On January 12th, news of an earthquake in Haiti captured the headlines. The earthquake was large, at magnitude 7.0, but the damage was massive. It's difficult to comprehend the loss of life and the toll of suffering. Over 200,000 people died, untold numbers were left homeless, and the country's infrastructure, primitive before the earthquake, was destroyed. It's understandable that news of the quake and subsequent aid efforts dominated the headlines for many days. Until the next earthquake, that is.
The monster quake that hit Chile on February 27th, magnitude 8.8, has now supplanted Haiti's quake in the headlines. This is also understandable. The immediate crisis has passed in Haiti and the country is now engaged in the long slog toward some semblance of normal life. In Haiti, that means subsistence living, but at least with a roof overhead. In Chile, the terrible wounds opened by the earth are still raw. People still alive are trapped in buildings and aftershocks continue to occur.
What's really shocking, though, is how quickly one disaster displaces another. This is one of the effects of living in a global village. We learn of events everywhere on the globe within minutes and can see vivid images of horrendous damage. Just within the last week, the world has witnessed destructive floods on the island of Madeira, hurricane force winds and floods in southwest France and other parts of Europe, and finally the catastrophic earthquake in Chile.
The images of the Madeira floods were astonishing and heartrending. You could literally see cars being swept away. Although I don't know anyone who lives in Madeira, I could imagine the terror residents must have felt. When I first heard news of the extreme weather in France, I worried about my French cousins, but was relieved to learn they live far away from the worst-hit areas. Now, watching tv coverage of the Chilean earthquake, I can only guess at the panic and confusion people there are experiencing.
The world is a dangerous place. Bad things happen everywhere, along with the myriad good things that receive less attention from the media. It's easy to become overwhelmed by the footage of so many natural disasters, not to mention the news reports of man-made conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
In the wake of the most recent cataclysms, I'm still trying to wrap my mind around what happened in Haiti. I've started reading Tracy Kidder's book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, about the efforts of American doctor Paul Farmer to bring modern medicine to Haiti. I hope to learn more about Haiti, so I might better understand the challenges it faces in the wake of the earthquake. But reading about Farmer's work also reminds me that one antidote to feeling overwhelmed in the face of so much adversity may be to find a particular problem that interests you and focus on making a difference, one person at a time.