January 12, 2005

Hope Deferred Maketh The Heart Sick

"Six years ago it was scenes from Honduras that filled television newscasts and newspaper pages. Then as now, there was a public outpouring of sympathy and support. Then as now, heads of state pledged huge amounts of aid. International relief agencies committed themselves to "build back better," promising to stay for the long term and provide the tools needed to overcome the social and economic forces that make the poor so vulnerable. ...

After the last bodies are counted and public focus shifts, governments stop sending money, pledges are withdrawn, many private relief organizations pack their bags and the poor are left to finish reconstruction projects in the face of the same entrenched systems of corruption and neglect. ...

Half of the sturdy, concrete houses have not been properly wired for electricity. A water and sanitation system was installed four months ago, but the main pump broke down over Christmas. There is a school, but mothers say the teachers have worse attendance records than their children. There is a clinic but no doctor, a police post with no officers, and a community meeting hall, but no one in the community has the keys. ...

Soon after the tragedy, the international community pledged about $9 billion to help rebuild Central America. Today, experts at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University say most of that money never materialized. Half of what did was offered as loans, Honduran officials said. ...

That pattern was apparent in Iran, too. A year after an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.9 destroyed the central city of Bam, killing more than 40,000 people and leaving almost as many homeless, the streets there are still strewn with mounds of rubble. Tens of thousands of people who lost their homes remain crowded in prefabricated housing."

(from the nytimes.com website)

The cruelest thing you can do is promise something desperately desired and then not follow through. Don't pledge if you can't or won't pony up. Maybe get a photo from one of the glut of media stills and stick it on a board in the Government's debating chamber. You promised to help this person. Do you still care when no-one's checking up on you?

But also, perhaps we should look at what grabs our compassion and why. Is it because of the number of white people killed that we care? Is it because a natural disaster doesn't have the social stigma of AIDS or malnutrition? Is it because there is so much video footage of the dramatic moments?

To me this seems odd. I mean, a natural disaster or an accident is surely a less protracted and painful way to die than a grinding, poverty and disease ridden childhood in a refugee camp. And although the disaster left a lot of people homeless, bereft and without livelihood, it also left social structure intact in a way that decades of disease and ill-governance do not. Sri Lanka reopened schools yesterday as a way of supporting children and providing structure. There are medical professionals to staff the clinics when they are rebuilt.

There is too much pain and tragedy in the world to comprehend or fix. And part of me thinks - the $60 million in aid NZ pledged could well help so many kiwis and close nations like Samoa... where the disasters a slow societal train wreck a generation in the making, not a cataclysm of nature no-one can control. $60 million to CYFS or the community-based projects that chip away little by little at the low self-esteem, low literacy, poor nutrition, lack of health care and education options, the willingness to throw the teenage mother out with the biblical bathwater...

At times I just want to gather the world in my arms and crawl beneath the bedcovers.

Posted by phreq at January 12, 2005 05:45 AM | TrackBack


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