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Water, Air, and Soil Pollution
Water Air Soil Pollut. 2010 October; 212(1-4): 1–2.
Published online 2010 February 9. doi:  10.1007/s11270-010-0338-8
PMCID: PMC2923703

The Crisis in Haiti, 2010: What’s to be done?

The current crisis in Haiti is an overwhelming example of the devastation, suffering, and death that can occur when the earth's tectonic plates are on the move in an overcrowded country. It is no surprise that the destruction was so widespread. It is as expected, given our current international situation. In fact, it is hard to envision the horrific suffering that is occurring and will continue to occur for many years to come, just from this singular event. Many countries and organizations have responded with humanitarian aid that is difficult to deliver when infrastructure in the form of highways, airports, and communications are non-functional. Food, shelter, potable water, public health, and security infrastructure are not easy to provide to a large population. What can we and all countries of the world learn from such a catastrophic event?

Catastrophic earthquakes can be predicted only generally, not precisely, as to when and where they will occur; their magnitudes are also frequently dubious. We know they will occur over and over again in the future because of the tectonic shift of plates will continue. We also know that delivering humanitarian aid has to be immediate, well-organized, and coordinated to be effective, and it requires national and international cooperation. Not all countries have shipping, airlift capabilities, and the funds to provide humanitarian aid to other countries. The task thus falls to the more affluent countries, the United Nations, and humanitarian organizations that can deliver aid as rapidly and as well-organized as possible. These are the groups that can deal with suffering at the sites of the crisis. If humans have a purpose on this planet, it is certainly to help others.

What else can we learn from this one singular catastrophic event in one of the poorest countries in the world? Most importantly, we can reflect on our future reality. Our singular common biosphere is going to experience many devastating earthquakes since the earth's plates are always on the move and as our population continues to grow, so does the devastation and potential suffering resulting from any such event. Furthermore, the degree of suffering will increase at least by the degree of increase of the human population and maybe much more. Following such an event, a disease outbreak and even a pandemic could arise, another obvious consequence of overpopulation.

But why do we need such reminders? We know that over 1 billion people currently do not have the basic needs of life. Basic infrastructure is lacking in many countries, and human population growth is continuing unabated, adding another 80,000,000 people every year or 2.3 people per second, births over deaths. Largely as a result of our excessive human population, global climate change, resulting from increasing atmospheric pollution, has unleashed flooding and drought events that are making it difficult for agriculture to respond to the world's food needs, and millions of dislocated humans are moving to more suitable geographic areas away from coastal cities. Migration is of course an unsettling event that results in suffering, premature death, wars, and other conflicts. Energy needs for our population cannot be adequately met, and there is still a lack of international cooperation due to unstable governments and ideological, religious, and cultural differences. All these factors and conditions are available for scrutiny by anyone interested in the welfare of humankind.

This is a very bleak scenario, indeed. It is one that would test the limits of our common humanity and the ability to deal with interconnected crises, potentially all occurring at the same time. However, a better scenario could result if we would just institute international cooperation, resolve conflicts, and decrease global pollution of our waterways, atmosphere, and soils. But, it will all depend on decreasing the human population. Only then can we provide basic human rights and the needs to over 1 billion humans who currently live under conditions that no human should have to endure.

We are of the opinion that the majority of people on earth would prefer to avoid these forthcoming disasters. But what are they doing to insure safety? We are also of the opinion that the minority of humans motivated by greed, power, conflict, and discrimination must either be replaced or they must put aside their irrational behavior and become leaders in a bigger, singular humanity. But what are we doing to insure that they will? All world leaders should embrace our common biosphere including our fellow human, as one of their top priority objectives. It would serve us all; it would be for our common humanitarian good. If any politician has doubts that this is the correct path forward, that person should visit Haiti to assist in humanitarian efforts. Then, if they can feel empathy at all, they will reject their greedy personal ambitions and fight to alleviate human suffering. Still, we should not leave responsible decision-making to them alone. We must demand responsible leadership, and this will only be achieved if we maintain a knowledge base to insure an informed, voting citizenry. Only if we take the time and trouble to insure the fulfillment of our democratic responsibilities can we begin to take care of ourselves and other world citizens.

Yes, we can learn an immense amount from the current devastation and suffering in Haiti. The international community is currently not prepared to deal with multiple local, national, and international disasters in a timely manner. We have not prepared ourselves to act to minimize human suffering and death. We must use this opportunity to learn to solve or minimize our international pollution problems. We need to insure food safety and guarantee basic human rights. And this will only become possible if we do something about ongoing human population growth. All countries, through their own efforts and through the United Nations, must cease conflicts and contribute to humanity to the best of their capabilities. Our common future is hopefully not increased conflicts; it is humans helping other humans in a sustainable, minimally polluted biosphere. If the world could embrace the realization of our shared humanity by jumping into the lives of the Haitian people, our need for war and inflicting misery would truly be lessened. Unfortunately, as the images on TV fade, so often do our collective memories.


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Contributor Information

Jack T. Trevors, ac.hpleugou@srovertj.

Milton H. Saier, Jr., ude.dscu@reiasm.

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