disaster demands putting people first

In a medical emergency first responders are taught to focus on the ABCs of first aid. A critical life or death intervention demands that you do a primary survey of a victim's airway, breathing and circulation before doing anything else.

In a medical emergency first responders are taught to focus on the ABCs of first aid. A critical life or death intervention demands that you do a primary survey of a victim’s airway, breathing and circulation before doing anything else. Preserving life is the priority.

The horrific aftermath of the 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti on Monday demands the same kind of prioritization. Saving people’s lives must be the first priority. Haitians trapped in toppled buildings or the gravely injured rightly demand the full attention of the community, local and global.

Property rights or financial concerns fall to the side when lives are at stake. Governments loosen their purse strings. Literal armies of emergency relief personnel like our federal Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) are marshaled in response to the crisis. President Obama has the US Marines, an aircraft carrier and tens of millions of dollars headed towards this stricken Caribbean nation.

This current natural disaster further cripples the poorest country in the Americas. Once the crown jewel of the French colonial empire, ‘the Pearl of the Antilles,” Haiti’s slave-based sugar economy generated fortunes for the white plantocracy there and wealth for the monarchy. Able leaders of the world’s first Black republic liberated themselves, then headed the forces that destroyed Napoleon’s ambitions in the Americas and fought off a British invasion. At the dawn of the 19th century a promising future lay ahead.

Foreign geo-political priorities coupled with internal unrest lead to a near two decade long occupation of Haiti by US forces in the early 1900s and set a pattern of intervention and manipulation that has denied Haitian aspirations. US Marine General Smedley Butler who won a Congressional Medal of Honour for his role in suppressing Haitian resistance to US rule in 1915, was famously quoted in 1935 on his perception of his real role there. “I spent most of my time as a high class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. … I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in.”

A heritage of distorted development is seen in the lack of adequate Haitian social infrastructure. This will continue to kill people long after that last person has been pulled alive from under the rubble of Monday’s earthquake.

Malaria and dengue fever, the on-going environmental impact of Haitian deforestation, victimization by unfair trading regimes, low literacy and high infant mortality rates cry out for an on-going disaster relief response as well. The fundamental needs and basic human rights of the Haitian people need to be put first in any domestic or international policy calculations long after this current disaster fades from the headlines.

For now, though, we must respond to the current crisis. Organizations across Canada are mobilizing relief efforts. One proven organization is Caritas Canada, the emergency response arm of Development and Peace. It is directly linked to Caritas Haiti which is providing on the ground relief. Donations to Development and Peace for the Haiti crisis can be made by phone (1-888-664-3387), via www.devp.org by sending a cheque marked Haiti Emergency to the following address: Development and Peace 1425 Rene-Levesque Blvd. W, 3rd Floor, Montreal QC, H3G 1T7.

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church at 4th and Strickland in Whitehorse will host a special ecumenical service on Sunday, January 17th at 4 p.m. marking the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It is a time for Christians of different denominations to join in prayer to overcome the divisions among them.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.