Friday, January 15, 2010

There but for the Grace of God...

I've been watching the nearly non-stop coverage of the disaster in Haiti's capital of Port au Prince.

Under the best of circumstances, in a place where we expect earthquakes as one of the prices we pay for living in "the best place on earth," an earthquake is a horrible, terrifying thing. I should know; I went through the Sylmar earthquake (6.6 on the Richter Scale) on February 9, 1971, and it took me years to get over that event. However, everything got rebuilt, in many cases stronger/more earthquake resistant, and I've managed to miss all the other big earthquakes--I was in Southern California when Loma Prieta happened in 1989, and I was living in the Bay Area when the 1994 Northridge Earthquake (16 years ago Sunday) occurred. Even then, it was more inconvenience than actual hardship. Yes, the electricity was spotty. Yes, it was frightening when the aftershocks happened. But we had running water, plenty of food, and we got through it.

The people of Haiti, on the best day, don't have all the advantages of living in a wealthy country, much less the richest country in the world. Eighty percent of Haiti--the second-oldest independent country in the Western Hemisphere and the only country in the Western Hemisphere to kick Emperor Napoleon's butt--lives below the poverty line, and 78% of Haitians live on less than $2/day. The last time a major earthquake hit Haiti, it was a plantation-filled colony of the French, and the US was just beginning to talk about how King George II was abusing his American colonies. Haiti is a land completely unprepared for a major earthquake, which hit on Tuesday afternoon.

It's bad. It's really bad, and this was only a 7.0--the same magnitude that could so easily occur on the many faults that cross the San Francisco Bay Area like lacework. The earthquake that struck Haiti could have so easily struck San Francisco or the East Bay, destroying homes, schools, and lives. The estimates are (at 7:00 pm PST) that 150,000-200,000 people lost their lives, and that nearly 3 million people are hurt, homeless, and hungry. For a country that has only a population of 9 million, that's a lot of suffering.

We are a wonderful group of people. We argue, we fight, but when somebody is suffering, we step up and become the most wonderful, generous people around. I've seen this happen time after time after time after time. We open our hearts, our homes, and our wallets, no matter how thin, to help those who have even less and are suffering. And right now, the people of Haiti are suffering.

So, how can we help? Right now, the biggest need is for money. Plain old American dollars. Dollars buy the medical supplies to suture cuts, set broken bones, stop the pain. Dollars buy bottled water, food, and tents to provide shelter. Dollars help organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, and the International Red Cross to get aid to where it's needed. I've put a bunch of links to different relief organizations at the end of this post. In some cases, it's as easy as sending a text message. I don't normally do this, but please give what you can, because there, but for the grace of God, could be any of us.

Haitian Earthquake Relief

American Red Cross Haitian Earthquake Relief
--Make a $10 donation by texting HAITI to 90999

The Clinton Foundation
--Make a $10 donation by texting HAITI to 20222

Compassion International
--Make a $5 donation by texting DISASTER to 90999

International Rescue Committee

--Make a $5 donation by texting HAITI to 25383

Salvation Army
--Make a $10 donation by texting HAITI to 52000

The United Nations Foundation

--Make a $5 donation by texting CERF to 90999

The United Way
--Make a $5 donation by texting HAITI to 864833

Yele Foundation
--Make a $5 donation by texting YELE to 501501