There is not always much to say in the face of a natural disaster and ensuing humanitarian crisis. But the earthquake in Haiti seems to be different. Perhaps because of the severity of the destruction, or because of the complex forces
that strain Haiti, or due simply to the commentary-rich nature of media
today, opinions on the quake are diverse and abundant. Many
writers are drawing wider conclusions about the world from the quake's
aftermath, touching on everything from China to the media. Here's what they've learned.
- Americans Aren't Very Generous The New York Times's Nicholas Kristof surveys the annual per-capita donations to Haiti from various countries. One might assume that the U.S., an immediate neighbor of Haiti with a large Haitian population, would dominate the donations to Haiti. But it doesn't, with Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg and others donating far more on average. "Given the per capita sums, we have no right to be bragging about our generosity in Haiti."
- Decline of Foreign News Coverage The American Prospect's Monica Potts laments that the entirety of Western media has only one permanent Haiti correspondent, an A.P. reporter, when it once had many. Potts says this is symptomatic of shuttering foreign bureaus, with even giant institutions like the New York Times now able to do little more than aggregate anonymous Twitter feeds. "But the bigger tragedy is that people are still clearly hungry for news like this -- cable is full of Haiti coverage, with major networks having expanded newscast hours -- and no one's there to provide it to them," she writes. "Even institutions that have enough reporters left don't have enough money to invest in a reporter who can become ingrained in a faraway place."
- The Humanitarian Double Standard Media Matters's M.J. Rosenberg posits that the world only mobilizes for humanitarian crises that aren't man-made. "For me, it's impossible to look at the horrific footage coming out of Haiti and not think about Gaza. Especially when I see the faces of the children. Both are scenes of horrific suffering. But there are two significant differences. The first is the scale of the suffering. The second is that the Haitian catastrophe is a natural disaster, which humans could not prevent but are now trying to relieve. The suffering in Gaza is inflicted by people, while other people look away."
- The Importance of Modern Transportation Galrahn of Information Dissemination explains that Haiti's decrepit road system, its single-runway airport and its damaged port have become the single biggest biggest challenges for relief efforts in Haiti. USAID Chief "Rajiv Shah needs a logistics expert - like yesterday, or he is going to have a real short term at USAID," he writes. "The port issue will make or break the entire effort in Haiti." If transportation within Haiti can't be established, "social order is going to start breaking down over the next 48-72 hours. Nineteen small Navy helicopters are not going to be able to meet the demands of 3,000,000 people."
- China's Strength Is Exaggerated The Atlantic's James Fallows compares Chinese and American relief efforts to Haiti, which demonstrate their abilities. He quotes a reader who writes, "To me, this shows the still enormous gulf in both power and the responsible use of power between China and the U.S." Fallows concurs, citing, "The mismatch between mainstream America's exaggerated sense of China's omni-competence -- eg, here* -- and the very uneven nature of Chinese development and prospects."