As members of the world community mobilize to respond to the massive earthquake that all but leveled Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, we are reminded that there is no negotiation room when it comes to Mother Nature. Poverty-stricken regions that have not been able to take preparedness or mitigation actions to better protect themselves against these hazards and have little resiliency based on a lack of access to resources are tragedies waiting to happen.
We know in the U.S. from experience that even given a series of government and other organizations specifically dedicated to the emergency management function at the national, state and local level and a seemingly unlimited number of resources that this combination of poverty and disaster is the most challenging situation to deal with. We were horrified as a nation in 2005 to see the footage that came out of New Orleans and to hear the desperate pleas for help that seemingly went unanswered for too long. So many of those who stayed in New Orleans and so many of those who died had greater vulnerability based on poverty.
Haiti is a devastatingly poor country, both at the individual/household level and the collective national level. The United States is not. Yet, poverty wherever it is found is a common denominator in vulnerability. Poverty is endemic in society, be it in the developing or developed nations. And the world remains rife with hazards that can result in disasters. We must ackowledge and work within this framework.
It is estimated that the death toll will likely reach the tens of thousands in Haiti. America and its citizens will spend millions in public and private assistance as will other countries in responding and aiding in the recovery in Haiti. I am grateful that the world’s governments are compelled to reach out to assist Haiti now in its proverbial “hour of need”, but I might respectfully suggest that their need has been an enduring reality and more extensive earlier intervention in regard to preparedness and mitigation actions could have helped lessen the potential impact this recent quake had on Haiti.
It simply is not enough in this day and age when we understand so much about what must be done to protect folks from disaster and what makes some more vulnerable than others to continue to rush in after the fact. More must be done in areas of poverty to address adequate disaster preparation and mitigation. Poverty is not going away and neither is the hazardous world we live in – we must do better on building resiliency.
Prayers to Haiti; and, to those in the emergency management community and the larger world community who will reach out a hand to help – God’s speed.
Day one hundred and ninety-three of the new forty – obla di obla da