Reconstructing Haiti

NEW YORK – The horrors of Haiti’s earthquake continue to unfold. The quake itself killed perhaps 100,000 people. The inability to organize rapid relief is killing tens of thousands more. More than one million people are exposed to hunger and disease and, with the rain and hurricane seasons approaching, are vulnerable to further hazards.

Even an economy as impoverished as Haiti’s is a complex system dependent on trade between rural and urban areas, transport, electricity, port services, and government functions. Haiti’s economy worked badly in the past, and was still reeling from four hurricanes in 2008 when the earthquake struck.

The fact that the quake hit the capital, and demolished every center of social activity, destroyed the systems upon which daily urban life depends. Millions of people are now without livelihoods and the means for survival.

The first stage in an effective response, the first three or four weeks, must focus on rescuing survivors and stabilizing supplies of food, water, medical services, and shelter for the population. Neither Haiti nor the world was properly equipped for this, and tens of thousands will die needlessly. The world’s emergency-response systems – especially for impoverished countries in zones that are vulnerable to earthquakes, volcanoes, droughts, hurricanes, and floods – needs upgrading.