Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Interlude #4 - "Haiti" and "Chile"

I apologize for not having any recent posts. I hope to get back to a regular posting schedule. No excuses except for two words: "Haiti" and "Chile".

In a global relief and development organization, things tend to be pushed off to the side and put on hold when major disasters break. On January 12, the Haiti earthquake hit with a 7.0 magnitude and just 10 miles west of the capital city, Port au Prince. It left some 230,000 people dead, 3 million in need of assistance and a local and international community wondering how best to respond to such a massive event.

On February 27, just as recovery efforts were finally gaining some semblance of order in Haiti, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Chile. Even though it was 500 time stronger than the Haiti earthquake, it was much deeper and further removed (epicenter-wise) from a major population area. Initial estimates of loss of lives was up to 800 but has since been revised downward to a little more than 300. Many of those died not from the earthquake itself but the resulting tsunami generated.

Two similar events and yet two different results. Two catastrophic earthquakes and yet two totally different responses. As we visited with organizations in Haiti and talked to experts, everyone was saying that it would be at least 10 to 20 years before Haiti ever gets back to its pre-earthquake posture. In Chile, we are looking at pretty much "finishing up" our response with local partners either June or July.

So, what's the big difference? (Between the earthquake effect and response in Haiti and Chile)

1. The massiveness of destruction. Anyone that has been to Haiti and toured the worst hit areas of the earthquake there comes away with an overwhelmed sense of depression. The physical amount (not to mention emotional, social, etc.) of destruction quickly overwhelms anyone who sees it not to even mention those that survived it. While Chile is very bad in areas (in terms of destruction), it is nothing compared to Haiti.

2. The pre-existing poverty conditions before the earthquake. Chile, being a developed country, had resources, good government and, maybe most importantly, good building codes. Haiti, unfortunately, had none of the above. Studies conducted months before the earthquake said that 60 % of the houses in Port-au-Prince were sub-stantard in their construction. In Chile, the majority of structures that caved in or fell were the older "adobe" (mud-walled) houses. The newer, better constructed cement houses and buildings for the most part stood.

3. The pre-existing lack of infrastructure. Haiti's infrastructure pre-earthquake was poor and in places, non-existant. One of the main problems in the demolition and clean up in the hardest hit areas is that many of the houses were built along the only main road and then there are rows and rows of adjacent houses (some which fell totally, partially or not at all) five and six deep, side by side, with no access roads. How do you clean this up? The infrastructure of Chile was probably damaged more than Haiti's (volume-wise; Chile had more bridges, paved roads, etc.) and the government there had the organization and resources to respond quickly to restoring what was damaged.

4. The pre-existing poverty mentality in Haiti as opposed to Chile. Because Haiti has been a "hand out" country for the past 50 years, there is little self-help mentality among the survivors. Constantly we saw a "wait and help with come" mentality from people and communities we visited. Not only that, there was also almost an arrogance that said, "It is your responsibility to help me" which sometimes manifested itself in inactivity and even anger. In Chile, we saw nothing but gratitude, participation and initiative on the part of Chilean partners. In Haiti, like Chile, we primarily are working through Baptist partners who have much concern for their churches and church members but not much for the community. In Chile, our Chilean Baptist partners are using their own resources to reach out and bless their communities. Amazingly different.

Please don't hear me criticizing Haiti or Haitians. I am just trying to analyze, as an outsider, the differences in the two areas and especially in regards to the experiences we are having responding to those in need. And, if there is anyone to blame for some of the issues in Haiti, we would have to more than likely point the fingers at ourselves, those of the developed world who have poured 40 Billion dollars of international aid into Haiti over the past 40 to 50 years. With good intentions, we have created a perfectly dependent culture.

Please continue to pray for our work with BGR. Pray for us to have wisdom and knowledge of how to help without hurting in Haiti. Pray also for our relationships with local partners in both Haiti and Chile. Pray that God would use us to minister to those in need in a way that glorifies Him and brings people dignity.

Helping in a way that truly helps. Helping without hurting...wouldn't that be novel?



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