Recently, Sean Penn was on the CNN news magazine program, AC360. Penn was on television to raise awareness for a cholera outbreak that has rapidly been spreading across earthquake-torn Haiti. To date, over 250 Haitians have been killed and 3,100 people have been sickened by the disease.
It is worth noting, that at this time the outbreak is still approximately 60 miles north of the capital of Port-Au-Prince – an extremely densely populated city with very poor water filtration. When cholera shows up there, the numbers of dead will skyrocket. It is also worth noting, that this kind of nightmare happens on a daily basis with little to no reaction from people who refer to themselves as "liberals" or progressives. So this kind of apathy is less than surprising.
But in Haiti we have a developing situation is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis – and it has all the makings of a humanitarian disaster.
Furthermore, as of this month, not even one cent of the United-States-pledged $1.15 billion that was supposed to help rebuild Haitian infrastructure (like water treatment plants that would prevent cholera contamination for example) has been spent.
But you probably didn’t even know this was a problem, did you? Foreign aid news seems to be dominated by speculation on when the next Gaza flotilla is going to try to force an unnecessary provocation with the Israeli Navy. Doubtless you have heard how there is a terrible “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza that needs to be solved with another dramatic confrontation with Israeli naval commandos.
However, if you type in disease outbreak gaza into a google search – the first response* talks about Haiti. Type in died of hunger gaza into a google search and the second response (the first hit is a link to the tragic death of two zebras in a Gaza zoo) is a link to the following quote from June 5, 2010 - less than a week after the initial flotilla incident:
"There is no starvation in Gaza," said Khalil Hamada, a senior official at Hamas's ministry of justice. "No-one has died of hunger."The esteemed Mr. Hamada’s statements are indeed grounded in fact.
With a population of 1.5 million people, Gaza receives approximately 16,000 tons of food aid per month. This means that if every individual living in territory received an equal share of the food aid allocation, they would receive about 16 pounds of free food every month.
Every single day, dozens of trucks that are full of foreign aid (including aid that is donated by Israelis) stream across the Gaza border crossings with the full assistance of the Israeli military.
This in itself should negate the mythical need for these needlessly provocative flotillas – but let’s take a look if these numbers even make sense.
Gaza is among the top 10 recipients of foreign food aid. Its closest neighbors in food benefits are Zimbabwe (17,000 tons of food), Somalia (19,000) and Afghanistan (19,000). On the surface this would appear to make sense since all of these places have rather serious poverty issues, right? Or worse, Gaza aid is even lagging behind! Hurry up and send another flotilla? Not so fast...
Here are some particularly relevant population statistics on those other countries:
Zimbabwe: 11.4 million people, Somalia: 9.8 million, Afghanistan: 28.4 million.
Source: CIA Factbook
This means that the average person living in Zimbabwe has access to less than three pounds of food per month, the average Somalian gets less than four pounds and the average Afghani must find some way to get by on a staggering 1.33 pounds of food. PER MONTH. Or to put it another way...
The average Gazan receives over 12,000% more food aid than the average Afghani.
Is this fair? Is this justice? And when you think of the scope of the tragedies that take place in these countries, the injustice of the situation becomes even clearer. Lest you think that these are just arbitrary numbers that have no correlation to the actual reality on the ground, check out the average life expectancy for these countries:
Zimbabwe: 45.8 years, Somalia: 49.6 years, Afghanistan: 44.4 years.
What is Gaza’s life expectancy? 73.4 years. For even more contrast, the life expectancy in Haiti (even prior to the disastrous earthquake) is only 60.8 years.
Want more contrasts? Check out some of the other countries whose life expectancies are WORSE than Gaza's:
That's right, the life expectancy in the tourist paradise of the Bahamas is 69.9 - a full three and a half years WORSE than in the "besieged" Gaza Strip.
Free the Bahamas! Save Atlantis! Oh wait, it might be a little late for that...
And how about little irony thrown into the mix? The chief antagonist against Israel and organizer of these flotillas has been the NATO-member and recent EU-reject - Turkey. Guess where they rank in the life expectancy game? 71.9 years.
Well, luckily for Turkey they are better off than the hopelessly oppressed people of the Bahamas but still BELOW the elite fatcats of Gaza. Maybe the Turks should put the fire out in their own backyard before looking to start fires elsewhere?
Source: CIA Factbook
Or at least they could look to help people that are worse off than them, like the Haitians - who as we've already established are about to deal with an imminent health catastrophe.
To make it crystal clear: HAITI is in a state of EMERGENCY - GAZA is NOT.
Furthermore Haiti is not currently governed by Hamas, a group that is an internationally recognized terrorist organization. Nor does the Haitian government make a habit of hijacking foreign aid shipments, selling them on the black market and then using the money to buy weapons that will be fired indiscriminately into civilian population centers, used to infringe on the rights of women and conduct violent purges of political enemies – as Hamas has a proven track record of doing.
So perhaps another flotilla IS in order...
However, the destination should not be Gaza where at best it will only be used for political purposes and at worst will actually be used to further oppress the very people it claims to want to help. Instead, let's send a flotilla to the perpetually tragic population of Haiti (or Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, etc) where the situation is truly dire and the people have been neglected for decades.
To focus our attention on Hamas propaganda at their expense and continue dumping aid to people whose own "leaders" say don't need it, would be an injustice of the highest order. And we will have no one but ourselves to blame for the results.
For information on donating to Haitian relief efforts (and others) click here.
*UPDATE: As of now this blog entry is actually the first response on google.
That's what I think...what's YOUR reaction?
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