Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti: Crisis in a Capital City

The devastating earthquake that damaged Haiti on Jan 12th is an enormous emergency public health situation on all accounts. Although many countries have been affected by earthquakes in recent memory, including China, Iran, India, and Turkey. None of these countries had to confront the challenges of the earthquake destroying the capital city and the center of both political and economic power for the country. Had those earthquakes occurred in Beijing or Tehran or Mumbai or Istanbul, those nations would have had a much different course to follow after the impact of the initial event. In addition to the immediate relief that is being ramped up daily, the people of Haiti face the daunting prospect of rebuilding fragile governments and economies. As the international community provides immediate assistance, donor countries will need to evaluate how they help Haiti rebuild the governance infrastructure and the local fiscal economy.

For the immediate aspects of the crisis, these are the key issues:
  • Coordination of delivery of assistance: Too many players are on the ground with little coordination of efforts, and certain populations are being underserved in the midst of cargo planes landing hourly at the Port au Prince airport.
  • Basic necessities: Food, shelter, water, clothing.
  • Personal security: So far, the local population has acted courageously and with little menace towards each other. If the situation remains severe for a prolonged period, security will become a more important factor.
  • Healthcare: The two major health issues will be treatment of acute conditions (fractures, internal injuries, wounds, burns) and the management of chronic conditions (diabetes, asthma, hypertension, etc).
  • Mental health needs: As the public health crisis continues to enter a protracted phase, mental health concerns will begin to emerge.

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