Exactly one year ago on Jan. 12, 2010, a great earthquake hit Haiti located on the center of the emerald green Caribbean Sea. In less than a minute, 200,000 people died, more than 100,000 were missing and 1.5 million became homeless at one time.
The National Palace and almost all government buildings collapsed. Thirty high-ranking U.N. officials including Hedi Annabi, special representative to the U.N. secretary general, were crushed to death while in a meeting.
The state ceased to function and the world was shocked at the earthquake. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Bill Clinton, former U.S. president hurried to Haiti and expressed their deep condolences. More than 30,000 U.S. Marines flew and tried to keep order and distribute emergency food to the hungry refuges.
Korea, through the Korea International Cooperation Agency, didn’t lose time to dispatch an emergency rescue team and a medical team to Haiti upon the earthquake. Korea also dispatched Korean PKO and Danbi Engineering Company, and they have been rehabilitating the broken road and cleaning the debris of the collapsed buildings.
Subsequent to dispatching two emergency relief teams, KOICA established its Haiti Office in July 2010 and focuses on restoring the broken infrastructure. KOICA began to implement two electricity projects. One is in Leogane City, the city that suffered the most, where Korean peacekeeping troops are stationed. The other is in SONAPI industrial park in Port-au-Prince, the only industrial park in Haiti. And KOICA has been inviting Haitian officials to Seoul and training them in various fields such as health care, marine produce and so on.
Before rehabilitation work started, cholera began to spread rapidly in Haiti from Oct. 19. More than 160,000 people were infected and 5,000 people have died of it so far. What is worse, there have been violent street demonstrators in Haiti against the fraud of presidential election held on Nov. 28.
Haiti’s difficulties are now fivefold ― the earthquake, cholera, violent street demonstrations against the election, crimes and the shortage of daily goods. There are still a million refuges living in tents and exposed to cholera. Violent demonstrations are not likely to come to an end, as the result of the president election is not announced yet.
Haiti doesn’t seem able to come out of difficulties despite much aid from the world outside. We feel very sorry to the core when we see this phenomenon in person and we feel even helpless. Nevertheless, we should not stop helping them just because the exit is not in sight.
If we sit down and do nothing, saying that there is no hope, we cannot come out of the dark tunnel forever. We should take steps forward. If we can’t walk forward, we must at least creep forward with a never-die spirit.
KOICA provided urgently needed cholera medicine to Haiti, making contributions to eradicating the epidemic together with the international society. We will focus on building a vocational training center, primary schools and hospitals in close consultation with the new Haiti government which will be inaugurated in April. KOICA will do its best for Haiti, expecting the day will come when its efforts to share Korea’s development experience with Haiti bear fruit.
By Song In-yeup
Song In-yeup is representative of KOICA’s Haiti Office ― Ed.