The giant Indian Ocean and Asian earthquake and tsunami of December 2004, which claimed about 230,000 lives and probably more from the East African coast to the Indian subcontinent to Indonesia and Thailand, caused the entire planet to vibrate. It also elicited the first truly global response to a humanitarian disaster. We even saw two former American presidents of opposing political parties, George H. W. Bush the Republican and Bill Clinton the Democrat, working together and working together as friends to help lead the relief and reconstruction efforts.
The May 2008 Typhoon Nargis disaster in Myanmar/Burma was a potential international aid response but was thwarted by the military junta in power. There were and have been other significant disasters, many that did elicit aid from different countries responding to a crisis in another, including famines, but nothing of the scale of the global response to the 2004 tsunami.
In Haiti in the wake of the devastating January 2010 earthquake we see it again and in a more evolved fashion. The response to the quake was immediate, far more immediate by the United States, for example, than it’s response to its own 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster. In fact strong aftershocks continue as I write.
Our response to Haiti’s crisis is beyond international; it is global. Fellow human beings from around the planet have rallied to support their own in a small nation-state ravaged even before the giant quake by decades of poverty, dictatorship, coups and low-level civil wars, military occupation, economic exploitation, and environmental destruction.
This planet-wide response is just beginning to be noticed as we are still in the thick of it all. Reasons for the rapid and global response range from the ease of new technology to U.S. President Obama’s charisma and decisiveness to geographical ease of access (as opposed to the difficulties of helping remote areas of conflict-addled Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and China in the 2005 Kashmir earthquake.)
The Haitian earthquake is catastrophic and heart wrenching. The outpouring of aid is almost as overwhelming in its generosity and scale. Of course, controversies abound. Concerns are expressed about the militarization of aid, the intervention of American armed forces, outside exploitation by transnational corporations to rebuild Haiti on their terms instead of Haitian ideals, how to address environmental ruin, how to address political, drug, and gang violence and endemic corruption, attacks by rape gangs in refugee camps, and on and on.
There is also infighting between different organizations, including governmental, international, and NGOs. These are legitimate concerns even as much good is being done right now by some of the organizations others are denouncing. For the most part relief efforts appear to be running as smoothly as possible considering the horrendous challenges amid collapsed infrastructure and mounting death, injury, and disease tolls. It seems horror unites us in a crisis.
Many of the political, military, economic, and environmental issues raised in the wake of the Haitian earthquake would be non-issues if we had an established, democratic world government with an integral democratic capitalist economic system. Instead of nation-states and big corporations and lawless gangs jostling for power and influence we would have one unified planetary government responding with unified institutions all under world law. We would have an integrated global response to such a calamity just as China or America respond internally to their local or regional disasters.
We would be able as a democratic world government to go into areas that would otherwise be torn by warfare between countries, tribes, and religious groups. And as a planet with unified economic and financial systems based upon principles of integral, democratic, sustainable capitalism that are social and environmental responsible we would minimize any corporate exploitation or local corruption.
In Haiti, too, we have the collapse of yet another so-called “independent” nation-state. Imagine if we humans have already built a unified, democratic, federal planetary republic where interdependence is transparent and effective. Of course, we have a long ways to go to achieve those goals. The world would rally and mobilized resources toward any and all major catastrophes anywhere on Earth without all the squabbling, hesitation, and conflict between governments and aid groups from different countries.
Meanwhile, more disasters will strike and continue to occur. Catastrophes often strike without warning. The worldwide self-awareness of global unity that stems from first the Indian Ocean tsunami and now the Haitian earthquake are promising steps on the way to achieve democratic world government.
2012 Update on Haiti & Pakistan: Haiti is still in critical shape. Governments and aid agencies are weary and exhausted from continuous crises. The lack of education and resources combined with language difficulties, lingering racism, and the serious impact of the global Great Recession has choked off international support. Rape gangs prowl the camps hunting women while many groups turn a blind eye. It seems as if refugee camps are semi-permanent. The combination of a destroyed environment and ruined economy frustrates any progress. Hope has withered in Haiti.
The initial euphoria from the outpouring of aid from around the world has soured. Now I would say the international response to the Haitian earthquake, jerky and unsmoothed as it was, while still inspiring, was not the prelude to peaceful global unification I had hoped for. It’s another marker, however, on a graph full of serrated ups and downs. These markers build inexorably to a time when we must do something different. Pakistan’s disastrous situation is a case in point.
Pakistan, which experienced international relief in the wake of serious earthquakes in 2005 even with logistical challenges, saw a different fate six then seven years later. It’s flip-flopping inconsistencies in the Global War on Terror, mass corruption, and rising terrorism turned people off so much that some have come to call Pakistan a pariah state, or worse, a nuclear-armed failed state. As a result, when Pakistan needed massive assistance a second and third time, disaster-weary people elsewhere threw up their hands and pointed to the radical religious fundamentalism and murderous tribalism as making the situation too dangerous.
The Pakistani government didn’t want armed forces from any other government including the U.N. there. The summer of 2010 saw massive flooding which covered much of Pakistan. Over 20 million were affected or displaced and at least 2,000 killed. In October 2011, another round of massive flooding hit with almost 6 million displaced and 4-5,000 dead. Very little aid arrived as many countries turned their back on Pakistan. Some people went as far as to say Pakistan “deserved it.” This kind of relationship breakdown would never occur in an integrated, democratic, world republic with a prosperous local-global economy.
Clearly our ability as a species to respond quickly and effectively to major regional disasters would be significantly enhanced under a unified planetary democracy. It would far less so under a global “New World Order” empire where neglect and exploitation is the rule. In addition to regional disasters, we face global challenges that continue to grow and converge. United we stand and rise as a planetary civilization, divided we not only fall but kill each other in the process.
William Dudley Bass
21 January 2010
Revised and reposted here 27 January 2012
NOTE: This essay was originally published as “Global Disaster Response to Haitian Earthquake a Prelude to Moves toward Unification?” on my earlier current affairs blog, At the Brink with William Dudley Bass, on 10 January 2010 at http://atthebrinkwithwilliamdudleybass.blogspot.com/2010/01/global-disaster-response-to-haitian.html. It was revised, rewritten, and re-published here this 27 January 2012. Thank you.
Copyright © 2010, 2011, 2012, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.