Haiti: Natural disasters as celebrity image booster

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February 1, 2010

I am home safe from my relaxing and rejuvenating cruise around Haiti. Did something happen there?

Haiti. The new buzzword for the month of January. Maybe even February, if Haitians are lucky.

Hopefully you picked up on the sarcasm. I didn’t cruise to Haiti and hang out on the white sand beach with 200,000 dead people 60 miles away. However, some vacationers did and are still doing it despite the huge “shame on you” from the U.S. How about shame on all the wealthy cruise goers who’ve overfed themselves and snorkeled in one the poorest countries in the world without a pinch of guilt before the earthquake? Why should they feel guilty now?

I’ll tell you why. Because the disaster in Haiti has become the largest a public relations, philanthropic buzzword since the tsunami in Southeast Asia and the hurricane in New Orleans. Suddenly celebrities and companies have a new place to send oodles of tax-deductible money along with image-boosting warm fuzzy feelings again.

Now don’t get me wrong, if no one was doing anything for victims of this disaster I would be writing something entirely different. I think it’s great that people are recognizing their own privilege in the world and giving to those who have less. But it should not take a natural catastrophe to do that.

Celebrities were the first to jump on the relief wagon, as a whole giving millions of dollars to Haiti. Am I supposed to be impressed? I’m not going to hail any of them as saviors of Haiti when I know its buzzword-induced giving. Any disaster is an opportunity for celebrities to make themselves appear human and care about those less fortunate. Did any of them give a damn about Haiti before Jan. 12?

I thought the whole telethon was insulting. The corny line-up of songs with heartbreaking pictures of crying children made me more angry than sad. People everywhere know about the disaster in Haiti and what it looks like. Those with hearts and resources will help. Celebrities don’t have to sing “Lean On Me” and show people near death to get people to donate.

Everyone ate it up, though. $429 million was raised in one night. That money plus all the money already raised by citizens U.S. and other countries is probably more money Haiti has seen in its entire existence. It’s definitely enough money to sustain the country through rebuilding and make it a prosperous country in years to come, right?

We’ll see. Without any infrastructure or trusted government all this money could be wasted. Once it runs out and Haiti’s 15 minutes of disaster are up it could be back to pre-earthquake status or even worse.

A report from the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition found that the money given to Tsunami relief efforts had a number of positive effects but also “exceeded the absorption capacity of an overstretched humanitarian industry leading to wasted and inefficiency,” according to oregonlive.com.

Does this mean we shouldn’t give money to disaster relief efforts in Haiti? No way. I don’t want to sound like a particular uber-conservative radio personality who denied that Haitians deserve our support. We definitely should be helping these people in ways that protect and honor their dignity, but making use of all the money donated is equally important to Haitians as it is to those who donate. If the relief effort is handled properly, Haiti could be better off than it was before the earthquake.

I’m putting bets on how long the Haiti buzzword will last. Three more weeks maybe? I sincerely hope all the money will help re-build Haiti for the better even after its disaster fame fizzles.

If any good comes from this disaster it’s taking Lionel Richie off unemployment. He’s writing a “We Are The World,” Haiti version. Can’t wait to pick that up.


Haiti: Natural disasters as celebrity image booster was published on February 1, 2010 in Column, Opinions

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