The situation in Nepal sounds awful. Nature in the form of aftershocks and rain, is conspiring with poverty and political discord to make a dire situation.
I know several people there, including some former students, and am relieved that so far they’re doing OK.
I’ve also been impressed with the work of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team [HOT], which acts as a bridge between the traditional humanitarian responders and the OpenStreetMap community. Nama Budhathoki, a former student and friend, works with Kathmandu Living Labs and HOT to provide vital information, first about the road network and then about buildings. The Tasking Manager is a tool they designed to coordinate these efforts. It helps to divide up a mapping job into smaller tasks that can be completed rapidly.
The photo, taken from the KLL Facebook page, shows the situation room with Nama on the right.
The talk reminded me of the devastation of the Haiti earthquake. As bad as the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in California was, the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan was many times worse than that in terms of deaths and homes destroyed. But the Haiti earthquake was many times worse than Japan’s with as many as 300,000 killed and 1.5-2 million homeless. The current cholera epidemic shows that even a terrible situation can become worse.
Haiti has neither the money nor the technical expertise to recover, and half of the people are under age 21 (some sources say half are under 18). It’s also one of our closest neighbors, and many of its problems are directly traceable to the US’s unquestioning support for the Duvaliers’ dictatorship that robbed the country of what little it had. Last year, the world pledged $5 billion in aid, which was not nearly enough, but then delivered on only a third of that.
It’s inspiring, and humbling, to see how Haitians continue to live, to create, and to work together in spite of challenges no one should have to face alone.
As if people in Haiti haven’t faced enough problems already, Christians, many from outside Haiti, have begun attacking people there who are simply praying or singing.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Angry crowds in a seaside slum attacked a group of Voodoo practitioners Tuesday, pelting them with rocks and halting a ceremony meant to honour victims of last month’s deadly earthquake.
Voodooists gathered in Cite Soleil where thousands of quake survivors live in tents and depend on food aid. Praying and singing, the group was trying to conjure spirits to guide lost souls when a crowd of Evangelicals started shouting. Some threw rocks while others urinated on Voodoo symbols. When police left, the crowd destroyed the altars and Voodoo offerings of food and rum.
Some groups use an interesting method to convince Haitians to abandon their beliefs. Quoted in the same article, Pastor Frank Amedia of Miami-based Touch Heaven Ministries says:
“We would give food to the needy in the short term but if they refused to give up Voodoo, I’m not sure we would continue to support them in the long term because we wouldn’t want to perpetuate that practice. We equate it with witchcraft, which is contrary to the Gospel.”
Does this mean that pelting worshipers with rocks, urinating on their sacred symbols, and withholding food from hungry people is the modern Christian way? Aren’t those acts themselves “contrary to the Gospel”? Why do outsiders, in this case mostly Americans, think that violence is the path to rebuilding a nation? When will we learn that acting responsibly in the world doesn’t mean insisting that we are always right and that our way is the only way?
Many people have responded to the earthquake tragedy in Haiti with money, volunteer work, and basic sympathy and care. Nevertheless, it’s disturbing to see the ways in which we fall short. It’s hard for me to imagine that the recent suspension of medical evacuations would have occurred for a disaster in say, Canada or Europe.
The United States has suspended its medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims until a dispute over who will pay for their care is settled, military officials said Friday.
The military flights, usually C-130s carrying Haitians with spinal cord injuries, burns and other serious wounds, ended on Wednesday after Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida formally asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost of the care.
Hospitals in Florida have treated more than 500 earthquake victims so far, the military said, including an infant who was pulled out of the rubble with a fractured skull and ribs…The suspension could be catastrophic for patients, said Dr. Barth A. Green, the co-founder of Project Medishare for Haiti…“People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out.”
[January 14, 2010] In the hours following Haiti’s devastating earthquake, CNN, the New York Times and other major news sources adopted a common interpretation for the severe destruction: the 7.0 earthquake was so devastating because it struck an urban area that was extremely over-populated and extremely poor. Houses “built on top of each other” and constructed by the poor people themselves made for a fragile city. And the country’s many years of underdevelopment and political turmoil made the Haitian government ill-prepared to respond to such a disaster…
It may startle news-hungry Americans to learn that these conditions the American media correctly attributes to magnifying the impact of this tremendous disaster were largely the product of American policies and an American-led development model.
Lindskoog shows how USAID policies led to structural changes in the countryside, which predictably forced Haitian peasants who could no longer survive to migrate to the cities, especially Port-au-Prince. Promised manufacturing jobs failed to materialize. Port-au-Prince became overpopulated and slum areas expanded. Poorly constructed housing followed and the eventual abandonment of the US-led development model. Haitians, with virtually no financial resources were left to address the problems they had not created.
Last April I wrote, Friends don’t let friends suffer: The US must step up for Haiti, about the responsibility of everyone, but especially those in the US, to do more for Haiti. The argument for doing so is compelling on many grounds. It calls for a long-term commitment to rebuilding the Haitian economy and to changing the relationship between Haiti and its wealthy neighbors.
Now, the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on Wednesday, with aftershocks continuing, needs immediate attention. In addition to making our government do more, we can work through NGO’s (see How to Help at NPR). Beyond that, Haitians should be immediately granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The Department of Homeland Security review and revise US policy towards Haiti.
If anything good can come from this disaster, it might be that we begin to act in a more humane and responsible way toward one of our closest neighbors. Beyond immediate needs there must be concerted action to address the underlying economic and political catastrophe that afflicted Haiti even before the earthquake.
In that earlier post, I listed six specific actions that the US and international agencies could do now.