With the cholera outbreak making itself known in the streets and slums of Haiti, we are again reminded how those of us living in various industrialized nations take sanitation, health, clean water, and access to proper medical care for granted.
Here in the United States, an outbreak of cholera would be as unlikely as a massive epidemic of bubonic plague. But in the case of Haiti, deplorable conditions pre-dating the relatively recent earthquake have created a situation wherein otherwise preventable diseases can spread rapidly and dangerously from rural to urban areas (and back again) in a matter of days.
In the Western Hemisphere, Haiti remains a symbol of failed economic policies, illegal coups, and inappropriate interventions by the United States and other global bodies who have crippled this poor nation and left its citizens lagging behind as the poorest country in this half of the world, with the majority of its 9 million citizens living below the poverty level.
International aid organizations, many of whom have had boots on the Haitian ground for decades, are now scrambling to provide education, outreach and improved sanitation in order to head off an outbreak that has already killed hundreds and could very well kill thousands if the tide is not quickly stemmed. Some groups, like Doctors Without Borders, are building makeshift cholera clinics, and others are distributing chlorine tablets for the purification of water and oral rehydration fluids for those at risk of dehydration in the absence of clean drinking water.
Newly living in the American Southwest, I’ve recently been learning how contentious an issue water has become in the 21st century. Native American tribes have been forced to utilize the courts in order to gain access to water to which they previously had the rights for generations, and just a few weeks ago, bloggers worldwide participated in Blog Action Day, this year focusing their attention on water as a global issue of critical importance.
In Haiti, an economically crippled country was only recently brought to its knees by a massive earthquake that left more than a million homeless Haitians living in various tent cities as they await a more permanent housing solution. According to reports, sanitation and hygiene is actually worse in the urban slums, where water used for drinking and washing is contaminated with fecal matter, proliferating the spread of diseases such as cholera.
As some of us here in the Southwest argue over how many rain barrels we can afford to buy in order to have enough water to irrigate our decorative gardens, millions of Haitians long for the opportunity to simply have sufficient water to provide proper sanitation, healthy hydration, clean and hygienic clothing, and irrigation for life-sustaining crops.
In this world of plenty, Haiti’s current state is a sign that the priorities of the human race are tragically askew. Meanwhile, the conspicuous consumption and epidemic obesity of those of us in the industrialized world only further illustrate our loss of a collective vision of how life should be for all.
Haiti needs our assistance, our empowerment, and our generosity. And we can only hope that, given time and adequate resources, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere will one day be relatively free of disease, poverty, and the misguided geopolitical interventions of those who have only sought to exploit her.