HELP! Media Campaigns, Social Consciousness, UN in, NGOs in, Help in… Cholera in.
This linear chain of causes and effects shows the unfortunate sequence of events that occurred in Haiti starting with the earthquake of January 12, 2010, continuing with humanitarian intervention and ending with the cholera outbreak that is still taking lives today. By looking at this scheme one might assume that it was initially the media that led to cholera. This is, however, an incorrect thinking process.
Philip Gourevitch wrote ‘Alms Dealers’, where he argues that humanitarian organizations simply lead to disasters. In fact, his argument seems to overlook all of the achievements of these organizations, making it seem a reductionist model. Nonetheless, the destructive potential of these organizations is real and can be observed in action today in Haiti where the current but non-conclusive evidence suggests the UN’s fault in bringing cholera during the earthquake intervention.
As Gourevitch suggests these humanitarian disasters are a consequence of the humanitarian organization's ‘untouchability’. Taking from Polman, he writes that these organizations “manage to take credit without accepting the blame” and as long as these organizations use aid as an “alibi” for intervention their work will remain unquestioned and these disasters will ensue. In fact, in Haiti, although the evidence seems to point to the fault of the UN, the mother aid organization has not yet stepped up to take the blame, albeit, even this would prevent it from causing future damages. This is because the concept of untouchability lies in our idealized view of these organizations, which enables them to demand aid support unquestionably, with no break, and leads to the humanitarian cycle of disaster.
Earthquake in, Need Aid! Help in. Cholera in, Need Aid! Help in…
Although it is not the ‘fault’ of the media that cholera was sparked in Haiti, they did allow for it to happen through their blind support of the aid organizations by uncritically portraying the sobbing, desperate, big-eyed, babies in a call of guilt. However, we must ask Gourevitch, and ourselves, about the other option: leaving the earthquake disaster on the margins (like what happened in Rwanda) and as a result bring less aid and less support in a scenario of deaths, chaos and desperation? I don’t believe this to be a viable option. As for the UN, however, there is much that could have been done in retrospect, starting with diagnosing their workers before entering the field.
It is this that the media must address. It is by exposing the faults of humanitarian organizations and thus constructively destructing the “non-ideology of ideology” that a humanitarian ‘equilibrium’ may be achieved. Thus, the media must act as a ‘break’ to these humanitarian organizations and bring pressure to act responsibly. While Gourevitch maintained that humanitarian organizations have impunity, it is good to remind ourselves of the power of the media to undermine the legitimacy and authority of institutions, including the humanitarian ones.
Just as it was a journalist who led to the era of humanitarianism by effectively sparking social consciousness towards universal moral values, it is only the media that can raise social awareness on the faults of humanitarian organizations and the real difficulties involved in their a task. For this to happen the media must not fear claiming for development and when necessary to constructively criticize the ways in which it is taken forward.
Cholera! Media Campaigns, Social Consciousness, Help in!
UN-Cholera! Constructive Criticism, Social Awareness. UN Equilibrium.