Friday, January 15, 2010

And the People Hit Worst Are the Poor

As we keep the people of Haiti in our thoughts and prayers, it is perhaps an appropriate moment to give a shout out to the memory of the late Fred Cuny, who made these relevant observations about earlier disasters, and whose words may inspire us today:

Disasters hurt people. They injure and kill. They cause emotional distress and trauma. They destroy homes and businesses, cause economic hardships, and spell financial ruin for many. And the people hit worst are the poor. A natural disaster can happen anywhere, but for a combination of reasons -- political as well as geographic -- most large scale disasters occur in the region between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. This region encompasses most of the poorer developing nations, which we call the Third World.

For survivors of a natural disaster, a second disaster may also be looming, for the very aid that is intended to help them recover may be provided in such a way that it actually impedes recovery, causes further economic hardship, and renders society less able to cope with the next disaster.

... Recognizing poverty as the primary root of vulnerability and disaster in the Third World is the first step toward developing an understanding of the need for change in current disaster responses. For if the magnitude of disasters is an outgrowth of underdevelopment and poverty, how can we expect to reduce the impact with food, blankets, and tents, the traditional forms of assistance?

Emergency relief is an essential part of the response to a tragedy such as the one in Haiti. Give generously, give now:

There are many worthy organizations to whom you can send your money. But, with Fred Cuny's observations as our guide, perhaps we can also establish another set of objectives in our aid to Haitian people: to upgrade the standard of housing; to provide increased job opportunities; to improve or diversify local skills; and to provide alternate income to people whose economic livelihood has been hurt by the disaster. Maybe this time we can help to prevent the "second disaster."

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