It is now a few months since the Haitian earthquake occurred as the latest major international disaster to attract wide global attention and a huge outpouring of sympathy, assistance and resources. But all too typically, now that the critical search and rescue of trapped survivors has ceased, and the dramatic news coverage has abated, a much more protracted and possibly more contentious period of continuing survival and hoped for national recovery will begin.
Meanwhile, even as the tropical rains threaten the flimsy and unhygienic “tarpaulin encampments”, the world’s attention is drawn elsewhere. Despite last month’s concern for Haiti, now typically domestic policy issues elsewhere, ‘serious’ individual and corporate economic concerns in stronger and wealthier countries, and continuous audacious warfare and threats in several societies now dominate international attention.
While planning for the long, hard recovery work will continue, and the entire population of Haiti has already begun its toil for many years to come, other societies may draw some benefit from the ordeals experienced by the Haitians. After another 200,000+ fatalities and uncounted destroyed livelihoods in another country, it is again time for other people to consider, “What really can be done?”. In a country where people have been marginalized or too easily ignored for decades, and as it is the Haitians themselves who try to struggle to meet their most basic daily physical needs, their trials may assist others, elsewhere to understand how they can minimize their own exposure to future disaster risks.
Most striking in terms of lessons from this latest “mega-disaster”, is the miraculously discovered recognition that so many people were so cruelly exposed to such a devastating “natural” disaster. As if the economic circumstances of the poorest nation in the western hemisphere for decades did not somehow prefigure in any potential risk to the country or the population, even without an earthquake ? It is again surprising that calculations where fewer than half of the population is literate, and even less were living in what could be considered adequate housing with routine access to health, education, water, electricity were not a “disaster waiting to happen” ? Or at least one to become more widely recognized beforehand? Does it really take a magnitude 7 event to signal a major, and unacceptable combination of public risks – that are tolerated until the fictions and denial are shattered by a week’s worth of 24 hour media coverage of a disaster?