The death toll from a powerful earthquake that struck Haiti early Saturday has crossed 700 as rescuers continue to look through the rubble for survivors. The 7.2-magnitude earthquake destroyed many buildings and injured more than 2,800 people. It is the latest crisis to hit the country already reeling from political instability after the president was assassinated in July. Author and journalist Jonathan Katz joins.
For many, the images coming out of yesterday's earthquake in Haiti, are stark reminders of the deadly earthquake a decade ago in Port Au Prince and of the failures that have still not been resolved. Jonathan Katz is a journalist and author of "The Big Truck That Went By: How the world came to save Haiti and left behind a disaster."
This was exactly what I have been afraid was going to happen essentially for the last 11 years, that, you know, another similar magnitude earthquake, this one actually seems to be somewhat bigger, would strike essentially in the same spot and that the results would be the same. The good news is in relative terms, that this one seems to be the epicenter was about 60 miles to the west. And so the cities that were affected were quite a bit smaller than Port-Au-Prince. But the images coming from Les Cayes and Jeremie and other places on Haiti's southern peninsula, they all just take me right back.
Why is it that it was and is so difficult for Haiti to recover from natural disasters and especially the big quake?
I mean, it really goes back to Haiti's history with the outside world, with this region. Look, it's a relationship of predation, of interference, of exploitation after the 2010 quake. You know, looking back on it sort of in the years immediately following, my main take was that, you know, the moment that the quake hit was too late, that the preparations needed to be in place before that, that the money that had been taken from Haiti needed to have been returned before. The Haitian government needed to be in a strong place in which it could respond and that it was too late. And the last 11 years were a period in which some of those things could have been improved and instead all of those things got worse. And here we are.
We're also at a time when the government is still relatively unstable. We just had an assassination. A new leader has come to power. But what are you most concerned about, especially as the world may line up to try and help again? Again, I know that there are always promises and commitments to help, which is very different from what money actually shows up and which is also very different than what money actually shows up on the ground and affects people.
Yeah. So, look, in the immediate term, there are immediate needs. I think talking to my friends and my contacts in Haiti, you know, the need for medical supplies and medical personnel in places like Les Cayes and Jeremie are paramount in the medium term, and the longer term, I hope that this could be an opportunity to not repeat the same mistakes of the past. That earthquake recovery and response is not done to Haiti or as was often the case in 2010 in Haiti's name. But actually just give money to Haitians, just put money in individual Haitians hands so that they can make the decisions that they need to to save their own lives and the lives of the neighbors and just not use this as an opportunity for, for international posturing and, you know, advancing other political projects.
So who is left here to organize this if the government is not strong enough?
Honestly, I think that people in Haiti have been used to dealing with vacuums of power before and unresponsive governments before. You know, people in the neighborhoods, in places like Les Cayes, in Jeremie and Camp-Perrin and they know what they need. And we should be talking to them and listening to them. And just again, just putting money directly in people's hands to meet their own needs in the way that they know how better than anybody else does. You know, it is an imperfect solution, but at this point, it's all we got.
Journalist Jonathan Katz, also author of the book "The Big Truck That Went By How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster." Thanks so much for joining us.
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