Haitian Earthquake 500 Years in the Making

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Much of the coverage of the Haitian earthquake earlier this year has focused on the devastation it caused the country and its people, and rightly so. The plight of both should be continuously well-documented to try to figure out how to fix the current problems and avoid such dire results of future catastrophes.

Learning how to do those things, however, will not be possible without first gaining a clear and complete understanding of the historical factors that put places like Haiti in a position to be so completely devastated by these disasters, writes Anthony Oliver-Smith in NACLA Report on Americas.

In short, disasters are not accidents or acts of God. They are deeply rooted in the social, economic, and environmental history of the societies where they occur. Moreover, disasters are far more than catastrophic events; they are processes that unfold through time, and their causes are deeply embedded in societal history…. In effect, a disaster is made inevitable by the historically produced pattern of vulnerability, evidenced in the location, infrastructure, sociopolitical structure, production patterns, and ideology that characterizes a society.

Nowhere is this perspective more validated than in Haiti, which on January 12 in some respects experienced the culmination of its own more than 500-year earthquake.

Oliver-Smith goes on to explain how slavery, reparations, an embargo, and massive debt put Haiti in a vulnerable state from its earliest stages of existence. And while other Latin American countries, such as Chile, have instituted safeguards–like building codes–against natural disasters, Haiti has fallen short in terms of protecting itself, whether due to the lack of such safeguards or the government’s inability to respond properly to disaster.

As with most things, an understanding of what got us here is needed in order to craft an appropriate response.

Source: NACLA Report on Americas(article not available online)

Image by United Nations Development Programme, licensed under  Creative Commons.

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