Archive for the ‘Haiti’ Category

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Politics Cannot Define Obligation

January 29, 2010

A man said to the universe:
“Sir I exist!””However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
Stephen Crane, War is Kind

Around the world, terrible events take place every day, wars, flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, famine, disease; the list seems endless.  Every day news organizations bring us quick views, snapshots if you will, of a small portion of humanity standing up to the longest of odds, simply to survive.  How do we respond?  Do we rush in and do all we can or simply watch from the comfort of our homes?  Perhaps something in between is called for.  No matter the response, what we really need to understand is our obligation.

As human beings, what obligation do we have to each other?  Some Christians are fond of pointing to the story of Cain and Able to give guidance, to were the famous quote “am I my brother’s keeper?”  (Gen. 4:9) comes from.  To think this obligates us is taking it out of context.  Cain killed his brother and lied about it to God.  It is a story about jealousy and deceit.  Looking at it, Cain’s question to God is rhetorical and self-serving.  Cain never intended God to answer it.

Debating God’s intentions is not required to answer the question of obligation.  In the end, the world owes us nothing, nor does the universe as Mr. Crane points out, or even God for that matter.  The government of one nation owes nothing to the people of another.  It is people that are obligated to one another; the responsibility cannot pass to another entity.  Regardless of Cain’s intention, the answer to his question is yes, we are our brother’s keeper.

While we are not obligated to aid others as if it were a debt or binding contract, we have a desire to help others.  Our internal wiring controls our actions; it is our nature as humans to provide aid and comfort to others in need.  The recent earthquake in Haiti illustrates the people of the world’s desire to aid.  Everything from giving money to actually going to Haiti is taking place.  Money, supplies, and resources have flowed in so quickly they have overwhelmed the country’s damaged infrastructure and created frustration with delays.

Last week, a French Minister named Alain Joyandet, complained about the United States “occupying” Haiti.  The source of Mr. Joyandet’s irritation is with a French relief plane forced to wait one day to land and unload its medical aid.  The United States Military took control of the airport at the request of Haiti’s government until they regain the ability to do it themselves.  While it is unfortunate that much-needed aid is required to wait in a queue due to the physical limits of the situation, it is understandable.  The French Minister’s response seems to be more aligned with Cain’s jealousy of his brother than promoting the good will of the French people towards Haiti.  The minister seems more interested in waving the French flag than in helping.

The aid a government gives is an extension of its people.  The fact that the United States is geographically close to Haiti allows that aid to include logistics.  As bad as it is, imagine the utter chaos if the airport had no control.  It is self-serving hubris on the part of Minister Joyandet to suggest our aid is an occupation.  It takes the good will of the French people and puts a national pride upon it; it supplants that good will with nationalism.  Government involvement in relief efforts must remain an extension of its people.  That is our (the United States) intent regardless of what some silly Frenchman has to say about it.

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Has Response Really Been Slow?

January 17, 2010

In reading and watching various news agencies cover the disaster in Haiti, the inevitable criticism is shifting into high gear.  After any response, a review needs to take place as there is always something to learn and room for improvement, but that is not what is going on now.  What we see are news agencies stirring up trouble for their own ends.

We live in an age with twenty-four hour news.  Never again will one news anchor, like Walter Cronkite, have a dominating voice in reporting the day’s events.  Moreover, continual broadcasting requires content, and organizations compete for every scrap.  Criticism is low hanging fruit they use to fill the hours.

The adequacy of response really depends on your point of view.  To a Haitian who has lost everything, showing up ten minutes after the first quake would not have been fast enough.  In a disaster, a minute seems like an hour, there is no telling how many people died in the first hours after the quake, undoubtedly the number is high.  Any compassionate person wants to do more and do it quicker.

Standing in the way is the problem of logistics.  Just how do you get aid to the disaster area?  Moreover, what needed aid comes first?  Haiti has one airport that is large enough for cargo planes.  Safety of arriving and departing flights is paramount; a single “mishap” on the tarmac could shutdown the airport and the relief effort completely.  Ships have to be loaded with everything from food to earth moving equipment.  While there are emergency centers that stockpile these sorts of things, it takes time to arrange for its movement.  To compound matters, it takes days to sail ships from where they happen to be, load them, and then reach the disaster area.  Contrary to what may be thought, we do not have ships, loaded with disaster supplies, sitting around waiting.

Restoration of local services must happen in a safe manner.  Opening a compromised gas main would simply add to the gravity of the problem.  The same goes for the water supply and electricity.  As hard as it is to accept, stabilization just takes time and no one is happy with that.  We have to remember, it defeats the purpose of a humanitarian relief effort if you kill the people you intend to help in the process.  More lives are lost with wrong decisions than the time it takes to make the right ones.  This is one of the hard decisions of triage in a disaster’s aftermath.

Given the monumental failures after Hurricane Katrina, scrutiny is called for in any disaster in which we respond.  What we don’t need is news organizations going into a feeding frenzy and diverting attention away from solving problems.  The world is responding and doing it as quickly as possible.  People are donating the funds required along with governmental help.  For all the reporting going on, even the positive aspects, I get the feeling news agencies are seeking to gain advantage from it rather than simply report events as they occur.  Could it be they see disasters with a profit motive?

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