When a natural catastrophe occurs, the response to the tragedy is imperative to how well the survivors manage in the aftermath. How quickly search and rescue teams find those in the rubble, how much triage is able to rescue the wounded, and how quickly aid and other vital services get to those left in the aftermath is a reflection of how successful the recovery effort is.
In the United States, the comparison of Hurricane Katrina and that of the earthquake in Haiti seems inevitable. The emergency response to Hurricane Katrina was, in every sense of the word, a disaster on top of a disaster. International media were filled of images of people outside of the Superdome waiting for relief, people on roofs pleading for rescue, the streets of New Orleans flooded with both water and people. Likewise, the severe earthquake in Haiti yielded the same imagery of those displaced from natural tragedy. An unspoken reality that seems to be politically incorrect to mention is the fact that in both tragedies, most of those displaced are black.
Before one can make a unilateral comparison between the two disasters, two major differences must be pointed out. One tragedy was a hurricane, the other an earthquake. This makes a difference as far as how much forewarning was available, as well as what kind of clean-up is needed. In Hurricane Katrina, there was more warning, and much of the damage was caused by either storm surge or flooding. USGS warnings notwithstanding, there was no advance notice for Haiti’s earthquake, and much of the damage is due to the unstable ground underneath destroying infrastructure.
The second difference has to do with where these tragedies took place. Hurricane Katrina took place in the United States, a developed country assumed by the international community to be equipped enough to have the infrastructure to more or less handle the disaster on its own. Bigger in geography, the disaster, large as it was, affected less territory and people proportionately than Haiti’s earthquake. Port au Prince is Haiti’s largest city, unlike New Orleans or any of the other Gulf cities affected by the hurricane. In other words, the international community would more likely see the United States be able to handle a tragedy that, while sizeable and disastrous, was smaller in scope than the sudden earthquake in Haiti. One is, after all, regarded as the richest country in the Western Hemisphere, while the other one is considered the poorest. The response and reaction in the stories has been reflected as the pure contrast it is.
Surely, those displaced in a natural disaster could not care less whether they live in the First World, Third World, or the Moon. Trauma doesn’t care whether you had electricity the day before or not. Those moved to help those in the aftermath should do so, regardless of the previous status or the geographic location of the victims. If a similar earthquake that struck Haiti were to hit a place such as San Francisco or Tokyo, those displaced would probably be for the most part, more affluent than those displaced in the Haitian earthquake. This would not make them any less deserving of generosity of spirit. What makes Haiti different to those is the natural assumption that they have less resources by which they can resort to on their own, and need a helping hand just to get started.
What both the Haitian earthquake and Hurricane show is the power of nature to obstruct the civilization we have created in one fell swoop. The lesson that the international community can learn from this is with all the wrangling over free trade and regulations and loaning, is that it is imperative to have the financial wherewithal to be able to respond to the disaster that Mother Nature will inevitably bring. Not only due to global warming catastrophes such as rising sea levels, but those which are not necessarily related, such as hurricanes, and those not at all, such as earthquakes. In the spirit of generosity, this is a long term goal that the international community should strive for.