THE KEY TO IMPROVING SURVIVAL RATES WHEN A NATURAL DISASTER STRIKES IS WHAT WE DO BEFORE IT HITS.
At times of great tragedy people are extremely generous. As the images of pain and suffering flicker across their TV screens they reach into their wallets and contribute whatever they can. Children in peril, of course, have a particularly heartrending effect on the general public. No one wants to see an innocent child die when something can be done to prevent it. Wealthy nations mobilize massive humanitarian efforts sending every type of conceivable aid to the decimated area. Telethons are shown on TV to promote the urgent need for donations. All of the these things demonstrate the inherent goodness that exists in the human race. These actions give hope that we will always rise up together to help those in time of need. It shows what humanity can do when we set aside our petty differences and focus on working together to alleviate suffering. It proves that we can, at least for a brief time, put the needs of total strangers ahead of our own. It is when we are at our best as a species.
But it is unfortunate that it takes a dramatic event such as an earthquake or a tsunami to focus the world’s attention. Millions of people die needlessly from extreme poverty every year, and yet there is no concentrated effort to save them or to help them in any way. A large part of the Haitian population was living in poverty before the earthquake hit. When disaster struck, the death toll was driven up because of the poverty that already existed. But in the weeks before the tragedy there was no coordinated effort to save the lives of Haitians. We gave no thought to the orphans. There was no star studded telethon to solicit donations to provide food, water and medical care to the region. Haiti was a place many people could not locate on a map. But the Haitians were already suffering. They lived in squalor and filth. They lived with hunger and disease. They tried to survive on less than two dollars a day. They lived in makeshift shelters. They drank unsafe water. They were ravaged by HIV/AIDS. And they were ignored. They were forgotten. In our minds they didn’t exist.
As we give our money to disaster relief it is important to realize that after the news cameras are gone there will still be a tremendous amount of suffering and misery to deal with. The long term effects of a severe earthquake on a poor nation is more pronounced. The country will have to be rebuilt. They will need infrastructure as well as homes, hospitals and schools. There will be hundreds of thousands who are without shelter and who are forced to live in close quarters in unsanitary conditions which will spread disease. Orphans will need to be taken care of, and there will be severe mental health problems that will linger. All of these issues will need attention and financial assistance even after the celebrities have moved on to the next great cause. The work of helping Haiti will once again be done in obscurity without press coverage. There will be no more outpourings of love and sympathy because the public’s attention will be diverted elsewhere. However, there will still be many dedicated organizations who will stay behind and do the difficult unglamorous work of fighting poverty under the most trying conditions. These are organizations we need to continue to support with donations. By providing them with a steady stream of funds we can allow them to operate at their full capacity. This will enable them to slowly improve the living conditions of the Haitian people. But it takes money…a lot of money, month after month and year after year. Dramatic improvement does not happen overnight. It requires a long-term financial commitment on our part. We must have the resolve and the passion to consistently try to improve the lives of those who are suffering.
IF WE FIGHT POVERTY ON A DAILY BASIS WE CAN IMPROVE THE ODDS OF SURVIVAL FOR THOSE WHO ARE MOST VULNERABLE WHEN A TRAGIC EVENT OCCURS.