Haiti’s Vulnerability to Natural Disasters
In the modern world, people have managed to find the tools to cure most of the diseases that had struck the Earth’s population throughout the centuries: tuberculosis, diphtheria, typhus, plague, and cholera. Health is considered a human right, and medical care becomes more and more accessible for everybody regardless social and wealth status. The more difficult it is to understand why thousands of Haitians suffer from the diseases, when the humanity already knows how to treat them. Haiti has been through numerous natural disasters and epidemics, which struck this country during its history, and it is likely to face the problem again. The paper is aimed at finding out why Haiti is so vulnerable to natural disasters and epidemics and the role of international community in establishment human rights such as medical care and health in Haiti.
In 2010, the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake almost destroyed Haiti. According to Hearn (2016), 300,000 buildings collapsed, tens thousands of people became homeless. Nine months later, the country, which always lacked drinkable water, faced the outbreak of cholera. As Roth (2016) wrote, it was the group of Nepalese peacekeepers who had brought the infection in the first place. It happened near their base when the waste from the housing leaked into the river, and the water rapidly spread the disease. The UN had disputed on this issue for almost six years, and in 2016, they have finally admitted their involvement. Thousands of people, whose homes had been ruined by the disaster, lived in tents and shelters, which contributed to the even faster spread of the infection.
As Roth (2016) writes, during past six years, nearly 10,000 people have died from cholera. In 2016, most of the population affected by the earthquake still lived in the conditions of extreme poverty and destruction, in the self-built flimsy houses or tents. Therefore, Haitians did not manage to prepare for another natural disaster. The country experiences lack of qualified medical staff and the simplest medicine. Moreover, hurricane Matthew destroyed most of the medical institutions on the island. Furthermore, it caused floods, resulting in mixing of water with sewage. The pools of stagnant water were everywhere, and as a result, the infection spoiled most water sources on the island. The situation is complicated; even before the disaster, many Haitians did not have the regular access to the drinkable water. The Haiti is the poorest country in the northern hemisphere, an ordinary Haitian cannot afford to buy water, and every day there are so many cases of cholera that hospitals and shelters quickly run out of the medicines and water supply. The WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said, “Cholera is a disease nobody has to die from. Eighty percent of people infected will only show mild symptoms, and it can be easily treated if people are properly hydrated” (as cited in Watson, Hume, & Pequenino, 2016). Nonetheless, still hundreds of people die every month, and the problem might be hidden elsewhere.
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Farmer (2005) considers the problem of the disasters as caused by a huge gap in the level of economic development in different countries. In Haiti, people die of preventable and easily treatable diseases. They do not have any access to modern medical care, so even cholera or any other illness easily treatable in developed countries may be as lethal as AIDS. It might be a reason to consider poverty as the main ground for deaths of illnesses. Farmer (2005) calls this fact “Luddite trap”, as people ignore the distress and the modern medicine tools, which might help it, and therefore, commit injustice.
Every human being has a right to get basic medical care. The WHO Constitution (2015) includes “…the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being.” This right requires a set of social criteria, including the availability of medical services, adequate housing, safe working conditions, and nutritious foods. Basic medical care is supposed to be a human right, no matter from which country one comes and whether one can afford the service or not. In the age of the fastest scientific progress, the production of simple and most necessary medicine is not that costly anymore. However, different systems still manage to make it inaccessible for some groups of people.
Comparing two quite different countries like Haiti and the USA, one can notice that even though the latter is much more economically developed, there also exist similar problems as in Haiti. Thus, medical service is not accessible for all American citizens. Brill (2013) has met several people, who have faced the same problem – unbearably expensive medical services. He made a research that proved that hospitals in the US artificially raised the market price of medications and services (Brill, 2013). Sometimes, people have to pay thousands of dollars for a brief encounter with a doctor and some different tests that in fact cost no more than $20 each, and in most cases, are not even necessary. As the result, a hospital visit may become a reason of personal bankruptcy for an uninsured person. Usually, hospitals representatives explain it by charity projects: they charge those rates, so they could use the part of the money to serve the poor. The thing is that even for charity projects hospitals charge the same rates. Brill (2013) has calculated that $39.3 billion for charity care has cost them actually less than $3 billion.
The difference in pricing system means much for the developing countries that often suffer from epidemics. Currently, some countries provide the same medicines as the USA for a considerably lower price. Harris and Thomas (2013) wrote in their article about the manufacture of generic medicines in India, the world’s most important provider of inexpensive medicines. The US government insists that the countries, like India, adopt more strict rules aimed at patent protection. As the result, poorer patients will not be able to access inexpensive generic medicines if the governments of their countries accept trade agreements with the USA.
When it comes to the situation like in Haiti, people should consider main trends to find a solution, which are charity, development, and social justice. Everybody is a witness of this situation, and it is not only about a natural disaster. The human rights applicable to every person in the world are not considered in Haiti, for some reason. These people have become victims of structural injustice, “structured” by economic and historical processes.
Haiti is located on a seismically active island, and throughout its history, this country has suffered from numerous earthquakes, hurricanes, cyclones, and storms. The history is likely to repeat, and currently, the responsibility of the international community is to solve the roots of the problem, making Haiti less vulnerable and exposed to disasters. Jocelyn McCalla the representative of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights claims: “Hurricane Matthew has disrupted the expected course of events. We should not seek to put Haiti back on course. We need to change course altogether, use disruption to identify another course of action in consultation with Haitians” (as cited in von Meding & Forino, 2016). The authors think the humanitarian aid is not sufficient anymore. According to von Meding and Forino (2016), the international community has pledged US$13.5 billion for Haitians after the earthquake. About 94% of it went to international non-government organizations, UN-agencies, private contractors, and only the rest ever made it to the people (Von Meding & Forino, 2016). The humanitarian aid often consisted of the second-hand goods, cheap products, and medicine of not good quality. Some people used the calamity to get quick and easy profits. Therefore, the international community should start working on the deeper and efficient solutions to the problem such as providing access to education, health care, and livelihoods, giving the autonomy to the at-risk communities. It is necessary to change the system to a democratic and transparent one; otherwise, Haiti will be in the same situation again, and the world will face the same problems when a new disaster strikes.
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In order to achieve justice and equality in the world, society has to secure the application of human rights to all the people, especially to the most vulnerable nations. Most problems exist not because of natural disasters but because of the human factor. The international community can help to decrease the consequences of natural disasters in Haiti and help to avoid many of them in the future. It is the responsibility of the international community to ensure the ability to conquer the disasters by all the countries and communities.