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Avoid Boxing Day Tsunami Mistakes in Haiti

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Contributor:
Dallas Boyd
Dallas Boyd
The world was shocked this month, when twin girlfriends "Karissa and Kristina" moved out of the Playboy Mansion.

As we all know, Haiti was flattened on the 13th of January.

The following day, a New Zealand news website reported its 10 "Most Popular" articles for the day.
The tragedy of the earthquake and thousands of deaths did not even make it into the top five.
 
More people were interested in reading about (in order):
1) Uniform response has Air NZ chief in the pink
2) Hugh Hefner down to one girlfriend (well that is pretty devastating)
3) Megan Fox strips off for Armani
4) Lindsay Lohan in sex tape
5) I´m not a big spender - Duff
 
Do we seriously care more about Hugh Hefners hired help than the fact that a whole country has just been devastated by a disaster thought to be 35 times more powerful than the bombing of Hiroshima? Wow.
 
Or is our initial indifference due to the fact that the disaster happened in Haiti, a country where people live in poverty and get by on less than $2 - $3 dollars a day… a country many of us would probably struggle to point out on a map?
 
You remember of course, the Boxing Day Tsunamis. If not, let me remind you - when in 2004 an 8.9 magnitude earthquake under the Indian Ocean caused a massive earthquake, leaving millions homeless and killing 220,000 people from India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and causing damage and deaths as far as the east coast of Africa. At the time, some U.N. Emergency Relief workers said, "This may be the worst natural disaster in recent history" and it was called "the most crippling natural disaster of modern time." 
 
The countries surrounding the Indian Ocean are some of the poorest in the world and the shorelines are generally heavily populated. Scientists at the Hawaii Tsunami Warning Center reported that they could not find telephone numbers to alert the countries of the incoming disaster. The Indian Ocean countries had none of the World Meteorological Organisation's (WMO) Global Telecommunication System protocols in place to facilitate warning... because the equipment was expensive.
 
It really sucks when bad things happen to poor people. But it also sucks when there is a chance those bad things could have been even slightly minimized – but they weren´t.  
 
After the aid poured in and billions of dollars were pledged from all corners of the globe... what happened?
 
Reports 3 years after the catastrophe stated people were still homeless. Housing that was hastily built was falling down, while new housing remained empty due to lack of sanitation, roads, water and electricity. The Sri Lankan government was accused of using threats and blackmail in order to force people into temporary shelters so they could claim everyone was sufficiently housed. Aid funding was not reaching its destination or purpose. How do you manage a sudden influx of billions of dollars? Into countries with poor or non-existent infrastructure? UN data recorded about $6.7bn was pledged by governments and charities but more than $3.5bn remained unspent in the years following.
$100,000 raised at a Tsunami Relief Concert in the U.K. was paid out approximately 3 years after the disaster... meanwhile poverty-stricken tsunami survivors in India resorted to selling their kidneys to get by.
 
There were some positive outcomes of course; you cannot discredit the aid, assistance, compassion, sweat and blood of countless individuals who made a crucial difference. But what lessons can the world take away from the Boxing Day Tsunami disasters which will influence our assistance of Haiti? Not just 24 hours after the earthquake, not just within the following weeks and months, as we work to control the spread of disease and hunger, but well into the future, so that we can help rebuild the nation, not back to where it was, but to make it stronger, healthier, smarter, and safer than ever before.
 
It is not enough to assist our poorer neighbours in times of crisis. We should assist them in times of everyday poverty and quiet desperation.
 
If you wish to help the people of Haiti, I recommend you make a donation to Partners in Health, who have been working on the ground in Haiti to improve the living conditions of the people there for the last 20 years... long before the earthquake, and who will be in Haiti supporting the people, long after.

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