It is both easy and incredibly difficult to imagine the devastation that has occurred in Haiti from the 7.0 earthquake and its aftershocks. It is easy to imagine because Port-au-Prince is one of the poorest and most crowded cities I have ever experienced (and as an aid worker I have seen quite a few poor places). The city is so crowded that in many of the poorest neighborhoods people stay out late in the streets because they need to take turns sleeping inside homes where five people to a small room is not uncommon. Port-au-Prince is little more than a concrete jungle packed with cinder-block homes that people have built for themselves, often using the cheapest materials they can find. Nothing that would stand well in an earthquake. Yet, it is also painfully difficult for me to imagine what has happened to the city since Tuesday afternoon, because I was just in Haiti last Friday. I had been in the country for a week visiting health and education programs run by the Salvation Army. After spending days with our dedicated staff, meeting hundreds of people served by programs providing support for people living with AIDS, education for orphans in the slums and vocational training for the jobless, I have little idea of what has become of all these people. Fortunately, some of our key staff on the ground are safe; including Bob Poff, the director of Disaster Services in Haiti, who has been providing updates on the situation for CNN and NBC news coverage. Yet we are still unable to reach most of our local staff and can only pray that they have survived.
There were numerous times during my recent trip when I marveled at how people held their lives together amidst the chaos of a city where clean water, electricity, and even food, are alarmingly scarce. Now I am at a total loss to think about where people will turn unless the world jumps to action. So while I have been deeply saddened by the images and stories coming through friends and the media, I have also been extremely encouraged by the way that countries all over the world, especially the US government and numerous NGOs who are rushing to the aid of the city.
Port-au-Prince, a city of over 2 million people, has been all but completely destroyed -- even the presidential palace and the national cathedral are gone. The tragedy of this event is not simply immediate emergency of search and rescue or food and water but the reality that Haiti will need to completely rebuild its capital city.
I cannot possibly over-emphasize the need for support in this effort. Overnight nearly a third of the population of a country, already the poorest in all of the Americas, has been left homeless. Please don't hesitate. Learn more about what is happening on the ground. Find an organization you trust and give generously to their efforts.
You can start by taking a moment to listen to director of Disaster Services for the Salvation Army talk about the situation in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, and the needs they are experiencing there:
The Adventist Development & Relief Agency is also on the ground, partnering with Adventist ministries and other agencies, to offer whatever aid it can. Churches and other faith groups are often the first to respond in these situations, as they are already living among the communities hardest hit. Share the stories of this wprl with others and encourage them to pray and support Haiti in any way they can.
Brian Swarts is Technical Advisor for the Salvation Army World Service Office.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2093