March 5, 2010
Haiti’s earthquake leaves suffering beyond its scale

A woman checks the toe tag on the body of a deceased earthquake victim in the parking lot of Port-au-Prince’s General Hospital. UN Photo/Logan Abassi

There is no Olympics of tragedy nor is there value in engaging in comparative suffering. Nevertheless, if we were to look at the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti, an exercise in triage is underway and the work is undone.

The Feb. 27 Chile earthquake registered 8.8 on the Richter scale and was the eighth largest in recorded history.

The January 12 earthquake in Haiti registered much lower, at 7.0 on the scale, yet the suffering, leave out the numbers, appears to never end. In Chile the government is totaling damage reports and checking the wine crop. In Haiti, international agencies face the rainy season, despair and misery.

The difference of course is development. Haiti needs building, more than rebuilding, rescue not just from the earthquake, but from a tragedy that spans generations – a mostly human-made disaster.

On the human dignity scale, Haiti ranks high. Every day, there’s a story about beauty and grace amid the ruins. There’s the story in the New York Times about Beken, the Haitian musician living in the ruins.

The Boston-based relief group, Partners in Health, is the subject of a video worth watching; it offers a look at how the rescuers are drawn close to the victims as they work to save lives.

The heart of the message is a blog by Lisa Armstrong for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, who says that for the rescuers in Haiti “there is no us and them, only we.”

Armstrong’s phrase is a good mantra for considering Haiti and the aftermath of what Haitians refer to simply as the catastrophe. She reminds us that the suffering cannot be forgotten and the rescue mission should be the responsibility of all governments and all people.

– Peter Eisner


1 comment


A major problem in Haiti relief is that we Americans are now so short focused on world tragedies. We need creative and constant reminders of Haiti’s needs and that countries inability to solve many of its problems on its own. In the health sector, Partners In Health offers not only immedicate care now, but works
consistently to train Haitian people to take over
health care and not just rely on outsiders coming in to solve isolated problems and then depart.
Partners in Health also sees the health problems in a wider more comprehensive focus – building schools, helping communities develop fresh water
sources, better latrines, better disposable means for items – cutting down both ignorance about the sources of disease like TB and cutting down the
sources of disease in villages and towns. All this involves Haitians working along side the
‘imported outsider’. There is a BIG difference in outcome over months in help arranged FOR a community by outsiders solving problems and then leaving, and help done WITH a community by outsiders and community people working together to solve problems and train community people how to manage in the future these problems.

Peter Eisner is an editorial consultant with Worldfocus and a 30-year veteran of international news. He has been an editor and foreign correspondent at The Washington Post, Newsday and The Associated Press. He co-authored “The Italian Letter,” which details fraudulent intelligence leading up to the Iraq War. He was founder and president of Newscom, an international online news service, and speaks Spanish and Portuguese.

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