Thursday, September 01, 2005

How Does This Help?

I have been away for a few days but I was able to follow the gulf coast storm and aftermath. It is truly mind boggling.

During a disaster of this nature, whether you are in it or watching from a far you need to ask one question: How does what I am doing help?

When 9/11 happened there where two evangelical Christians in my workplace. One started planning a fund raiser for the aid effort and disaster recovery. The other voices concerns that Canadians were helping the people of a wealthy country when there were poor people closer to home and there were war victims all over the world everyday who no one ever cared about. Surely the U.S. government has sufficient resources to deal with this sort of thing, she felt. One needs to ask whether throwing "insightful" commentary out like cold water on those who would respond quickly to sudden calamity is helpful. Does not helping New Yorkers somehow benefit the chronic poor? Letting nationalistic and jurisdictional formalities stand in the way of people's compassionate nature is something that, thankfully, most people don't see the wisdom of.

And as for saying that someone else should handle the situation, American organizations like USAID did not sit back waiting for the UN to get done picking a 4 star hotel to coordinate from after the tsunami. Passing the buck in a time of crisis is not helpful. (There is also the point that people in disaster areas are generally not being shielded from help like people in Eritrea or Zimbabwe or Niger).

Something else, by the way, which is not helpful, is shooting at people who are trying to rescue you and your neighbors. The people who are screaming to be helped at the Superdome should be told all of the reasons why help is so slow and part of that explanation is that people from their own community are screwing them over. (But then they were not told that the lower levels of the dome might flood so why start telling them things now?) If I found myself attacking ambulances and tipping over boats that were trying to evacuate desperately ill patients from a hospital where some of these patients were lying in their own excrement while staff manually ventilated them, I would ask myself: How is what I am doing helpful?

Also, with all due respect to the cops and national guard who are doing the impossible in an impossible situation, it seems that peaceful democratic nations have forgotten what martial law is meant to be like. They were saying on the news that when the cops see someone walking around with a gun in their waist band they can do nothing because the jails are flooded. My suggestion? Try shooting them. They are running around raping and murdering refugees, firing at supply helicopters and interfering with search and rescue and evacuation. Mow them down. I am not against gun ownership but when a person uses one to wage war on humanity in a disaster scene they need to feel more of the "martial" and less of the "law".

Over all I am as impressed by the dedication and seemingly superhuman effort of the volunteers and relief workers as I am by the fact that even after 9/11 and the tsunami our planet's civilizations are still unable to properly anticipate and prepare for even foreseeable calamities. This will not be the last time huge numbers of people need to be evacuated from somewhere so why don't certain nations on each continent station small fleets of heavy lifting choppers with large enough cargo holds to carry large groups of refugees out of harm's way. Wait a second, wouldn't that be something our militaries need anyway?

P.S. To the looter who was carrying the big pile of shirts and blouses and grinning like sailor on shore-leave: Do you have some cunning plan to sew those things into a boat like some episode of MacGyver or are you just excited about playing dress-up while you wait to die? Why would an able-body person like yourself, if he were going to steal something, not just steal a skateboard or a bike and head off down that open freeway that the busses are using? How are luxury goods going to help you? Why are you so happy?

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