The Haitian earthquake of 12th January has been a highly featured issue on every news channel and in every newspaper. This assembly helps teachers explain to children what has happened, why it won’t happen in Britain, and that there are things that are being done to help
- Map showing location of Haiti
- Video showing aid being delivered
Just a few weeks ago, you’d probably never heard of Haiti – but I’m sure you will have now, because of the terrible things that have been happening there.
The most recent tragedy began on 12th January when a huge earthquake shook buildings on the little Caribbean island so much that they were reduced to piles of rubble. Many, many people were killed, and those who survived are trying to live with little food, little water, no homes and not enough trained doctors and nurses to help them.
Why do earthquakes happen?
Earthquakes are devastating events. Our planet, Earth, is made up of a ball of rock, but the centre of the ball of rock is so hot that the rock is liquid. The oceans and the continents float over the liquid rock on thick crusts of land. Sometimes these crusts of land, called plates, bump into each other and this can cause an earthquake.
In Britain we are very lucky because we are in the middle of a plate so rarely feel any earthquakes and, if we do, they are very minor and all that happens is a couple of people might lose a chimney pot or two. But for people whose country is at the edge of a plate, earthquakes happen more often and are much more serious. The ground beneath them shakes so hard that buildings fall down. This is what has happened in Haiti.
Haiti is a small island in the Caribbean Sea, not far from the west coast of America [show map].
It ought to be a beautiful place. It has a lovely climate and is in a beautiful part of the world.
But things have been going wrong in Haiti for a long time.
Three hundred years ago the island became wealthy as a slave colony. Then 200 years ago the slaves fought back and won their freedom. It should have been a wonderful moment but in fact the poor Haitian people seem to have continued to suffer one disaster after another since − both natural and manmade. The little island was covered in lush forests but people cut down the trees to build houses and make fires to cook their food. They cut down too many trees and rain washed the soil away that should have been protected by trees, leaving large areas where crops could no longer grown.
The goverment often acted badly and the people suffered.
Six years ago a terrible hurricane, a storm with tremendously strong winds, brought floods to the country and many people died.
Now this devastating earthquake has killed even more people and those who have survived are suffering badly.
Things are so bad no-one can say for sure how many people have died, but it’s a lot – it is thought that it may have been up to 200,000 people. (That’s about the size of a town like Northampton.) Almost every building has been destroyed or made unsafe for people to live in.
The President of Haiti, Rene Preval, described the scene in the capital, Port-au-Prince, as ‘unimaginable. Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed.’
And yet there is still hope. Days, even weeks, after the earthquake, survivors are still being pulled alive from the rubble – and there’s more hopeful news, too.
What is being done to help?
The people of the world have refused to let the Haitian people suffer alone or in silence. In many countries people have been watching the video footage taken by journalists, appalled at the suffering they have seen − and help is now pouring into Haiti.
What kind of help do they need?
What sort of help do you think you would need if you had lost your home and perhaps your family, too? [Take suggestions]
The people of Haiti really have nothing left. They need the most basic things: food, clean water, clothes, shelter and medical help. Not only that, but powerful earth-moving equipment is needed to help clear the rubble and try to find survivors in collapsed buildings.
But here’s another problem: how do you coordinate these things when the telephone lines no longer work and the electricity supply is uncertain? Well, one group of specialist teams have brought satellite telephones and portable electricity generators to try and ensure that help is sent to the right places.
Charities like Shelterbox and Oxfam have sent tents and food. Charities like Medicins Sans Frontieres have sent nurses and doctors. All around the world ordinary people are sending money to charities who will work to help the Haitian people.
It’s not easy. One of the problems is that the only airport on Haiti that is big enough to accept large aeroplanes has been badly damaged. Whilst there are hundreds of planes loaded with food, water, medical supplies, doctors and nurses from many countries who want to help, there is little room to land them at the tiny airport.
America has therefore sent in a team of air traffic controllers to help. They have also sent soldiers to help because the police force in Haiti has lost so many of their own members of staff in the earthquake, as well as local and national government workers. And when people are afraid and desperate for food, they will fight for it if they have to – so it’s very important to keep law and order as much as possible.
How we can help?
When we see the TV pictures of devastation on such a large scale we may feel as if we can’t help – but we can.
All across Britain, people are donating money to charities who will help the Haitian people. And don’t forget, they don’t just need help right now; they will need help for months and years to come. Close to two million people have lost their homes, and it will take a long time for those to be rebuilt, along with the roads, sewers, power plants and electricity plants needed to support them.
All over the world people are having fundraising events to help the survivors in Haiti. It’s really remarkable how many people want to help.
We pray today for the survivors of the Haitian earthquake. Please comfort those who have lost their families and friends and support the aid workers in their efforts to feed, clothe and shelter the people of Haiti. Amen.
Sometimes we might feel sad that there are so many wars and troubled places in the world, but when we see how many other people are trying to help those they have never met – and will never meet – then it gives us hope and renews our faith in the human race.
Just some of the relief organisations who are working in Haiti:
- Shelter Box
- DEC Haiti Appeal
All urls were accessed on 21st Janurary 2010
This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2010
About the author: Jane A. C. West