When Haiti was hit by the massive earthquake, I couldn’t help but feel that the poor always get picked on. Why choose an impoverished country that has been reeling from one political and economic disaster to another? Why take them out with an earthquake as well? This happens quite regularly in the developing world: never•ending famines in the Sahara, tsunamis in South Asia, terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq, floods in Bangladesh.
I tried to balance that scorecard with reported disasters in the developed world in the last decade: 9/11, drought in Australia, forest fires in California, Katrina in New Orleans, extreme winter in Europe in 2010, near•miss terrorist attacks on Christmas Day over the US. But somehow it does not balance out when the loss of human life is calculated. The “Third World,” as we once used to call these nations, is more fragile and exposed when disaster hits. And while the costs of infrastructure damage in the West may be greater (after all, the West had more infrastructure, that is why they are called “developed”) there are often more dead and homeless in the less affluent countries.
Is this the punishment for past or present sins? If that were so, doesn’t the rich commit as much sin as the poor, or do they get to position it better, or conceal it altogether, even from a divine deity?
I have tried to relate this to karma – the cycle of birth and death that leads to perfection. Are those in affluent countries further up the scale in this cycle and therefore insulated from the worst effects of these disasters, while their poorer cousins are less down in the hierarchy of suffering and death, and are therefore going through boot camp at the moment?
Or is the “big leveller”—the disaster to end all disasters, the end of the Mayan Calendar, 2012, the Rapture, call it what you will—still to come, when all these different levels of suffering will be of no consequence, when rich and poor will be left exposed for who we truly are before an impartial judge who will either reward or punish us for our deeds on earth?
I have no answers, except to say that as much as it hurts me to see tragedy hit our poor cousins, it also gives me a great high to stare at my TV screen, watching frantic rescue workers using their bare hands to move aside rubble to pull out a weak but smiling child from the earthquake’s carnage and then celebrating that puny victory. It tells me that as a species we still choose life, and that we will never be comfortable with and yield to the prospect of death without a fight, and that as long as we feel this way, mankind will continue to grow and live, irrespective of where on this planet we live. Survival is our great unifier.