On a recent trip to Haiti to conduct program monitoring and evaluation, I was taken aback by the statement of a woman who was forced to relocate due to the 2010 earthquake. When asked why she continues to attend HIV/AIDS education programs, her response was “…because I was promised a house and money”. Upon further interaction with the woman, I learned that she was told by a responding aid organization that she would be given a house and money to help her recover. Hearing her comment, I was left to question whether or not the responsibility of post-disaster recovery is made clear and rightly shared.
I very much support the massive global response to environmental disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and the recent 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. As a global community, we share the tremendous responsibility of assisting each other with disaster recovery efforts. Regardless of the disaster, we donate money, time, technical assistance, and other resources to countries in need, either because we are expected to do so or because we are emotionally impelled to assist; whichever is the case, we manage to step up to the plate to provide recovery assistance.
But at what point should disaster recovery become more of the effected country’s responsibility than that of assisting countries? As we overwhelmingly respond to disasters, we forget to remind countries that emergency assistance they receive is only temporary and as citizens, it is they and their governments who are ultimately responsible for recovery efforts and long-term reconstruction. Donors and disaster response agencies should refrain from promising and or providing long-term resources for disaster recovery, doing so may potentially create an environment which citizens and country governments do not take initiative and responsibility for long-term recovery efforts, further handicapping the people’s ability to recover from future disasters.
In a perfect world, country citizens and their governments do not wait for handouts from donors and other countries, but instead, respond to disasters with pride for their country and support of one another. We all should work towards a perfect world.
Ibrahim Kargbo is a Master of Public Health student at George Mason University.