The native Taino Amerindians – who inhabited the island of Hispaniola when it was discovered by COLUMBUS in 1492 – were virtually annihilated by Spanish settlers within 25 years. In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola. In 1697, Spain ceded to the French the western third of the island, which later became Haiti. The French colony, based on forestry and sugar-related industries, became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean but only through the heavy importation of African slaves and considerable environmental degradation. In the late 18th century, Haiti’s nearly half million slaves revolted under Toussaint L’OUVERTURE. After a prolonged struggle, Haiti became the first black republic to declare independence in 1804. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most of its history. After an armed rebellion led to the forced resignation and exile of President Jean-Bertrand ARISTIDE in February 2004, an interim government took office to organize new elections under the auspices of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Continued violence and technical delays prompted repeated postponements, but Haiti finally did inaugurate a democratically elected president and parliament in May of 2006.
By Aaron J. Leichman
From denominations and mission agencies to broadcasters and foreign governments, groups and individuals are responding to the devastation in Haiti with an outpouring of aid, on-site efforts, and calls for prayer and donation.
Meanwhile, officials fear that the death toll from Haiti’s devastating earthquake could reach into the tens of thousands, with some saying a toll of 100,000 and even 500,000 is possible.
“The death toll is climbing by the hour in the wake of the magnitude 7.0 quake that tore through the capital of Port-au-Prince,” reported U.S.-based Christian Aid, which has been assisting native missionary efforts in Haiti since 1970. “The trembler and aftershocks are the most powerful in 240 years and affect 1.8 million people who live in the immediate area of the epicenter.”
On Tuesday, the powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck at 4:53 p.m. ET 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, bringing down buildings great and small and leaving behind dead bodies throughout the city’s streets.
Quickly following the disaster, people and groups worldwide began to mobilize, such as World Vision, which is distributing emergency survival kits – including food, water, blankets and tents – to provide immediate aid to affected children and families, and also providing emergency health services to the injured.
“World Vision is rushing emergency supplies to thousands of people left homeless by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti. Staff on the ground fear hundreds, or even thousands, dead or injured,” reported Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S.
U.K.-based Tearfund was also dispatching emergency funds Wednesday to help survivors of the devastating quake, who were already among the poorest in the western hemisphere.
“With so many buildings destroyed and so many people made homeless, the need for shelter and basic essentials such as food and water is extremely urgent,” reported the agency.
“We are sending disaster specialists to help our partners assess immediate needs, including emergency shelter, clean water and sanitation, nutrition and health care,” it added.
“Please support our partners in prayer, as they themselves face the immense scale of disaster, the trauma, the destruction and loss of life that this earthquake has brought,” Tearfund urged supporters.
Also getting involved in rallying support are noncommercial broadcasters in the United States, who received permission from the Federal Communications Commission to raise funds for relief efforts, thanks to the National Religious Broadcasters.
“This morning, I contacted Federal Communications Commission Chairman Genachowski to ask the FCC to grant a waiver enabling noncommercial broadcasters to raise funds for relief efforts,” said Dr. Frank Wright, President & CEO of NRB. “Chairman Genachowski’s staff was very amenable and acted swiftly, and the Chairman issued a statement this afternoon granting such a waiver.
“We are grateful that in this time of emergency, the FCC has acted promptly to allow noncommercial broadcasters, so many of whom are religious broadcasters, to be part of the effort to help our brothers and sisters who are in such great need here in our own hemisphere,” said Wright.
Pastors and other Christian leaders, meanwhile, urged their congregants and their members to pray for Haiti and give generously to relief agencies that are responding to the crisis.
“Our hearts go out to the people of Haiti as they face the impact of this huge disaster,” expressed Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the World Evangelical Alliance in a statement. “We are calling upon our entire WEA family to pray for the people of Haiti as they come to grips with the magnitude of this situation. We know there has been a huge loss of life as well as property.
“Please pray for the Christians and local churches as they will be on the forefront of responding to the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of hundreds of thousands of people. We would also ask that you would give generously and support the WEA members who are actively involved in responding to crisis,” he added.
Christian groups currently involved in relief efforts include World Vision, the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, and the relief arms of denominations such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church, among many others.
According to the international Red Cross, a third of the country’s 9 million people may need emergency aid, a burden that would test any nation and a crushing catastrophe for impoverished Haiti.
By most economic measures, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. It is also one of the world’s poorest and least developed. Most Haitians live on $2 or less per day.
Haiti Earthquake Disaster Response
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