In the first month of 2020 alone, natural disasters have disrupted communities and nations, leaving varying levels of destruction in their wake. Earthquakes, floods, volcanoes and other catastrophes have cost lives, homes, and land.
Those affected by recent occurrences, such as the volcano in the Philippines and earthquakes in Turkey and Jamaica, are scrambling to get their lives back on track. Elsewhere, many suffer under the weight of disasters of the much more distant past, as it can be incredibly difficult for individuals and nations to pull themselves from the weight of sudden, terrible disasters.
“Every year natural disasters kill around 90,000 people and affect close to 160 million people worldwide. Natural disasters include earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, heat waves and droughts. They have an immediate impact on human lives and often result in the destruction of the physical, biological and social environment of the affected people, thereby having a longer-term impact on their health, well-being and survival,” according to the World Health Organization.
January 12, 2020 marked the 10-year anniversary of the 7.0 earthquake in Haiti that forever changed the nation. In its immediate wake, amidst the destruction, there was a lingering feeling of hope, which Caitlin Hu addresses in a recent article for CNN.
The world largely came together, as global media outlets covered the quake and relief efforts came from all over. Hu cites the firemen sent from New York City, sniffer dogs from China, and oil from Venezuela sent to help Haiti. Support and compassion were sent out to the nation as it found its landscape and people in ruins.
Hu spoke with Harold Previl, the head of a Haitian hospital. “Right after the earthquake I felt a lot of hope, because I thought emerging from the catastrophe would make everyone a better person in the service of this country,” said Prévil.
Now, in 2020, the country has largely lost hope, unable to fully recover. “Ten years on, we still lack the basic infrastructure and services to support the people of our country,” says Haitian President Jovenel Moise.
This hopelessness is trapped in the parts of the nation that remain in ruins. For 10 years, Haitians have not seen their seat of government, the National Palace, rebuilt. The buildings that have been reconstructed hardly look capable of withstanding another earthquake, causing citizens to live in a constant state of fear. This disaster is a chronologically distant memory, but they must face it every day.
Often undiscussed are the psychological and emotional effects of such tragedies on people. Many cannot walk down the street without flashbacks or other terrifying images plaguing them. They must also face this trauma in the midst of a broken country. Haiti faces immense inflation, fuel shortages and hunger—additional barricades to recovery.
“The initial flurry of attention received from the international community quickly quieted down, with many of the financial pledges not delivered — causing devastating consequences for our recovery…little of the aid that was received ended up in Haitian hands and much of the money that was so generously given was not spent on the right projects and places…we need the same solidarity we had after the earthquake,” said Moise in a statement in January.
A natural disaster rarely passes without major consequence. However, these consequences do not impact all nations equally. Stronger, better equipped nations may suffer a blow and bounce back, while others may never recover. It is those who suffer the most who are most easily forgotten.
Last year, in remembrance of Hurricane Harvey which devastated the Texas coast, many poorer areas of Houston, Galveston, and other affected areas were spotlighted. Eventually, relief stops. Funds stop coming in. People forget about the most vulnerable, assuming that time has healed all. Meanwhile, like the Haitians, poorer members of those areas were living out of demolished houses and struggling to feed themselves since they did not have the necessary foundation to rebound. The effects of these disasters and their aftermath demonstrates the increasing need for communities and the world to come together. This union must be prolonged, not a brief display of compassion which fades to reveal struggling economies and peoples. As the year is just getting started and disasters have already slammed numerous countries, compounded by concerns over climate change, there is a more urgent call for the world to work together on a large scale. From the mutual experience of unplanned disasters, people may support others in a more lasting way, for the betterment of all.