The Daily Star [Dhaka, Bangladesh] – “But if we look at the recent earthquakes in Chile and Haiti, the Richter scale magnitude appears as not the major factor that contributed to the damages. Chile earthquake was far stronger (8.8 magnitude) than the Haiti earthquake (7.0 magnitude) yet the death toll and other damages in Haiti happened to be higher than Chile. What was the reason behind ?”
Comment: An interesting article with much information and an important point – in case you ever wondered: it was the social factors more than the geological that caused the damages from the earthquake in Haiti to be so much greater. That was despite the fact that the earthquake in Chile was 1,000 times more powerful!
We now know what factors are correlated the most with damages after an earthquake. That is good news, right? or is it bad? Both, I guess – the good news is that it may help to prevent problems in the future in Haiti and elsewhere if we can alter the social factors before the fact. The bad news is: the Haitian government reported that an estimated 230,000 people had died, 300,000 had been injured and 1,000,000 made homeless making it one of the worst natural disasters in modern history.
I have been in Haiti now for almost 6 months. Today I drove downtown to get some water and to buy some food for our new community. The devastation and the exacerbation of the poverty wrought by the earthquake were still everywhere apparent. While I believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel, at least in the short-term I think it might be an oncoming train. It has rained 2 of the last 3 nights and the hurricane season just started. Things could get worse. Imagine that.
Social factors? I saw them as we drove through the rubble in Port au Prince and the ladies accosted us from all sides trying to sell their goods and telling us they were hungry. “Please, buy my pineapples..I am hungry and I need money to eat.”
“Social factors are the economy of a country, compliance of building codes, per capita number of seismologists and earthquake engineers, evacuation plan, presence of integrated management system and previous experience of handling earthquake catastrophes”. Guess what….
Economies don’t become robust overnight nor do they fail in a similar amount of time, although the decline is ostensibly more precipitous. Economy?
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, recently noted that Pope Benedict the XVI’s recent encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” calls for the economy to be understood as “human activity that accords with the integral development of peoples”. He warned that making the economy an absolute will end up “subverting the order between ends and means.”
Ends and means? If you know anything about Catholic morality, you remember the basic principle that a good end does not justify an evil means. Tell that to the US government and its attitude towards Haiti over the last several hundred years -at least as far as I read Dr. Paul Farmer in his book The Uses of Haiti.
In an interview of the author we read ”in 1994 Dr. Farmer wrote The Uses of Haiti, a sweeping history that reveals the consistent role of foreign powers, especially the United States [emphasis mine], in the exploitation and oppression of the Haitian people… The book rips apart the myth, so often repeated in the New York Times and other mainstream media outlets, that Haiti is a world apart, inexplicably the “poorest country in the Western hemisphere.” Farmer shows that Haiti has always been enmeshed in a global system of imperialist competition, its resources and people ruthlessly exploited for profit, its repeated struggles for liberation brutally suppressed. As Noam Chomsky wrote in the 1994 introduction, the book “tells the truth about what has been happening in Haiti, and the U.S. role [emphasis mine] in its bitter fate.”‘ So much for an economic system that produces integral human development as called for in Caritatis in Veritate.
Pope John Paul II, in his book Love and Responsibility [see a summary] , points out that the opposite of love is….wait, guess……what do you think? …. guess? Do you give up? ……use! Yes, the opposite of love is not hate (I bet that is what you guessed) but use! Using someone is about trying to reach a good end through an evil means.
The Uses of Haiti points out how over the last several hundred years largely imperialist powers – read the US - have used Haiti for their own ends: profit…yes proft. An evil means for a good end. The betterment of the US economy through the exploitation of Haitians – cheap labor, etc.
So if the major reasons for the damages that result from any earthquakes are primarily social in nature and a poor economy and all of the manifestations thereof are first among those reasons; and the use of Haiti by the US over the years is one if not the major factor in the country’s arguably deplorable state before the earthquake, then the United States is in no small part responsable for what happened to Haiti on January 12. The logic utilized here may not be exactly that of an Aristotelian syllogism, but the conclusion does seem to follow from the premises.
And if that conclusion is correct let us hope that the US recognizes the error of its ways and makes amends for its past. And if it will not do that, maybe those in authority who can help Haiti could at least read Pope John Paul II’s book Love and Responsibility . Ok, it is a bit long. Maybe they could read Benedict’s encyclical Caritatis in Veritate. I am expecting too much you say. Ok, let’s settle for those in authority reading Cardinal Bertone’s pithy remarks. That would seem to be a good use of their time: a good means for a good end.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
[Video - NTDTV] Chile Quake Survivors Still Struggling -
[Emilio Gutierrez, Local Resident]:
“I can’t find my son. He’s four years old. I found my father but I can’t find my son. For a father, it’s very painful to lose a son and also a father. I lost both of them. I’ve been looking for my son for three months”
Comment: A tragic reality for sure, the loss of a son and the superimposed lack of a body to identify and then bury. The sense of “incompleteness” must be devastating….no closure.
The video illustrates the effects of the disaster on Constitucion, Chile well. I was at the pictured disaster site in Constitucion during a recent visit to Chile. Marco Iazzolino and I were in the country to help with the CTF-SOS DRS earthquake relief project in Parral and Cauquenes.
The devastation in Constitution reminded me of what I saw in Indonesia in 2005 after the Tsunami hit Banda Aceh. I met many who were separated from their loved ones by the disaster and were never able to find their bodies - no closure.
Another reason people are not able to reach closure in disasters is because they develop feelings of dissatisfaction, anger, frustration, and mistrust – amongst others – when those in authority do not provide an adequate response to the disaster. They either do not address the needs of the people affected in a timely manner or at all. I saw this type of lack of closure in Indonesia. And I have witnessed it in Chile and Haiti as well.
More than once during my visit to Santiago, Parral and Cauquenes in Chile I heard that the national government had underreported the strength of the February 27 earthquake in order to avoid having to comply with the international legal requirements regarding the provision of benefits for the Chilean people. Similarly, the authorities did not ask for enough international aid because they did not want to look like a country that needs help, i.e. a developing nation.
While I cannot cite sources and do not know that both of these points are in fact true, I do know that in Cauquenes and Parral the government was very slow to help the hospitals there. That is why CTF-SOS DRS together with Misericordiae decided to provide modules for hospital beds to help the sick and the elderly in light of the oncoming winter.
The reasons why governments are often slow in responding to disasters and helping people adequately are myriad. Sure, man-made and natural calamities produce complex realities. But unfortunately they also produce opportunities for corruption, greed, opportunism, and the misuse of power.
Disasters are a clarion call to each of us to reach out to our neighbor and to help him. God knows we may need help ourselves someday after a disaster. These tragedies also bring out both what is best and worst in man. They reveal that gulf between charity and use, that distance between man showing love and compassion towards his neighbor on the one hand and using him as a means to an end on the other. That, unfortunately, will continue to be our lot in this world infected by both original and actual sin – in disasters and otherwise – until we reach closure, final closure that is. God help us.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )