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Humanitarian Disaster In Haiti

Like all of you there has been one story in the headlines which has dominated my thoughts over the past week. It has not been the latest plot twist from the Robinson Family soap opera or the ongoing negotiations over the devolution of Policing and Justice, but the humanitarian tragedy which is unfolding in Haiti.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the poorest in the world, was struck on Tuesday 12th January by a massive earthquake which registered 7.0 on the Richter scale.

An earthquake as powerful as the one that struck Haiti would have a major impact on an industrialised, Western country with a solid infrastructure. In a country as poor as Haiti, where the average person lives on less that $2 a day, the impact was totally devastating. The organisational and infrastructural systems of Haiti have been destroyed and the UN has called it the worst disaster it has ever experienced.

Our television screens and our newspaper pages have given us a glimpse in to the true horror which exists in Haiti but none of us can imagine the sheer destruction which has been caused to this country. Initial estimates by the Red Cross suggested that the death toll may have been in the region of 45,000-50,000 but now the Haitian Interior Ministry believes that up to 200,000 people may have died as a result of the disaster. Up to three million people may have been affected by the earthquake. The scale of this disaster is beyond comprehension and its impact will be felt for years, if not generations.

Amongst this devastation, as is often the case, we have seen the International Community react in a very positive way. We have seen offers of support and assistance from countries around the world to the people of Haiti. These countries, who have acted swiftly, and humanely, are to be commended. Those who are involved in the rescue effort face a daunting task, sifting through the rubble, in the desperate hope to find survivors. As the days go by the chance of any new survivors being found reduce but those involved do not give up hope.

In the days, weeks, months and years ahead Haiti will fade from the public consciousness. It will disappear from our television screens and our newspaper pages but the struggle just to survive in Haiti will continue. We have all seen the work that organisations such as the International Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the UN, Concern, and Trócaire are doing, and will continue to do, on the ground in Haiti. Both the British and Irish governments have promised financial assistance to Haiti, as it tries to respond to this crisis.

Ordinary Irish people have generously given what they can to help in the aid effort and I would like to take this opportunity to ask you to do the same. As we watch this tragedy unfold it is hard not to feel anything but compassion and a desire to do what we can to help. There are many organisations which are asking for donations to provide aid to Haiti and I would ask for you to give what you can. All of the organisations which I have mentioned would be grateful for your donations but I must give a special mention to the Black Santa Appeal. The Dean of St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast, Houston McKelvey, who this year raised over £250,000 as part of his annual Christmas Appeal, has restarted his Black Santa Appeal to help the people of Haiti. If you are in the City Centre over the coming days, spare a thought for the people of Haiti, and please give what you can afford.


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