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Haiti earthquake -- a call to a common humanity

The US and the international community are quickly mobilizing to help. But Haiti will need sustained assistance.

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After a massive earthquake struck Haiti on Tuesday, thousands of survivors gathered in public squares and sang hymns. People poured out gratitude for lives saved, and prayed for help.

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, is unable to help itself in the conventional sense. But its people are resilient, having endured decades of poverty, violence, political upheaval, and natural disasters. That toughness is a plus as they pull each other from rubble, comfort each other, and generally try to work through the wrecked property and lives resulting from an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0.

This country of 10 million people, however, has virtually no infrastructure, no rescue teams, very little earth-moving equipment, and only a tiny police force. In the hard-hit capital of Port-au-Prince, about 60 percent of the buildings were shoddily built and unsafe in normal circumstances, according to a 2008 estimate by the mayor.

That makes this tiny Caribbean nation heavily dependent on quick, substantial, and sustained international aid for recovery. The world, including countless individuals, poured such aid into Asia when it was overwhelmed by a tsunami in December 2004. But after a severe earthquake struck Pakistan in 2006, the United Nations had to plead for more donations and speedier assistance. Donor fatigue had set in after giving for the Asian tsunami and hurricane Katrina, and other news pushed the quake from the headlines.

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