Perhaps children are the most vulnerable victims of the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. It is estimated that two million children are affected by the disaster, many of whom were orphaned and badly injured. Surviving children who could not find their parents and or other adults were found sleeping amongst the dead bodies.
Children make up almost half of Haiti’s population of nine million and are at great risk from ongoing physical and psychological trauma. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with the highest rates of infant and child mortality in the region. Diarrhea, respiratory infections, and tuberculosis are among the leading causes of children’s death on the island. Haiti is the country most affected by HIV/AIDS outside of sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated there are 19,000 children with HIV/AIDS with few drugs available to treat them. About 80 percent of Haitians were poor before the earthquake and two-thirds of its labor force was out of work, making school attendance an economic problem for many families.
The poor air quality, dust and decay will exacerbate poor living conditions on this impoverished nation. Many are expected to contract pneumonia and are at high risk for hepatitis A and E, typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. The lack of sewage and drainage systems will contribute to food and water borne diseases. Once past the initial struggle for survival, the wet season will start in a few months and malaria is likely to spread.
The need for health care facilities, supplies and services will be critical but so too will their need for help overcoming the emotional trauma children have suffered. Many of the children will no longer have adults to care for them and are vulnerable to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Without adults to guide them through this horror, many will be forced to inadequately bear the burdens of grief and bereavement. Children will need help reconnecting and reestablishing routines and relationships.
We share this slideshow with you. It captures the hopes and dreams of students in Haiti at the opening of their new school shortly before the earthquake and contrasts it with the horrors that have now become a reality for them.
We urge you to help the children of Haiti in any form you can – cash, goods, services, and of course, by not letting people around you forget this tragedy.
Shirley Gatenio Gabel
Associate Professor, Fordham University