Monday, September 26, 2011

"Suffering is never just pure suffering..."

"In the dim reaches of misery, insomnia is a constant companion, especially when twenty-first-century people die of nineteenth-century-afflictions..." -Paul Farmer, Haiti; After the Earthquake

When I was in Jamaica I held children dying of preventable diseases. I watched the elderly struggle to breathe when, had they been in the US, their symptoms could have been relieved in minutes. The level of poverty, neglect, and medical inadequacy was heartbreaking and I was overwhelmed by my inability to make a difference. How can you fight against a longstanding lack of investment in medical infrastructure and training? How can you fight to save lives when proper supplies are simply non-existant?

As desperate as the need is in Jamaica, I know communities around the world suffer far worse. Even my finite knowledge of the social, economic and medical devastation Haitians still suffer since the horrific earthquake in 2010 is staggering. Right now, over 200,000 Pakistanis are in urgent need of shelter and attention as massive floods ravage their homes and lands. As we speak, Somalia is enduring one of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today; twenty years of conflict and drought have uprooted over a quarter of the country's 7.5 million people.

Millions of people are suffering worldwide, and yet, as Paul Farmer recounts in his book Haiti: After the Earthquake, "Everyone wanted to help, but no-one knew exactly what to do. We wanted to be rescued by expertise, but we never were....[We were surrounded] by arguments and competition between different dispensers of "disaster relief" over the privilege of looking after people who had long been neglected."

It is difficult to accept the awful reality that 1) there is very little coordination between NGOs and humanitarian organizations and 2) life-saving aid is often prevented by tangles of bureaucratic red tape, governments paranoid about protecting their sovereignty, or leaders resisting any semblance of Western imperialism. Governments refuse international aid to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people within their borders or allow millions to starve as they look the other way.

The question can not be "why?", but rather "what can be done?" Maybe I'm naive and idealistic, but there has to be a way to prevent the unnecessary loss of lives...especially on such massive scales as we are currently seeing. What will it take? What needs to be done? How can this be tackled? I don't have the answers. I don't know how any potential solution could possibly work. It feels hopeless. But we were born here and not there for a reason. We are not Somalian or Pakistani or Haitian or Sudanese for a reason. We might not know the answer yet, but that doesn't lessen the significance of the search. We live privileged lives; a blessing that comes with much responsibility.

We can't forget that.

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