In 2005, Hurricane Katrina descended upon New Orleans causing one of the worst natural disasters in the United States’ history. The hurricane subjected much of the city to Category 1- and 2-strength winds. The hurricane also resulted in the failure of 53 breeches of the federally built levee system protecting the urban New Orleans.
Eighty percent of the city was flooded, roads in and out of the city were heavily damaged, and New Orleans wasn’t the only city to feel the effects of the disaster. Florida and Mississippi both suffered damage with nearly 300 deaths in Mississippi alone. The ending death toll for Hurricane Katrina was around 1,800 people, according to HurricaneKatrinaRelief.com.
The total cost of the destruction that came from Hurricane Katrina is in excess of $150 billion. That’s with physical damage and loss of profits from major infrastructures being incapacitated or destroyed.
After the hurricane, nonprofits raised $3.27 billion for disaster relief. At this point, two-thirds of the relief has been exhausted and the last third is supposed to be stretched out for years, indefinitely, to cover everything from job training to mental-health counseling for survivors. Fifty cents of each dollar given has gone directly out in cash to victims. The last half of the remaining donations are being held by faith-based organizations like the Salvation Army.
In mid-January 2010, Haiti suffered a massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake that is still sending aftershocks. The Haitian government puts the death toll at somewhere between 150,000 and 230,000 deaths, and bodies are still being discovered. This has put the disaster on par with the 2004 tsunami in Asia and has devastated an already poverty-stricken country. The earthquake has an estimated cost of about 15 percent of Haiti’s GNP, or about $1.2 billion.
These two disasters are different: different cause, different cost and completely different reactions from the world. Yet, when this news first broke, there were a lot of comparisons to each other. People were both ridiculing and praising Obama for his actions in comparison with the previous administration’s actions with Katrina. There were continuous ties being made to Katrina and how everyone had reacted during that emergency.
Sandra Bullock, Brangelina, Oprah and George Clooney all donated $1 million to Haiti. Tiger Woods donated $3 million to the efforts and even some of the banks too big to fail, including Goldman Sachs, chipped in at least a million each. Simon Cowell released a charity record with Mariah Carey that reached over 250,000 sales in just two days. The U.S. government has pledged an ever-expanding donation that starts at $100 million. In a worldwide recession this is fabulous generosity. Across the board, people have jumped on the charity for Haiti bandwagon.
Celebrities and world leaders are coming out in droves to help save Haiti.
Not to play devil’s advocate, but shouldn’t we always look a gift horse in the mouth? Why is it that Haiti donations and advocacy has been immense? Why wasn’t there this much action for Katrina? Why, in a recession, is there no fight for donations? Why is it that Katrina has lost popularity as a disaster?
Some would say that the death toll has been so immense in Haiti that it doesn’t warrant comparison and to do so is asinine. As far as tragedy’s sake, I would agree that Haiti is undoubtedly a worse disaster. What I want to look at is why it is so much more of a popular disaster? Why do people love to feel bad for Haiti?
The majority of the destruction in New Orleans was caused by levees, built by our federal government that failed. Experts in the levee field say if another hurricane like Katrina came through, the levees now instated will fail. New Orleans is almost out of money for everything, and the problem that caused this immense destruction still hasn’t been remedied.
So why doesn’t anyone seem to care?
The federal government, at the time, argued with the state government about whether it was really the federal government’s responsibility to do anything. A lot of the poor actions that occurred in connection with Katrina can be directly attributed to the fact that the Bush administration was unsatisfactory in almost all elements. They even seemed to be sometimes incompetent to comical levels. Now that the Bush administration has been dethroned, why hasn’t anything been done?
I would propose an unflattering idea: People really don’t care about anything. Sure they can feel empathy, but unless there is some sort of incentive in it for them, people are really hard pressed to give. When it’s popular or the “fad,” people seem to have no problem giving ridiculous amounts of money in personal contributions. Although the fact that Sandra Bullock has so much money that she feels comfortable donating $1 million in the middle of a recession is another thing. If the solution to the problem of New Orleans being a ticking time bomb is to fix the levees, then why hasn’t it been done? Because it isn’t popular, because of racial issues, because it is a losing battle or because people just don’t care? Whatever the problem with solving the problem is, it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.
Sure, the true success of charity goes much further beyond monetary donations, and people are still down in New Orleans helping to rebuild four years after the fact. With Haiti suffering from much more extensive damage, who knows how long it’s going to take to rebuild the country to its original level? And in four years when the super volcano in Yellow Stone National Park goes off and destroys the entirety of the United States or when global warming suddenly switches the climate into a “Day After Tomorrow” type scenario, will it even matter?
There is always someone more in need and someone worse off. That isn’t the point; the point is that in Darfur, 300,000 people have been killed by way of genocide, 2.5 million people have been displaced and if humanitarian aid is cut off, it is conservatively estimated that 10,000 civilian deaths a month would be achieved. While there is humanitarian support, there were periods of worry, like in 2008, where for almost six months nothing was donated. Were there no contributions because people didn’t care anymore? Yes, but moreover, because it was losing popularity. It’s a complicated situation, it’s hard to analyze who is the enemy, and it’s in the far-off land of Africa. All things that make it very hard for the average American to understand, let alone care about. It’s just not going to win the popularity contest.
Humanitarian aid is fantastic; it’s what people will need as long as there are dictators and earthquakes. Although, according to Hugo Chavez, the American government is both. In a recent article, he claimed the U.S. government has an earthquake machine that was tested on Haiti and is soon to be deployed on Iran. Chavez, along with others on the world stage, has accused the U.S. of capitalizing on Haiti’s recent destruction by sending a large percentage of military power, 20,000 troops — 10,000 fewer than the number in Iraq in 2003. The world stage is suggesting that when the earthquake has passed, our government will build a base of operations to take the oil reserves which have recently been found on the island, reserves that are greater than Venezuela’s. It makes you wonder if there might be more than a nugget of truth from the dramatic Hugo.
So, Katrina isn’t getting its levees fixed and Darfur is constantly on the brink of being deficient in fundraising. People will only give if they get something out of it — if they get to feel like they are part of the crowd or there is one of the bigger deposits of oil in the world located on prime real estate right in our own backyard.
There’s always an agenda.