Averting Disaster

By Rothkopf, David | Newsweek, January 25, 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Averting Disaster


Rothkopf, David, Newsweek


Byline: David Rothkopf

Calamities like the Haiti quake aren't just predictable--they're preventable.

The most shocking thing about the disaster in Haiti was not that it was so sudden, violent, and horrific in its human toll. It's that the damage was so predictable. Seismologists warned that the country was at risk as recently as two years ago. Haiti is also the latest in a string of nearly annual megadisasters extending back through the past decade, calamities claiming tens of thousands of lives more because poverty and the forces of nature met with foreseeably tragic consequences.

During the Clinton administration, I helped lead an interagency effort to assist the country after our intervention there in 1994. Our reasons for wanting to help were not, of course, entirely or even primarily charitable. While we acted out of a sincere commitment on the part of a president who is now the U.N. special envoy to that battered country, we naturally also worried that further social disintegration would result in waves of unwanted immigrants arriving on our shores. Viewing tiny Haiti primarily as a source of problems for America has been--after neglect--the single most important driver of U.S. policies toward that country since its independence.

Traveling regularly to Port-au-Prince, I could not help but be struck by Haiti's vibrancy or its largely untapped promise. Nor, sadly, could I ignore the deprivation or the petty infighting among the island's elites that blocked Haitians from the few opportunities at progress that ever wafted across their shores. We tried to help, to organize business missions, to mobilize funding of local projects, to apply comparatively low-voltage policy paddles to the heart of a nearly lifeless economic victim. But given the island's manifold, often heartbreaking, problems--weak governance, feeble infrastructure, illiteracy--it was clear that our efforts would likely be only palliative.

And it was also clear that America's interest would wane and Haiti would remain on life support. Year to year, such countries receive just enough aid for them to fade from our consciousness and consciences. Development dollars seem to have two purposes: buying friends we may need to advance specific national interests and renting a little peace of mind by postponing calamity. But inevitably the money is too little, and countries like Haiti come crashing into our lives with the next crisis--almost invariably a crisis that is more costly in human and financial terms than the steps we might have taken to prevent or mitigate it in the first place.

Weep as one might at the pictures now streaming out of Port-au-Prince, what is sadder still is that it is just the latest example of a blight to which the international community has devoted too little attention and too few resources. Take every terror attack in the past 20 years. Add every airline crash. Add SARS or H1N1. Add many of the diseases whose causes are championed by high-profile telethons and gala fundraisers. The total death toll pales when compared with what might be called the world's megadisasters. Before Haiti, an estimated 70,000 people perished in 2008's earthquake in Sichuan, China. Before that almost 150,000 died when the cyclone Nargis struck Burma.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Averting Disaster
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?