Putting the pieces back together
Why national and international disasters of yesteryear need to get our attention again
Take a moment to think of when Katrina first hit.
Now recall the Haitian quake.
Next, the tsunami in Japan.
Regardless of class, economic status or nationality, you’ve most likely felt the impact of one or more of these world-shaking events in the past decade.
For a while—let’s say a year or two—catastrophes tend to stay in the news. We want to know how the survivors are faring, how the infrastructure is holding up, what the government agencies are accomplishing. Then, little by little, as the weeks go by, the latest political races, sporting events and, of course, the most recent disaster stories divert our attention until we find it hard to remember…wait, what happened in Haiti?
Gratefully, calendar-oriented cultures have something called “anniversaries,” so we can more easily remember Uncle Louie’s birthday, as well as the day a 7.0 earthquake rattled Haiti. (It was Jan. 12, by the way.) Even so, the yearly reminder only sparks so much interest in maintaining support. The locals who reside near ground zero of you-name-the-disaster don’t need any reminder about their workplace—or their house—that might still lie in shambles.
Last month the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center disclosed that as of July, 37 of the area’s 72 neighborhoods had recovered 90 percent of their pre-Katrina population. While some 130,000 pre-Katrina homeowners have received a collective $8.99 billion in Road Home grants, a little more than half of renters paid more than 35 percent of their pre-tax income on rent and utilities in 2011. That same year, the city’s crime rate doubled the national average.
Let’s just say New Orleans still could use some assistance.
Moving hundreds of miles to the south-east, we arrive at Port-au-Prince. After the Haitians’ lives were shaken in 2010, the United States Agency for International Development originally planned to build 90,000 homes for the island’s inhabitants. Due to difficulties arising from legal discrepancies between the U.S. and Haitian governments, the budget for construction rose from $59 million to $97 million, which translates to only 15,900 locals who can still look forward to a new roof over their heads.
In June, a report from the Government Accountability Office highlighted the ways in which the agency used just shy of one-third of the $651 million allocated to it three years ago. The fact that the State no longer had to report on the money come September 2012 simply added to the delays already engendered by complexities in administrative practices.
Now, relief efforts have helped countless individuals displaced by the carnage in the last three years; you can’t negate their progress and valor. Yet, as a nation still recouping, Haiti needs consistency in its tangible aid and support supervision as much as ever.
Japan’s eastern prefecture of Fukushima has a similar story to tell.
Two and a half years after enduring Japan’s largest recorded earthquake, accompanied by a tsunami of colossal proportions, many lives in the Tohoku region have returned to the closest thing to “normal” as possible.
In the wake of steady improvement, last month came a sobering announcement from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Although not as immediately threatening to public health as before, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant still poses a problem. Approximately 79,000 gallons of contaminated water recently leaked into the ocean. News reports in the last two years have consistently brought up the topic, but here we see it again. TEPCO stated it will employ “emergency measures” to deal with the leakage as it continues to monitor the situation.
Today doesn’t mark the anniversary of any of these disasters, and for that reason alone we should consider them again. While new cases of humanitarian need will certainly arise, we can’t neglect the people who just last year seemed so worthy of our efforts. We simply should keep better tabs on the wellbeing of our neighbors—domestic and international alike. That way we can prevent festering wounds, clean up the broken pieces and put them back together.
Check out the following websites and organizations to see how you can get involved:
Image from Shutterstock.