Aid to Haiti masking active foreign military occupation?

This article, reprinted from Counterpunch, ends with this:

the lesson of the 2010 earthquake is that aid and reconstruction must be directed by Haitians and for Haitians. Otherwise, this latest disaster will only aggravate the long disaster of big-power intervention into the country. That, not inevitable storms and seismic events, is the largest obstacle facing Haiti in its struggle for development and sovereignty.” 

Putting survivors of a disaster event in the drivers seat of the recovery effort is not really a very radical idea. Any of us would expect to be allowed that courtesy by others when experiencing the vulnerability of recovering from such devastation. But it seems to be far from the current practice when opportunists use tragic events as open doors for advancing particular agendas.


Disaster Relief Trials – bikes as essential tools in disaster

In the spirit of challenging perceptions of the bike as a toy and encouraging folks to see how bikes can play a key role as a tool in survivor-led disaster recovery, what other cities do you think might be interested in hosting an event like the Disaster Relief Trials in Portland, Oregon? They’ve also started it now in Eugene, Oregon, Memphis, Tennessee, Boulder, Colorado, San Francisco, California and Seattle, Washington. Victoria, BC has done something similar, too. Where else might a municipal disaster management office want to partner with bicycle advocacy groups in a “preparedness” program in anticipation of the day when the big earthquake, tsunami, or flood hits? Consultant and bike advocate Joe Partridge of Portland, Oregon was involved in getting the Disaster Relief Trials set up in Portland, so if folks in other cities are interested, Mr. Partridge would be a great person to talk with.


On disaster pornography

On page 246 of this 1994 article by Erica Burman there is a discussion of the concept of Disaster Pornography which is “the gruesome fascination with depicting, and commercially benefiting from people’s suffering and degradation.” The ‘pornography’ parallel is as follows: “bodies are represented as parts, devoid of subjectivity, and rendered available for use and consumption, with no regard for consent or participation.” In trying to understand fundamental principles that are important for an appropriate, just and dignifying approach in disaster response efforts, we keep coming back to the importance of putting survivors first and allowing space for survivors to lead in the recovery effort. This concept of disaster pornography points in a vivid way to the absolute necessity for survivor-driven recovery, which includes allowing survivors to make decisions around how the disaster itself is depicted in media and in aid organizations’ calls for funding of relief efforts.

Burman, Erica, (1994) “Innocents abroad: Western fantasies of childhood and the iconography of emergencies” from Disasters 18 (3) pp.238-253


A bike is a toy, a bike is a tool

As we began looking into the feasibility of the Ready-to-Go Bikes model for delivering bikes to survivors, I began to call around to different aid organizations that already engage in immediate disaster response. I asked them if they’d be interested in serving as ‘hubs’ that would be willing to receive donated bicycles and deliver them to disaster sites for survivors. But I encountered an unexpected source of resistance to the idea. Representatives from these large disaster response NGOs simply did not see the value of a bike in this setting. There was not even a well-reasoned response as to why they would not consider delivering bikes to survivors. Instead they seemed to reject the idea as if I were suggesting that they help to deliver balloons or cotton candy. I spoke with bike advocate and bikes-in-disaster-response consultant, Joe Partridge, former Deputy for Planning and Preparedness for the Emergency Management Division of Multnomah County in Oregon State. He understood this phenomenon (of obliviousness among NGOs regarding how bikes could be useful in disaster) as having to do with the bike being perceived by many, particularly among older generations, as a toy or a piece of recreation equipment. Many do not see the bike as a tool; a means of human transport and a tool to haul cargo. I had never thought of a bike as a toy and so this idea of an alternate perception of the function of a bike was a revelation to me. It has important implications for how we go about promoting use of bikes for survivor-led disaster recovery. How do you convince operations managers of large NGOs of the need to incorporate bikes if they still see bikes as toys or recreation devices?


Possible model for donating bikes in disaster

Based on conversations with bicycle advocates and through multiple iterations, we came up with a potential model for how good quality donated bikes could be collected by community groups wanting to contribute to disaster response, and how those bikes could be sent directly to disaster response organizations who could bring bikes in along with water, medicines, tents and cooking supplies. The bikes could then be used as tools that facilitate disaster survivors being able to shape and guide the recovery process. I gave this 2 minute “Fast pitch” at Global Washington a few years ago about this model for integrating bikes into disaster response.
Here’s a description of how it could work:
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• You hear about a disaster event and feel a desire to help.
• You look select a Hub organization capable of taking your bike to a survivor of the disaster
• You learn which carrier can ship your bike and then
• You take your packaged bike to the service you chose and
• You pay for it to be sent to your selected Hub organization.
• Your bike arrives at the Hub organization’s location and
• They arrange for it to be taken to the disaster site and delivered to a survivor in need of transportation.
I’m sure there are other models out there, too. But in order to have a place to start the conversation about how bikes can be brought in earlier for use by survivors, we offer this idea. What do you think? What’s missing?

“Childhood and the Iconography of Emergencies”

I recently came across this academic journal article: “Innocents abroad: Western fantasies of childhood and the iconography of emergencies,” by Erica Burman.

Here are a few quotes from this 1994 piece in the Disasters journal.

  • “the use of the child in aid appeals repeats the colonial paternalism where the adult-Northerner offers help and knowledge to the infantilized-South”
  • “Within this imagery [of the distressed child]… ‘we’ are the competent donors; we have the power to ‘help’; ‘they’ are the helpless unfortunates.”
  • “Femininity and childish dependency are here collapsed to evoke sympathy. This reinforces assumptions of children’s passivity, and reproduces patriarchal relations, both within and between donor and recipient countries.”

Take a look at this article. There are some interesting insights to think about and incorporate.

Burman, Erica, (1994) “Innocents abroad: Western fantasies of childhood and the iconography of emergencies” from Disasters 18 (3) pp.238-253