Today's Chicago Woman

The Haiti Aftermath: Helping Those Who Need It Most

Haiti Struggles With Death And Destruction After Catastrophic Earthquake


This morning marked one week since I (and most of Chicago) heard about the disastrous earthquake in Haiti. If you're anything like me, you've read the news, you've scrolled through the pictures, you've texted "Haiti" to 90999 to donate to the Red Cross, and then...'re left at a bit of a loss.

It's a consequence and irony of our technology-inundated world that news is both fleeting and everlasting; though an unfortunate photo on Facebook can last forever, the death toll of a natural disaster hundreds of miles away exists only until it's replaced by something more sound-bite friendly.

And even if we stay tuned in--if we read past the headlines and watch past 10:05 and follow a story past the initial "wow" factor and into the "what now" stage--our attention is woefully meaningless. We can read and watch and listen and scroll and click; while we do that, we can gape and murmur and disbelieve and maybe even cry. But those are all horribly passive, inactive verbs, so impotent as to hardly be worth the space they occupy. They imply action while representing none. They are nice sentiments, but they are of little use to those who are dying and suffering and rebuilding and struggling and looting and surviving. We long for action words that give us something to do with our hands, terms that give us tools to solve problems. We think, I wish I were more transient, so that we could entertain the thought of finding a volunteer force and packing a bag for longer than it takes to remember our mortgage or job or student loans or families and all those other good reasons that keep us rooted in our comfortable lives.

So instead of action, we fill our vocabulary with numbers, statistics, floating pieces of information, as if the sum of these factoids will somehow amount to more than the worth of their parts.

One in three Haitians is estimated to be affected by the earthquake. That's more than the population of Chicago.

As is most often the case in natural disasters, Haiti's most vulnerable members are the hardest hit. The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) estimates that 37,000 pregnant women are in the affected population in Haiti. At least 10,000 of those will need delivery services in the next month; 1,500 of them will face life-threatening complications during delivery in a country that already faces the highest rate of maternal death in the region. Newborns, notes the Reproductive Health Response in Crisis Consortium, are at an even higher risk. 

With already secondary roles in societies, women are more likely to be the primary caregivers to children, the elderly and disabled. Following a disaster, they are more likely to be unemployed, to go hungry in order to feed their dependents, and to have limited access to the resources needed to recover.

When disaster strikes, the ensuing violence puts women and girls at an increased risk of sexual violence, exploitation and abuse when seeking food and other necessities of survival. According to the humanitarian organization CARE, which is deploying a gender-based violence specialist to address the issues, reports of rape are already emerging from the temporary camps set up for the estimated 1.5 million people left homeless in the earthquake's aftermath. News coverage is already reflecting the shift toward violence as a community is reduced to fighting for toothpaste--not for dental hygiene, but for masking the smell of garbage. It's in situations like these that women and children will fare the worst.

These statistics may seem inconsequential: a person in need is a person in need regardless of gender, and a dollar given to the Red Cross will certainly do good. But patriarchal structures already in place directly affect how resources and funds meant for recovery are appropriated and distributed. And so who needs the funds, and who gets them, does matter.

UNIFEM has sent a call for nearly $2 million to provide for the protection of women and their families, including rebuilding women's shelters and emergency services. (That's of the overall $562 million the UN has called for overall for Haiti.)

CARE (whose mission statement notes they "place special emphasis on investing in women and girls because our six decades of experience show that their empowerment benefits whole communities") has established the Haiti Emergency Response Fund with the goal of raising $10 million. The group has already distributed water purification tablets (which are of great importance to expectant mothers and newborns), and is working to distribute food rations, tents, mattresses, infant kits, delivery kits and basic hygiene kits that include toothpaste, sanitary napkins and soap.

To donate, find CARE here or at 800.521.CARE. Find UNIFEM here.

Sometimes all those statistics and factoids drive us toward action. Until I find a better outlet, that's what I'm doing, at least.



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1 Comment

msindependent said:


Ms. Gaddo,

I completely agree with you about taking action. People read, people write, people listen, people talk, but then no action is taken. And the problem does not just occur with issues like natural disasters, it also happens with issues like education, political policies, or you can even consider the more personal things in life like relationships.

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