Melissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry and listen, we know there is a lot happening right now, and we are feeling it right along with you. You could not look more than five feet in front of you this weekend without some pretty rough news hitting you in the face, but we got you. We're going to stay focused, we're going to get through it together, and we're going to find out what is behind some of these big events. That's going to happen all this week, but we've got a lot to get to today. We're going to begin with the urgent situation in Haiti. Early Saturday morning, a powerful earthquake struck Haiti registering a magnitude of 7.2. This quake occurred on the same fault line and was even larger than the 2010 quake, which killed 300,000 Haitians.
Because Saturday's quake was centered about 50 miles farther west from the urban center of the capital city Port-au-Prince, the death toll is expected to be lower than in 2010. However, by Monday morning, more than 1,200 people were confirmed dead, and it is expected that that death toll will rise. With nearly 6,000 injured, local hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands more are feared trapped beneath the rubble and ruined buildings. The disaster comes just one month after the assassination of Haiti's president Jovenel Moïse, which has left the nation's governance on insecure footing, amid speculation about the responsible parties. All this amidst a global pandemic.
Until very recently, Haiti was according to UNICEF "The only country in the Americas without a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine." The first vaccine shipment arrived in Haiti on July 14th, and given the significant damage to infrastructure caused by Saturday's earthquake, the pandemic is likely to enter a dangerous new phase in Haiti. Meanwhile, tropical storm Grace, which was downgraded to a tropical depression is set to bring storms to Haiti early this week. Remember, all this is happening in a nation less than 700 miles from Miami. Joining me now is Garry Pierre-Pierre, Editor-in-Chief of the Haitian Times. Garry, welcome back to The Takeaway.
Garry Pierre-Pierre: Thank you, Melissa, for having me.
Melissa: First may I just ask you about your family, friends, loved ones in the wake of Saturday's quake?
Garry: Well, thanks for asking. Everyone is fine as far as I know. Obviously, as you mentioned in your intro that region is not as populated as Port-au-Prince and people had some experience from 11 years ago and they knew that they shouldn't stay inside the building so a lot of people left buildings into safety. That was good news if we can find any good news in this scenario.
Melissa: Really. Initially, on Saturday, there were tsunami warnings. I believe those are all over now, but what about the aftershocks? Are you still expecting those?
Garry: Yes, they're still coming. That's just like typical. In 2010, it was the same thing and we call them aftershocks, but they're pretty big shocks, [chuckles] 5.6 and stuff like that. That's still pretty strong quake, the aftershocks.
Melissa: What are you hearing from people who are in the affected area about the conditions?
Garry: Oh, it's horrible. It's horrible. The hospitals such as they were overrun. The rescue mission so far as we know has been slow. We haven't seen much on the ground according to our reporters. People have food insecurity, they have shelter insecurity, people are afraid to sleep inside. You have a lot of people basically sleeping outside because of the aftershock as you mentioned. That's as scary as the original quake itself.
Melissa: As you talk about a lack of action on the ground at the moment, can you connect that -- obviously you and I have been talking for the past month, several times about the political instability in Haiti, and I'm just wondering the way that that's playing out in this moment of crisis.
Garry: Well, absolutely. It's played out badly as expected. This is a very weak government. It was just installed a few weeks ago and it doesn't have legitimacy. There's a contention around the legitimacy of the Prime Minister, and so the civil and society is not supporting it. It's just a mess. A very blunt way to put it, they're not up to speed. They don't have the equipment, first of all, we must admit that. In the last decade, the Haitian government had not taken steps to mitigate the impact of a earthquake, and so now we're seeing the result of it because we don't know what the final number will be, but one thing I can tell you is that it will be more than it should have been had the government taken actions to make sure that codes are respected and some buildings are upgraded to code. None of that was done, actually.
Melissa: As we've talked about before, there is this issue of the governance actually happening by the gangs. You walked me through some of what that's meant in presumably normal times. What might that mean for Haitian citizens now?
