Editorial: Kiwis should give Haitians as much money as they can

Last updated 05:00 16/01/2010

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OPINION: The disaster in Haiti has a special resonance for Wellingtonians. Its underlining of the fact that nature can unleash its destructive power without warning strikes a chord with all those who live their lives astride fault lines. That is only heightened by the news that New Zealanders have died in Haiti.

It is a reminder of the need to prepare, both through ensuring that buildings are built in the expectation that they almost certainly will one day need to endure a severe earthquake, and for the aftermath with a survival plan that includes storing enough water, food and essentials to survive for at least three days.

Now, however, the focus should be on what New Zealand can do to help Haiti. The answer is little, at least immediately. New Zealand has expertise in areas such as victim identification and search and rescue, but that expertise is half a world away from where it is needed, and needed quickly.

Experts say it is now a race against time to stop the death toll climbing – most of those who die from traumatic earthquake injuries do so in the first three days. Clean drinking water is also expected to run out, with wells and pipelines destroyed by the quake. Those who survived the earthquake may end up dying of thirst.

The problem is only compounded by Haiti's lack of infrastructure, poor before the quake and now devastated. The world wants to rush aid to Haiti, but has no way of getting it there.

At least 11 flights were turned back because there was nowhere for them to land. When planes do land there is little or no fuel available to allow them to make the return journey. The seaport is devastated.

The best chance for Haiti's survivors now lies in the hands of the United States. Its military capacity and closeness – Port-au-Prince is just 90 minutes' flying time from Miami – mean that it is able to do much more than any other country, and it has already begun dispatching military personnel.

The best thing the Government and New Zealanders can do now is be as financially generous as possible. The Government's offer of $1 million to start with is reasonable, given New Zealand's size.

It is in the longer-term programme which must follow that New Zealand can offer more than money. Even before the earthquake, Haiti was a wretched state. Nearly 80 per cent of its people lived on less than $2.70 a day, putting it among the poorest of the world's nations.

Last year, children were said to be eating mud pies to survive. It has depended on the world's charity, and a United Nations force ensured its people were fed, and that they did not kill each other.

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It is all too apparent that the scope of devastation in Haiti is a consequence of that wretchedness, and the failure to prepare for an earthquake. That is where New Zealand has expertise. That is where it can help, once the survivors are cared for, the dead are buried and the rebuilding begins.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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