In the 25 January 2010 issue of Newsweek magazine, then-USA president Barack Obama had an essay reflecting on the
7.0 earthquake which left shocking and unbelievable devastation in Haiti. His piece was entitled “Why Haiti Matters.”
The essay largely projected an American perspective through which he saw the disaster and its aftermath.
Revisiting the piece, nine years later, I find that it contains signposts that can help recovery efforts in other disaster spots.
For example, he wrote that, “in this new century no great challenge will be one we can solve alone. In this humanitarian effort, we’ll work closely with other nations, so that our work on the ground is efficient and effective even under very difficult conditions.”
I believe that Southern Africa’s recent frightening experiences with Cyclones Idai and Kenneth conform to Obama’s
observations. Our leaders, the region’s leaders, were challenged to invoke the esprit de corps which defines and sustains
our progress. While falling short of some targets, Sadc seems to have honourably risen to the challenge to mitigate
suffering. In addition to the immediate release of US$500, 000 to the affected member states, Namibian president and
Sadc chairperson Hage Geingob on 11 April launched an appeal for US$323 million. The money will support
the humanitarian needs and disaster recovery efforts in the countries affected by Cyclone Idai.
President Geingob eloquently underscored “the need for collaborative efforts and support from partners to improve our preparedness and enhance the capacity to respond to the negative impact of climate change and other disasters.”
It is heartening to see that ordinary communities have also heeded the call for helping hands. In the essay that I have
referred to, Obama said “it is important to note that all of these efforts will be bolstered by the continuing good will and generosity of ordinary citizens. Governments alone are not enough.”
For me, nothing dramatically captures the all-hands-on-deck mentality as the responses elicited by the fire which gutted
the Notre Dame in mid-April. Carl Kinsella was moved to write that, “within hours of the spire coming down, two of France’s
wealthiest families had pledged funding for the restoration effort. The city of Paris was also able to mobilise 10 million Euros.” In a piece called “reaction of the rich to the Notre Dame fire teaches us a lot about the world we live in,” Kinsella also raises the pressing need for a more equal world.
She notes that “if two men in a world of more than 7 billion people can provide 300 million Euros to restore Notre Dame,
within six hours, then there is enough money in the world to feed every mouth, shelter every family and educate every
child. The failure to do so is a matter of will, and a matter of system. The failure to do so comes from our failure to recognise the mundane emergencies that claim lives all around us every single day…it is people who must
be protected above all else.”
I have quoted Kinsella at length because the Sadc executive secretary Stergomena Lawrence Tax gave this
solemn warning on the occasion of the Sadc appeal for assistance: “there is a revelation that as climate
change intensifies, Cyclone Idai will be remembered as a relatively insignificant weather event. The era of super-storms
and cyclones is just around the corner. Therefore, the earlier we undertake measures to reduce global
warming, lessen the impact of climate change and be better prepared for the impending disasters, the better.”
It is noteworthy that Oxfam made the following remarks after Cyclone Idai: “the African Union, the regional economic
blocs, member states and, indeed, Africa’s citizens must rethink a strategy to deal with natural disasters…this must put
people at the centre of planning, especially women and girls, who are most vulnerable in such cases.”
What lessons for integration? “There is wide recognition that regional cooperation is vital to tackle development
challenges that cannot be solved at national level. The problems confronting the humanitarian system have stimulated
renewed interest in regional engagement and in the role, potential and limitations of regional organisations in humanitarian
2019-05-03 12:39:59 16 days ago