The horrific images of collapsed buildings and rows of decomposing bodies lying in the streets of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, have left no doubt as to the magnitude of the human catastrophe that occurred there. One of the worst natural disasters this hemisphere has seen in recent memory, the most powerful earthquake to strike Haiti in 200 years, has hit squarely in the nation least able to cope with it. Haiti has long been the poorest nation in the Americas, and years of dictatorship and corruption have made it especially vulnerable to such a calamity and unable to recover on its own.
Within hours of Tuesday's quake, President Barack Obama pledged to assist in the massive international relief effort now under way. Owing to Haiti's proximity and the country's long historical ties to America, it's clear the U.S. must take the lead in search-and-rescue operations and in the reconstruction of Haiti's devastated infrastructure. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton underscored that commitment by cutting short her trip to the Pacific to attend to the crisis, and former President Bill Clinton's role as the United Nations special envoy to Haiti should help foster a sustained response from the international community.
The U.S. military is sending ships, helicopters, transport planes and a contingent of Marines to the island. Some states, such as Virginia, have already dispatched emergency response teams to the area. Meanwhile, Maryland-based nongovernmental agencies such as Catholic Relief Services and Lutheran World Relief are gearing up to aid with food, water, mattresses, pots and pans, temporary shelter and medical supplies. Catholic Relief Services, for example, has earmarked $5 million to the effort and already has a staff of 300 in the country.