This is what tragedy looks like. Bodies piled upon bodies. A city flattened. Tens of thousands dead. Thousands more trapped beneath the rubble. Indiscriminate, indescribable horror. The earth beneath Port-au-Prince in Haiti shook for 40 seconds on Tuesday afternoon. It could take more than 40 years for the people of Haiti, and indeed the people of the world, to piece this country back together. An earthquake of this strength, 7.0 on the Richter Scale, and so close to the surface, would have wrought destruction even in Tokyo or Los Angeles. But Haiti is the western hemisphere's poorest country. The fragility of its infrastructure has been exposed. The fragility of its institutions may prove even more deadly. Haiti is near the top of international rankings for corruption. Many Haitians suffer from a lack of clean water, electricity, medical care and policing, even on the best of days. During these gravest of days, Haiti's chronic difficulties introduce the prospect that the agony on Port-au-Prince's corpse-strewn streets will only increase. Aid cannot arrive quickly enough.
Many international organisations will have to search for their own among the dead as their relief efforts begin. There are more than 100 United Nations staff unaccounted for among the 10,000-strong UN mission in Haiti. Thankfully, the UN presence includes 3,000 soldiers who have secured the airport in Port-au-Prince and opened it as a hub for relief efforts. Less than 24 hours after the earthquake, both Chinese and American rescue teams arrived there.
While every nation has a contribution to make in Haiti, the United States has a particular responsibility - and a unique ability - to lead the way. Haiti is a close neighbour. As the US effort halfway around the world after the 2005 Asian tsunami revealed, America can mobilise its military rapidly to co-ordinate and deliver relief. It is also fortuitous that the former president Bill Clinton is already serving as the UN envoy to Haiti. In the years since he left the White House Mr Clinton has demonstrated a singular ability to galvanise support for humanitarian aid. Now, more than ever, he must put his gifts to work. The US also has a base of operations near by, ready-made for the relief effort. The US naval station at Guantanamo Bay, less than 180 miles from Port-au-Prince, has a chance to be at the centre of what America does at its best, rather than what it has done at its worst.
Haiti's other neighbours also have a particular capacity to help. The often prickly relationships between them must not be a hindrance to their efforts to help Haiti's people. Whether it is Venezuela's squabbles with Colombia, or the long-standing enmity between Cuba and the US, nations must understand that the gravity of this crisis is greater than any nation's pride. Haiti has always been a bit of an odd man out as an overwhelmingly black and French-speaking nation in the heart of a Latin American sea. Now it must be the focus for all the Latin American and Caribbean nations to come together.
And while the crisis is a world away from the UAE, that should not prevent this country and its residents from doing their part. It is difficult to confront the magnitude of this tragedy, but Haiti's horrors will only multiply if we choose to ignore them.