By Kiri Carter, ChildFund New Zealand

The earthquake in Haiti has provided an interesting case study on disaster response. Unlike many disasters that happen thousands of miles away to people we barely think about, this one has taken place under the full glare of the media spotlight. Images of people being pulled from the rubble were on the nightly news for more than a week providing key ingredients for TV – high drama and miracles.

Why has Haiti’s earthquake attracted such intense scrutiny and the high level of support from so many individuals and organisations? Clearly the massive death toll and the sheer number of people affected make it headline news. But what has probably kept it in the news is the way the disaster unfolded practically in the USA’s backyard. With the disaster occurring in the same time zone as the USA (EST), media organisations were assured of live feeds for their news shows.

Some commentators have asserted that another reason for the outpouring of support is guilt – Haiti has long suffered from neglect, in turns exploited and ignored by world governments. Now the media have ensured that it is front and centre – at least for now.

Of course, the media is often a double-edged sword. It can raise public awareness quickly of disasters bringing the horror straight into people’s living rooms, galvanising many to take action and help.

Courtesy of Reuters

The media does however in its rush to get information out, simplify things that can’t be simplified without leaving out important aspects. It also focuses on the dramatic without providing the context. Rather than seeing people waiting patiently in line or letting pregnant women in at the front, we are shown looters running through the streets. Even though, at it turns out, these incidences were localised and were often just people getting food from the rubble.

Despite the reasons staring them in the face, there has been much criticism from some in the media of the relief effort in Haiti. Of course writing articles and taking photographs does not require a lot of resource or infrastructure on the ground. Getting aid to the people who need it does. Most disasters are complex emergencies requiring a massive logistics effort.

Imagine being told you had to organise a traditional wedding with all the trimmings – big church, celebrant, designer wedding gown, photographer, accommodation for out-of-town guests, catering for reception – and the wedding was scheduled for this afternoon. On top of that, the phone lines are down and the roads are blocked. And the caterers have gone home.

If you would like to learn more about the different aspects of what is a complex relief effort in Haiti, there is an excellent article on the BBC News website called “What is delaying Haiti’s aid?”

Delays in getting aid to those in need are frustrating but inevitable in a disaster of this scale. When faced with images of human suffering the overwhelming feeling most people have is that something needs to be done and it needs to be done now.

The quickest and most effective action that the average person can take is to donate money to trusted organisations. Some people want to do more and offer their help but well meaning volunteers can do more harm than good.

The recent arrest of a group of Americans attempting to take children they believed to be orphans out of Haiti without proper authority is a case in point. The one thing this unfortunate misguided group have achieved though is to keep Haiti in the news.

For as with most disasters, once the last survivor is pulled alive from the rubble, the media typically start to lose interest as more immediate news begins to crowd the front page and TV news bulletins. But we can’t turn our backs on Haiti, not again. If there is a silver lining to this tragedy I hope that it is that we don’t leave Haitians to struggle alone again.

A determined coordinated effort over the long term both at an international/national level and at a community level is required to rebuild Haiti. ChildFund through its local partners will be doing its part to improve the lives of Haiti’s children. Let’s hope the same kind of support is present at all levels of society and internationally, and that Haitians are empowered to rebuild a better, stronger future for all.

You can donate to ChildFund’s Haiti Emergency Appeal here

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