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Desperation and Disease Grip Post-quake Haiti

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Desperation and Disease Grip Post-quake Haiti

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Weeks after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti, leaving more than 200,000 dead and at least a million injured, the nation ended its search for survivors, refocusing its efforts on grappling with food distribution problems, riots and disease fears due to unsanitary living conditions for the more than 1 million left homeless.

The nation’s government estimates that the death toll from the worst earthquake to hit the impoverished island nation in 200 years could reach 300,000.

After days of attempting to solve logistical issues, which impeded the arrival of rescue provisions, supplies finally came, but the constant fear of riots hindered attempts to distribute aid, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“Scott Lewis hoped to deliver more than one million meals to Haitians on Wednesday via a 15-truck convoy brimming with beans and rice.

“Instead, ‘It was the convoy to nowhere,’ Mr. Lewis said. Well after dusk, the 52-year-old founder of a U.S. disaster-relief organization had barely delivered any food, other than some bags left at a missionary hospital, and a few more bags that got looted from the convoy as it crawled along crowded streets.

“Trucks conked out. Communication with the U.S. military broke down. Traffic snarled the streets. Hungry crowds made handing out food unsafe” (ibid.).

The Associated Press reported that desperate Haitians overwhelmed UN soldiers, forcing distribution efforts to cease.

“In front of the wrecked National Palace, people’s desperation boiled over. Uruguayan [United Nations] peacekeepers had to fire pepper spray into the air to try to disperse thousands jostling for food.

“The overwhelmed soldiers finally retreated, and young men rushed forward to grab the bags of pinto beans and rice, emblazoned with the U.S. flag, pushing aside others—including a pregnant woman who collapsed and was trampled. Thousands were left without food.”

With each passing day, doctors fear unsanitary conditions, lack of proper food and improvised tent camps, which house an estimated 1 million survivors, could become breeding grounds for typhoid fever, measles and E. coli.

Makeshift hospitals continue to struggle to provide follow-up care to avoid infections for those who have already received treatment.

“We are talking about thousands of amputations and maybe half of the people who have been amputated have several limbs amputated,” said Dr. Mirta Roses, director of the Pan American Health Organization, in a press conference at Haiti’s airport (Reuters).

Many more suffered head and eye injuries.

Almost a month after the quake, the city still remains in chaos. Homeless survivors sleep on streets, aid groups continue to wrench crushed bodies from underneath buildings now reduced to rubble, and people wait in long lines to receive treatment from a limited number of medical personnel.

Rape, child-trafficking, looting and gang fights also reportedly plague the city. An estimated 4,000 criminals escaped when a nearby prison collapsed during the quake.

United Nations and American soldiers are working with Haitian law enforcement officials to attempt to bring order after one of the worst natural disasters in history.

“You’re talking about a country that pre-earthquake had limited resources and capability, and what resources it did have were concentrated in the capital,” Kim Bolduc, coordinator of the UN relief effort, told The New York Times. “This context helps explain why this emergency is probably the most complex in history, more than the tsunami, more than the [2005] Pakistan earthquake.”

Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat, who lives in Miami, told The Associated Press that given Haiti’s condition as a country, it will be almost impossible for it to bounce back.

“Life is already so fragile in Haiti,” she said, “and to have this on such a massive scale, it’s unimaginable how the country will be able to recover from this” (ibid.).


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