"To the people of Haiti, we say clearly and with conviction, you will not be forsaken, you will not be forgotten."
These words were spoken by US President Barack Obama on January 13 as he pledged one of the biggest relief efforts in recent American history to assist the Caribbean island of Haiti, devastated by an earthquake which struck on Tuesday. The US has sent more than 10,000 troops to Haiti to help with the rescue efforts. Leaders in France, Venezuela and Nicaragua, aware of America's previous negative role in Haiti, have expressed concerns that the US military presence is a new imperialism.
In a country routinely referred to as the poorest in the western hemisphere, the effect of the earthquake in Haiti has been dramatic and widespread. More than 200,000 people are believed to have been killed.
In addition to the mounting casualties and loss of life and property, the damage to the country's already fragile infrastructure has been severe. The earthquake, which measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, was centred just outside of Port-au-Prince, the capital, and was followed by several strong aftershocks.
In spite of power cuts and interruptions in phone services, and generally poor access to the internet in Haiti, citizen reports of the earthquake in the form of blogs, photos, Twitter, phone, mapping platforms, and streaming video and radio are all being used to report conditions.
Global Voices, a community of more than 200 bloggers around the world who work together to provide translations and reports from blogs and citizen media everywhere, has given unique exposure to daily accounts about the catastrophic conditions in Haiti from bloggers in the region.
With an emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media, they have also provided an aggregate of reports about Haiti logged on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
According to Global Voices,Twitter emerged as the fastest, most time sensitive vehicle through which to report on the catastrophe; Facebook was also full of wall comments on the disaster, from both French and English-speaking Caribbean citizens. One user in Trinidad and Tobago was already collecting “foodstuff, blankets and clothing for Haiti”, asking donors to “label all bags”. Others, like Jamaica-based Annie Paul, quoted lyrics from calypsonian David Rudder's ode to the island: “Haiti, I'm sorry…but one day we'll turn our heads, restore your glory”, following up with links to video of the earthquake, which she found posted on YouTube.
Regional bloggers soon followed with more detailed posts, the most compelling of course, coming from within the island. The Haitian Blogger did a good job of posting regular updates with critical information:
General Hospital in Port-au-Prince is down, Palace is damaged.
No one knows how many dead or injured. The aftershock is reverberating. People can only see dust,
Obama is sending in military troops.
Phone lines that are working are: Haiti-tel and Voila.
All windows are shattered in houses in la plaine
Houses are falling down everywhere.
All the poor on the mountains, whose houses were build on the mountains, all tumbled down, one on top another…
A terrible situation! Devastating. There's NEVER been an earthquake of this magnitude in Haiti. Major aftershocks happening…
The quake was quickly followed by two nearby, strong aftershocks of initial magnitude of 5.9 and 5.5, the aftershocks were major earthquakes in and [of] themselves.
This is catastrophic. Changes everything.
The Livesay [Haiti] Weblog reported that “[an] earthquake hit Haiti at about 5pm…aftershocks are happening every five minutes or so.” In a follow-up post, the family was concerned that “people are very very upset and running in the streets” and was praying for a “cool head for all.” Pwoje Espwa - Hope in Haiti, meanwhile, entered a series of three posts, expressing surprise at the magnitude of the ‘quake and later confirming that “the news from Port-au-Prince is very bad.” Once the aftershocks were over, the blogger added:
Wow. Just finished with two more tremors that felt much like the first one right after the earthquake. Don't think the folks down here will sleep well tonight.
Many Haitian bloggers, like Real Hope for Haiti, simply tried to get word out that they were fine - this Ushahidi site provides valuable information about the on-the-ground situation, from roadway access to available power.
The Caribbean's heart, though, was breaking. Trinidadian diaspora blogger Afrobella:
Right now my heart aches for Haiti. The already-suffering island nation was just hit with a 7.0 earthquake. A hospital has collapsed. Government buildings have been severely damaged. There was a major tsunami watch, earlier. Reports of major devastation are just starting to pour in…my thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Haiti, and anyone with friends or family in Haiti…
Repeating Islands was quick to report that “Haitian musician Wyclef Jean began to mobilize support for the victims through his Twitter account”, and Bermudian blogger Catch-a-fire added:
It is becoming clear that the damage has been catastrophic. Slum areas have also been badly hit by landslides. Haiti has a lot of problems as it is and this disaster risks the country sliding into an even worse state. I’ll be seeing what I can do tomorrow. In Bermuda, although we have our own problems to deal with, we should still be able to offer help to our Haitian cousins, and I expect the unions and charities to start organising whatever help they can.
Finally, Trinidad and Tobago's The Liming House gave the local media a failing grade when it comes to Haiti:
Dear Trinidadian media: the Haitian earthquake is the biggest and most important Caribbean story, bar none, of the moment and the year to date.
What, exactly, is your excuse for your utter inability to update your sites to reflect this state of affairs, per the following screenshots (taken at approximately 8.55pm Trinidad time)
And in another post, which clearly demonstrates his compassion for the earthquake victims, he wrote:
Too often, relatively inconsequential events are referred to as ‘a tragedy' or ‘tragic'.
But what is happening in Haiti – dozens dead, many more injured and dying in the aftermath of a 7.3 earthquake that also damaged and possibly destroyed the country’s National Palace – is a tragedy.
Readers, Haiti needs your help. In the coming days, weeks and months the island’s people will need food, water, shelter, medical care as they attempt to rebuild – for the umpteenth time – their shattered lives and nation.
There will undoubtedly be campaigns by the Red Cross, AmeriCares and other such organisations. Please give.
Give, and give generously, because the Haitian populace needs your support more than the myriad fete promoters and purveyors of glorified bikinis do; more than the enforcers of racism and classism along Ariapita Avenue.
You can donate now to the DEC Haiti Earthquake Appeal.