Many of us involved in the post-earthquake reality of Haiti have both feared and expected the kind of health crisis that recently surfaced in the news. In many ways, the seeming inevitability makes it all the more tragic – because a full and coordinated response might have averted the ongoing catastrophe.
For more than nine months, Haitians and organizations like Grassroots International that work with them, have sounded a warning bell. Even while our grants have reached people on the ground, the tens-of-thousands of dollars which have brought some measure of relief and hope can in no way make up for the billions of promised U.S. aid withheld because of a procedural loophole in Congress. Instead of funding sanitation systems or long term housing, U.S. aid allocated after the devastating earthquake remains in U.S. banks, held hostage there. The New York Times reports that at least 138 people have died of cholera and more than 1,500 others are suffering the deadly – and preventable – epidemic. Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, only $686 million of $8.75 billion promised for reconstruction has reached Haiti so far – less than 15 percent of the total promised for 2010-11. Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, has put a “hold” on U.S. aid approved for Haiti, citing concerns of potential misappropriation of $5 million of the $1.15 billion promised. The results on the ground in Haiti are both predictable and dire. Millions remain either displaced or homeless. Women remain vulnerable to rape and abuse in tent cities. Nearly everyone is vulnerable to hunger and disease, even in the rural areas where people have fled. Many organizations within Haiti work relentlessly to provide food and water, shelter and health services. Given the scale of the crisis, their efforts are nothing short of heroic. And given the scale of the need, the lack of response by international donors – especially the United States – remains inexcusable and heartrending.