Haiti was so last month
A month on from the devastating earthquake that killed 230,000 Haitians, we are once again witnessing the ongoing and intrinsic apathy in this country.
Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means saying that as a nation we didn’t care, that we didn’t dig deep, band together and support the rescue efforts in Haiti, we most certainly did, like we always do – but is that enough?
Four weeks ago the devastation was front-page news, with stories infiltrating every digital sphere. Now, that’s simply not the case.
It is unfortunately the nature of the beast but it does uncover an ugly truth- our goodwill is reactive, short-lived and based largely on mass media attention.
In a piece that I wrote in the aftermath I identified extreme poverty as being a key factor in the high death toll in Haiti.
‘With poverty, comes vulnerability. And nothing exposes the vulnerabilities of people living in poverty more than natural disasters. A Haitian has greater vulnerability in an earthquake as he cannot afford quality housing; a Bangladeshi is vulnerable to flooding due to her family living and farming on flood affected land; and an Ethiopian has no food security to protect his family against a failed crop.’
This is the reality for 1.4 billion people currently living in extreme poverty (on less than US$1.25 per day).
Whilst the earthquake itself lasted 35 seconds, rebuilding Haiti will take years, conservative estimates say a generation. People will still be suffering long after the press has left Haiti and the media have found something else to fill the headlines.
The fact is children will still be dying long after our initial burst of compassion. This is the reality of extreme poverty. It’s persistent, overwhelming and exhausting.
It’s the same poverty that causes 24,000 children to die every day from preventable illnesses like diarrhea. For a society so focused on catastrophic death tolls we seem to neglect this one that continues to climb each and every day. It will only take 10 days for this death toll to be the same as Haiti.
This month, February, will see 672,000 die from preventable diseases than the combined death tolls of the Haiti earthquake (230,000), the 2008 Sichuan, China earthquake (68,712) and the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami (230,210) – only 528,922. Remember the 672,000 are all children.
So before we congratulate ourselves too much on what we’ve done, let’s remember that in order to make a lasting difference to the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty we need to be investing in long term, sustainable and scalable projects because pre-emptive action is always more effective than emergency responses.
It is reactive aid projects and band-aid solutions that give fuel to Aid skeptics. Now is the time we must invest not only in immediate housing and health projects in Haiti, but in sustainable development throughout the developing world so that those living in poverty are less vulnerable to catastrophes.
Appropriate aid and trade agreements foster effective infrastructure and preparedness for disasters. I’ll remind you that Japan and California have had much stronger earthquakes in more densely populated areas than Haiti, yet the death tolls have been relatively minor.
So let’s remember Haitians and the 1.4 billion people they represent. Let’s continue our generosity well beyond the headlines and ensure preventative measures are taken throughout the developing world.
Richard is the general manager Australia of The Global Poverty Project.
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