Haiti today and Port Royal, Jamaica, in 1692

Date Posted: 21/01/2010

Whilst reading all the horror stories coming from Haiti, it is worth remembering that Haiti is opposite Jamaica where there was a devastating earthquake at Port Royal in 1692, which raised many of the same problems. Perhaps 5000 of a population of 6,500 died, but only 1/5th of those died in the actual earthquake. The decomposing bodies were too numerous to cope with and the improper housing, a lack of medicine or clean water, and the fact that most of the survivors were homeless, led to many more, perhaps five times as many, dying of disease. Many of the problems were caused by the fact that Port Royal actually sank, which made access by ships impossible – exactly the same trouble the Haitians are experiencing. All of the stories we are hearing of bottlenecks at the one-runway airport and of relief being hiked overland from the Dominican Republic are the result of the main harbour at Haiti being ravaged by the earthquake. If it was working and big ships could come alongside, the relief operation would immediately increase. So while the media focuses on the rescue crews digging and scraping for the sound of tapping, it is the anonymous and invisible divers working to clear the harbour of debris that are as essential, perhaps even more so, to reducing the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe on Haiti.

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