We Stand in Solidarity-
Gary Bailey, MSW. ACSW