Festering open sewers surrounded the shanty. Once inside the sprawl a dominate image of the haphazard, precarious nature of life faced by its inhabitants, a sense of clinging to life just by your fingernails pervaded the common ozone.
Its inhabitants had cobbled together shelters with the scraps of whatever building material could be found and carted back into poverty’s local warren. Ingenuity and desperation in equal measure could be seen all around in the doorways and on the street corners.
This scene could be almost anywhere in the Global South. I have witnessed it from the ‘callampas’ of Chile and ‘pueblos jovenes’ of Peru to the favelas of Duque de Caxias behind the glitz of Rio de Janiero, Brazil and in slums like Chibolya in Lusaka, Zambia.
According to the Millennium Development Goals Report 2007 now well over half of the world’s population lives in cities. One out of every three of these urban dwellers live in slum conditions. Lacking adequate sanitation, clean water, and other basics like electricity about a billion people face a mighty struggle on a daily basis just to get by.
Occasionally a disaster like Haiti forces uncomfortable, pain-filled images back onto our media and into our consciousness. We respond with immediate generosity to the perceived crisis. We know down deep, though, that what we see has roots tightly entangled in the global economic system that we are the beneficiaries of. We are the haves to the have nots who we will see before us in just Haiti for possibly a week or so more before they slip off our screens back into the anonymity of their unwatched suffering.
The accepted invisibility of this urban and rural reality plaguing the almost half of the planet living on less than $2.50 a day allows for a sort on-going of global triage to quietly take place. Whether stated or not policy makers in the corners of the world where wealth is concentrated, seem to accepted the sort of “lifeboat ethics” Garret Hardin wrote of in the 1970s. Remember Professor Hardin? He was the controversial ecologist who argued against providing emergency food aid to victims of the Ethiopian famine in 1973-74 because it would only add to overpopulation.
We would never consciously accept Hardin’s argument. The choices made today to spend over a trillion dollars a year on armaments and the military globally, though, have the same effect as cutting off aid for famine victims then or earthquake casualties now. The acceptance of distorted trading regimes that place the poorest at a constant disadvantage do so as well. The environmental degradation, disease and other pathologies of the poverty endemic to the current global system follow logically.
Haiti offers an opportunity for the global community to re-envision how a sustainable national community literally can be built from the ground up. Old models won’t do. An authentic alternative to the dominate system that claims to be the only solution to the larger crisis that it itself has provoked, must be pioneered. From the suffering of the Haitian people and the global solidarity found in responding to their needs can we not only hope for but strive towards a new vision for our planet. In doing so we will put an end to global triage.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, January 24 – 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. A suggested reading is Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21.
Sunday, January 24 – Triodion marks the time period leading up to Lent for Orthodox Christians.
Wednesday, January 27 – The Auschwitz concentration camp in southern Poland was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945.
Wednesday, January 27 – The signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 marked the beginning of the end of the war in Vietnam.