Monday, January 18, 2010

Turkish News on Haiti

In the past week, I have to confess that I am disappointed in the coverage given to the Haitian earthquake and the relief effort by Turkish news media. News coverage in Turkey implied that all relief efforts were being handled by the United Nations or from NGOs. (Even the fine work of Turkish survivor rescue units have received little attention.)

It was shocking to me that the Turkish news organizations - in a country with its own recent history of earthquake disaster and struggles during the relief effort-  could give so little importance to  events so similar to the 1999 Izmit quake. 

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told ABC News that at least 70,000 dead bodies have been collected. Official and unofficial estimates of the death toll have ranged up to 200,000.

Instead, the newspapers and TV channels seemed inordinately preoccupied with an overblown spat between Israeli and Turkish diplomats over protocol and apologies.  On that subject:

Credit where Credit is Due

When it comes to the United States, I am, by no means, a flag waving nationalist. Certainly I am not disloyal to my homeland but when called upon to explain any policy from the Bush era I usually shrugged with an attempt at an apologetic smile. However, giving credit where credit is due is really not asking so much.

In Internet forums, I saw a few members from the USA who say, "But why should we Americans help Haiti? We are not the world's ATM machine. We give and give in times of crisis and in the end, they hate us for it." My initial response is that you should not do humanitarian acts for the glory and admiration of the rest of the world. It is not about the potential benefits this help might bring. You should help because it is the right thing to do.

On the other hand, it is just as right for other nations, such as Turkey, to, at least, acknowledge this kind of assistance? I suppose it doesn't fit into the fashionable anti-Americanism that has appeared here in recent years under the calamitous Bush era.

But here are a few facts, for what they are worth. In terms of aid given by the US government, Haiti has been a steady recipient of U.S. aid and in recent years has received nearly $300 million a year.

The Common Cliche Americans Believe in

Personally I have mixed feelings about the validity of this approach (that is, government to government aid). Corruption takes it cut and instead of aiding the people tends to create a source of further problems, such as government corruption and fiscal mismanagement.  I wonder, like anybody who has ever given money to a homeless person, whether my money is a short-term solution or just continuation of the problem. Too often this aid seems to end up in the wrong hands, spent on the wrong things- military hardware and palaces, or is merely payment for services rendered, or, worst for all parties, it may  create a deeper dependency on further aid.

Staunchly conservative radio host, Rush Limbaugh told his audience that they should not give donations to the relief fund. "Why should I give my money to Haitians? I already give.. with my taxes."

Despite these narrow-minded remarks, in times of crisis, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, or floods, time after time, so much of the financial assistance comes directly from the pocket of the individual American.  And I am not speaking on involuntary tax.

"There, but for the grace of God, go I" is a common cliche where I come from, meaning, "When I see people enduring hardship, I must never forget that this could be me."

True, to many people, this philosophy may seem old-fashioned with a low return of investment. Yet, during this past year, when many Americans have lost their jobs, in debt up to their Adam's apples and in  real danger of losing their homes, projections show that donations will be higher than in any other recent disaster, including Katrina.

Experts believe that donations are on course to be the biggest ever, topping Katrina and the 2004 Tsunami, reports CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston.;contentBody

By Friday afternoon, individuals donating $10 at a time to the Red Cross by text message had given more than $10 million, and the contributions were still arriving, sometimes at a rate of more than $300,000 an hour.

Americans have been giving at what could be a record pace. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, as of Saturday, $150 million has been donated by Americans.

Beyond Investments

I am also not great fan of the capitalist system (from which I have been chewed up and spit out more times than I care to say) but even the business world is playing a part in the relief effort.

Businesses and business charities (in the US) have pledged more than $48 million to the earthquake relief effort in Haiti, including more than $10 million from two investment banks. The donations include cash, promises to match employee gifts and contributions of medicine, food, water and other supplies and services.

It is easy to write off any assistance from businesses or corporations with a jaundiced eye and say, "this is merely a way of protecting their investments, or to open new markets." I would just remind you that Haiti is not Kuwait, or Europe after the World War -by any stretch of the imagination- and any return on " investment" would be long-term, indeed. And after all, in a crisis like this, giving free food and water to people dying of thirst and hunger for whatever self-centered reason is still better than turning your back and not giving at all.

Many companies are also providing goods and services. In Colorado, Crocs has donated 70,000 pairs of shoes and 20 truckloads of medical supplies. Several airlines, including American and Spirit are giving bonus frequent flier miles in exchange for donations to Haitian earthquake relief.;contentBody

Apart from that, US-based aid agencies are on the ground doing what can be done given the situation.

On Saturday, U.S. aid agencies helped deliver 50,000 emergency food packets to Haiti as part of an initial effort to distribute $48 million in food aid. Roughly 250,000 liters of water have also been distributed through 52 relief centers in recent days.

Many celebrities are also contributing to the effort.

US magazine reports that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie donated $1 million to Haitian relief (via Doctors Without Borders), as did Sandra Bullock and supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Madonna gave $250,000. George Clooney will host a Haitian relief show this week on MTV. Chelsea Clinton is raising money through a 90-minute spinning class in Manhattan. And the Tiger Woods Foundation wants to donate $3 million for a mobile hospital staffed with Emergency Medical Teams (EMTs).

A Team Effort Goes Unreported

I wouldn't want anybody to think I am, for a minute, suggesting that the USA is single-handedly managing the relief effort in Haiti. Superman of the world, etc. (I think the entire concept of superpower is obsolete and dangerous.)

In fact, many countries are involved and in the search and rescue, countries who last week made noises about seating positions and television shows are working together attempting to locate trapped victims. This is what being a member of the community of nations means, I believe  and it is always an inspiration to see the humanitarian uses of power, acts of heroism and selflessness wherever they may originate.


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