Garry: Well, the good news is, Melissa, that the government was able to broker a truce deal with the gangs that control the artery that gets you from Port-au-Prince to the Southern part where the earthquake epicenter was. Aid and people are able to cross that artery and get to the affected area and so on. The government was able to work with the gangs and allow them to pass. This is the absurdity of the situation, and I'm saying this, and I have to say it's kind of like, ''Okay, so the government had to negotiate with the gang members to allow people to go through it.'' This is really next-level stuff.
Melissa: As you're starting to think here about aid, we know that the USAID is sending assistance. We know that undoubtedly international aid agencies are going to begin to come in. I'm just wondering if you think that these international actors have really learned anything from the failures and the abuses following the 2010 earthquake. I'm thinking here specifically of the cholera outbreak, which was only very recently addressed forthrightly by the international community in terms of how UN peacekeepers were part of it. I'm also thinking a little bit here about UN soldiers and their fathering and abandoning of children.
Garry: Well, yes, that's a whole lot. [laughs] We could have a report of what the UN did in Haiti, but to your first point about the international community's response, I think this time it will be measured. It will be better done, if you will, that even the Haitian government, such as it is, is aware of the problems that happened the last time of the waste, because that's what it was. It was too much money pouring in and people just didn't know how to do it and then a lot of it was misspent if downright stolen.
Everybody is leery about this. In fact, one of the things that people have been asking me at the Haitian Times is; what organizations should they donate to? I've been very cautious so far as to what we're recommending because we're not sure who's going to be president in Haiti. USAID is the American government's official aid organization and Samantha Power, who is the Administrator of the USAID has said that help is on its way. They're bringing all the equipment needed to rescue people because right now we're still in the rescue stage that we need to save as many lives as possible and make sure that those who are alive have the proper nutrition and water and medical care wishes not forthcoming right now.
There are no significant medical aid coming in. I know that there are a lot of folks in the United States, in the diaspora who are waiting to go down to help with medical missions and organize it rapidly enough as I see it because I know that the crucial early days are important, and I don't know, because I'm not on the ground. Our reporters are saying they're not seeing the international community's presence like we did 11 years ago, and so I'm a little bit concerned about what that is going to look like.
Melissa: You absolutely anticipated precisely where I was going to go next because I know that listeners will be wanting to do something and sometimes doing is worse than doing nothing. Naomi Osaka tweeted over the weekend that "It really hurts to see all the devastation going on in Haiti. I feel like we can't catch a break. I'm about to play a tournament this week and I'll give all the prize money to relief efforts for Haiti. I know our ancestors' blood is strong. We'll keep rising.'' Yet, as I read that, I thought, ''Okay, but where? Where would the money go from either folks like Naomi Osaka or others towards trying to assist?
Garry: Well, we'll wait and see because after the rescue mission you have other needs that will be necessary. There's food, there's shelter, because right now, tents are needed. Almost like camping gears are needed for people. There's going to be a need for all kinds of stuff. What I would say to Naomi who I admire for her grace, for love of her country that she's been to a few times, but it's still in her blood. She has really embraced part of her culture, which is Japanese and American at the same time. She has really risen to the occasion in regards to Haiti. There are many people like that and I think that we should wait and see where the needs are before we send money.
We should open our wallet, but wait to be directed to the right organizations because one of the organizations that people are saying absolutely not to donate to is the International Red Cross because the money doesn't necessarily go to the needy. The experience last time was disastrous even for the Red Cross. They admitted that they were not equipped to do developmental work and they were given money for development work. Well, Red Cross is disaster relief in the moment. What happens next, it's not there barely a week, but last time they were giving a lot of money, [unintelligible 00:11:57] more money than they knew what to do with out there, frankly. One thing I want to say, Melissa, is that when I think about Haiti, I have to think about this old song. If it wasn't for bad luck, Haiti would not have any luck at all.
Melissa: I hope, Garry, that you will continue to come back and talk with us. We're not going to take our eyes off of this because, again, there are these multiple compounding disasters happening simultaneously. Gary Pierre-Pierre, Editor-in-Chief of the Haitian Times. Thank you so much for joining us today.
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