Thursday, January 14, 2010

Disaster in Haiti calls for our response

Poverty the root of Haiti's high quake death toll

January 14, 2010 - 5:22PM

Last night the Prime Minster of Haiti estimated the death toll of yesterday's earthquake to be more than 100,000. Reports today suggest the death-toll could soon rival that of the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004.

It is my firm belief that we could have done more to minimise the magnitude of the loss.

Neither you nor I have the ability to play God and predict a quake or even lessen its power but what we do have is the ability to alter the death toll from such a horrific disaster.

More than 78 per cent of Haitians live in poverty, which is defined by the World Bank as living on $US2 per day, and it is these conditions that are responsible for the saddening predictions from the Haitian Prime Minister.

We often hear enormous death tolls coming from natural disasters in countries such as Haiti, India, Bangladesh and Ethiopia, yet we never call into question why this is the case. When we look deeper we see that:

* Japan and California have had much stronger earthquakes in more densely populated areas than the one that hit Port-a-Prince yesterday, yet the death tolls have been relatively minor.

* Last year's floods in North Queensland rose just as much as the heavy flooding seen in India and Bangladesh in 2007, however, few deaths were recorded in Australia compared with more than 2000 deaths in India and Bangladesh.

* The intensity of the droughts in Australia in the past decade has been just as strong as those experienced in Ethiopia two decades ago, but one failed food crop in 1984 led to about 1 million Ethiopians starving to death.

With poverty, comes vulnerability. And nothing exposes the vulnerabilities of people living in poverty more than natural disasters. A Haitian has greater vulnerability in an earthquake as he cannot afford quality housing; a Bangladeshi is vulnerable to flooding due to her family living and farming on flood affected land; and an Ethiopian has no food security to protect his family against a failed crop.

For the Haitian, Bangladeshi, Ethiopian and the other 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty we need to do something. We cannot just come to the aid of countries such as these when a disaster hits.

The solution is not to put a Band-Aid on the symptoms exposed by the disaster, but to fix the root problem – and in Haiti's case it is to alleviate the nation's poverty.

If you're going to take action and lend support to those devastated in the aftermath, please ensure that your money is providing the right kind of support. It is imperative that the needs of the people are met as quickly and effectively as possible and the best way to do this is to place your donations with organisations already working in Haiti, or with community-based organisations that already have teams and infrastructure in place. (See the Global Poverty Project website for effective agencies to donate to).

Please consider one of the following ongoing actions that will allow you to impact the root problem of extreme poverty:

* Join the campaign to see Australia keep its global commitment to provide enough ongoing aid to developing countries.

* Email Australia's aid agency (AusAID) and ask them about the impacts of the aid that they deliver to the poorest and most vulnerable.

* Tell our Trade Minister, Simon Crean, that you want to see a successful end to current trade negotiations, which will benefit not only developing nations, but also Australia.

* Change your consumption habits, buy Fairtrade products that ensure that farmers get a fair price for their product and their families become less vulnerable.

* Learn more about extreme poverty, its causes, effects and solutions.

* And, most importantly, talk about extreme poverty, its issues and what you and your friends can do.

Richard Fleming is Australian general manager of the Global Poverty Project to increase the number and effectiveness of people taking action to end extreme poverty.

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