January 19th 2010
Everything is relative. That has long been the view of this Blog. The problems afflicting the political process here pale to insignificance when set in the context of what is happening in other parts of the world.
That is not to say that we should not sort out our problems. Of course not. They need dealt with urgently and efficiently. But others have bigger problems. And we need to think of them also.
There are the people in the makeshift cities of multi-coloured blankets and sheets and bits of cloth which string as far as the eye can see. There are the people who stand about in their thousands dazed and confused. Others are desperately scrabbling at mounds of debris with their bare hands in a desperate race against time to find those who might still be buried beneath the rubble. While others stand behind barred gates with hands outstretched desperately hoping for something, anything, that will keep them and their families alive.
To watch it on our television screens only gives a small, though important, sense of the horror that the people of Haiti must be experiencing.
But being there would be different. It would be real. The sights, the sounds, the smells of devastation. The intense sense of loss and despair, of anger and determination. Of hope. Resilience. Heroism.
In Haiti the country’s worse earthquake in 200 years and the resulting aftershocks one week ago wreaked unimaginable devastation on that impoverished country. Someone in the media claimed that it was equivalent to 25 atomic bombs going off in that small country. This Blog doesn’t know if that is true but it does give some perspective on the enormity of the catastrophe.
It must have been terrifying. Buildings collapsing. The noise of the earth wrenching itself apart. The sounds of screams and fear as the ground shuddered and shook. It must have seemed as if the world was coming to an end – the apocalypse had arrived. And for the victims in a very real sense it was. The life they have known, which was already poverty ridden and chaotic, had within a short minute become immeasurably worse!
To be in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area must be terrible. The stench of bodies lying in the streets or trapped beneath the rubble; the shortage of food and water growing worse as each day passes; blocked roads, the proliferation of improvised refugee camps; the injured and an absence of order and help and hope! Some reporters have described it as hell, and for those living it each day that must be how it feels.
None of this is unexpected or surprising. What is frustrating is that it took so long for the international community to react. It’s not as if these natural disasters don’t occur quite regularly. Remember Katrina? And Mozambique and Hurricane Mitch and the December 2004 Tsunami which killed hundreds of thousands all around the coast of the Indian Ocean?
And yet it still takes days and days for rescue teams to be mobilised and water and food and shelter and clothing to be marshalled and transported to the devastated region. That needs to change. The nations of this shrinking globe need to realise that the human cost of such disasters demands a speedy and organised response.
For Haiti it also means that its neighbours, especially the USA, and the EU and other powers must ensure that funds are made available to not just tackle the problems created now by this earthquake but that strategies and programmes are put in place to lift Haiti out of the poverty that made it the poorest nation in the western world.
John O Shea of Goal put it well, ‘If they wanted to invade Haiti all problems would be overcome.’ And he is right.
For not relief aid is urgently required. That must be the priority. So what to do? Well, support the Irish Aid organisations, all of whom already have people on the ground trying to help the Haitian people. They are doing an amazing job in the worst of conditions.
They need the money to buy the supplies that are desperately needed. For example, the Rotary Club in Limerick hopes to buy specially adapted Shelterboxes by the thousands for homeless families. The Shelterbox contains a sturdy tent that can hold up to 10 people and endure extremes of temperatures as well as bad weather conditions like heavy rain or wind.
The Shelterbox also contains basic equipment for this type of emergency, including a tool box, stove and blankets. But its designers haven’t forgotten the children and it also contains a bag with drawing books, pens and crayons.
Each Shelterbox costs 540 euro and their benefit to people who have lost everything has already been proven during other disasters.
So thank you to all of the Aid organisations helping the Haitian people, thanks to all those activists here and there making it possible, and if you are minded to help fund a Shelterbox then a special account has been set up at Bank of Ireland, 94 O'Connell St in Limerick - Account Number 42070429, Sort code 90-43-17.