I’m currently five hours into a 14 hour layover in Korea on my way to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam following the typhoons that struck the county.
While we are beyond excited to be looking into our first deployment, we’re also unable to take our eyes off the tragedy that is unfolding in Haiti.
As disaster response workers who have lived in earthquake zones, we all feel the personal pull of Haiti, and for a time we wavered asking ourselves whether or not the Haitian earthquake should change our plans to deploy to Asia. It’s a complicated question, with a complicated answer.
Our immediate response was that we can’t go to Haiti because our funds are allocuted to Asia. But we have a clause on all of our fundraising documents giving us the ability to move funds should we feel it’s necessary. Is it a great idea? No. It betrays the trust of our donors, but it is possible, so this simple answer didn’t wash.
There are also a host practical reasons for a small charity to stay out of Haiti. Every NGO and its brother are on the ground in Haiti at the moment, and coordinating between organisations is an on-going problem. For a small group like EDV, we have to weigh the good we could do against the added clutter we would cause on the ground.
We’ve set EDV up as a long term disaster response organisation, meaning that we aren’t set-up to deal with the challenges of immediate response work in a country as challenging as Haiti.
These are all good, reasonable reasons for EDV to choose not to work in Haiti. But there is also a much more basic, fundamental question to consider. Despite the tremendous suffering in Haiti, there are also disaster survivors across Asia who are still living in terrible squalor following disaster that happened several months ago. Their struggle seems less immediate to us as we watch the disaster unfold in Haiti, but it’s still happening. Vietnamese disaster survivors are still living without basic necessities. Sumatran earthquake survivors are still living in the shadow of unsafe buildings that have yet to be demolished.
Of course, the disaster in Haiti is on a much more massive scale than those that struck Asia and its effects are made worse by Haiti’s pre-existing extreme poverty. It was one of the most vulnerable countries in the world. But when you compare a devastated community of 50 in Haiti to a devastated community of 50 in Vietnam, whose suffering outweighs whose? Should the disaster in Haiti mean that our plans in Asian change?
And perhaps that points to a more general question in post disaster aid work; how do you decide who to help? Resources are always limited, and it’s likely that no aid organsiation will ever be able to help everyone all the time. So how do you choose? Whose suffering trumps whose?
These caused me a lot of heartache working with two aid groups on the ground in Peru, as I’m sure they cause stress of aid workers across the globe. They have no easy answers.
For EDV, the choice to continue with our plans in Asia rather than respond to Haiti was made out of practicality and our committment to long term reconstruction aid rather than immediate response. We think Haiti is best left to immediate response groups at the moment, and long term reconstruction aid is exactly the kind of help needed in Asia at the moment. But that doesn’t mean we’re turning our backs on Haiti. Their recovery will take years, and long term groups will likely be in Haiti for some time to come.
Our deployment in Asia will begin with an assessment in Vietnam . While Vietnam did not receive as much press as the Philippines, it was hit hard by a succession of typhoons in September, October, and November. The storms destroyed 24,000 homes and damaged a further 579,000. In a country as disaster prone as Vietnam, long-term recovery is essential to ensuring that the population becomes resilient to the typhoons that often lash the area. And after 18 months of set-up, we’re looking forward to getting our hands dirty.
To follow our progress on the ground, you can follow me on twitter or shoot me an email at Media@europeandisastervolunteers.org