By: Arik Shams
The recent earthquake in Haiti almost two weeks ago had its effect felt far beyond the borders of the small island nation. All over the world, people saw one of the deadliest quakes of the century cripple one of the poorest countries in the world. An enormous relief effort began, as aid was rushed to the damaged nation, in the form of food, water, medical supplies and manpower. Governments, organizations and even individuals recognized the event as an international crisis, contributing as much as possible to help the Haitians not only to get back on their feet, but also to get back their normal lives.
But the collective effort of the entire world still had one major obstacle to overcome: how to collaborate and actually get aid to where it was needed most, in an organized, efficient manner. Natural disasters in small poor nations always present that added difficulty of being almost inaccessible to aid efforts. How can you get hundreds of tons of food and basic supplies to a population living in the midst of rubble and collapsed buildings? With a tiny airport and a crippled seaport, Haiti is trapped within its own borders. The news reports show how badly the aid attempts are failing, and how much money is going to waste. The fact of the matter is that yes, relief attempts are indeed fraught with failure and obstacles, and aid is not moving fast enough. But is the entire aid operation a failure, and our money gone to wasted food and for oiling bureaucratic machines?
Not quite. Giving aid is a slow process, and justifiably so in the case of Haiti. The relief efforts are just that: efforts. After almost four weeks of utter chaos, hope is beginning to show on the faces of Haitians, as more and more are rescued from the rubble and given proper medical treatment. Every penny donated to the cause adds up, one way or another. Not everyone’s money ends up buying a bottle of water or a child’s blanket. There are hundreds of thousands of dollars going to overhead costs like airplane fuel and food for volunteers. That money is far from wasted. Some people have understandably spoken out, saying that money is only secondary to actual contributions of clothing, non-perishable food and other supplies. But there is always a huge difficulty in forwarding used items out to a country in crisis. There is the question of actually going around and collecting those materials from people, evaluating the useful from the useless, organizing similar items for shipping and finally getting them through a small airport already operating beyond its capacity.
Money, surprising as it may seem, has its virtues. Money is universal, meaning it can be used to buy in bulk whatever relief organizations determine is needed most at the moment by Haitians, and used all over the world by any such organization. Besides that, money is much easier to donate and to collect. The Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund makes it very easy to donate your $10 towards Haiti’s recovery; all you need to do is text “HAITI” to 90999. Several organizations such as the American Red Cross, CARE, Oxfam America and the World Health Organization also allow people to donate online using a credit card or checking account. Money also covers overhead expenses associated with relief efforts. And perhaps best of all, most donations are tax deductible.
Food and water is certainly what is needed most at the moment. However, that can only alleviate the problem, not solve it. The next long-term challenge faced not only by Haiti but also the international community is to get Haiti’s shattered economy up and running. That calls for investment and jobs, and in turn more aid – this time in the form of finance.
Keeping with the American tradition of pouring money into problems can help sometimes (most certainly not always). So keep donating your money. Relief is only for the immediate crisis, but Haiti is still a long way from actual recovery. Millions, perhaps billions of dollars will be needed to get the country back on its feet, but as a wise reporter once said, money spent for humanitarian purposes is money well spent.