Reading #Harvey through a #globaldev lens

In 2013 I posted some readings that I found particularly helpful in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan that struck the Philippines.
Many articles are still relevant in the current situation with Harvey and the flooding in the South of the United States.
But there are also new, relevant articles that have started to link Harvey to broader questions of international development and humanitarian aid and that are interesting food for thought in 'our' industry.

So I just start an annotated special link review and will add readings as I come across them-and please feel free to highlight interesting readings in the comments or on Twitter!

Epic Floods — Not Just In Texas — Are A Challenge For Aid Groups

Anzalone: For better or for worse, when people look at the U.S. response system, we have a very mature federal disaster response system, starting with FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency]. It's a machine. Immediately before landfall of Hurricane Harvey, the governor of Texas requested aid for long-term recovery projects.
You don't see that in Nepal, Bangladesh or India. In Nepal and Bangladesh, the government simply doesn't have the resources. There is no tax base to support that robust response and recovery system. Their process to rebuild is complicated by underlying development issues that are inherent in those countries.
Malaka Gharib for NPR Goats and Soda interviews Jono Anzalone, vice president of international services at the American Red Cross, and he stresses the differences between developing countries' and American responses to humanitarian disasters. Great starting point for a discussion on how different systems really are...

The Red Cross Won’t Save Houston

Some people get personally offended by talk like this. They are seeing pain, they are being generous, and they hope it might help—just like I did watching the pictures from Indonesia from my cubicle years ago. The people suffering in this storm deserve all of that and more. But what you learn when you really dive into these situations is that momentary intentions, no matter how kind, are not enough—not on this scale. Those past, ineffective, and opaque disaster responses, from Haiti to New Jersey to the Gulf Coast, have created a legacy of mistrust, not only of the Red Cross but of the entire humanitarian aid apparatus its iconic brand represents. We can’t afford to do that again.
Jonathan Katz for Slate is critical of traditional approaches to disaster response, especially involving the American Red Cross, and highlights important insights from previous disaster responses in developing countries.
His book on post-earthquake Haiti, The Big Truck that went by, is still an important book to understand the limitations of the humanitarian system.

Google’s surprising choice for Hurricane Harvey donations

“People want their money used in real time,” said the senior aid worker. “That’s what killed the Red Cross in Haiti. They were sitting on tens of millions of dollars years later.”
A disaster fundraising expert gave a mixed reaction. He said that Google was showing a “welcome sign of belated humility”, by not attempting to pick how to spend the money itself. Familiar with the work of CDP, the expert said they were “sensible folk”, and the use of an intermediary made sense. However, he also questioned the charity’s capacity and its experience to handle the expenditure and monitoring of “quite significant” sums of money. The expert noted that many disaster relief groups had tried and failed to form fundraising relationships with Google and there may be some “sour grapes” among them.
The senior aid worker agreed, adding that other NGOs will be wondering: “Are you serious? Center for Disaster Philanthropy got the button on Google?!”
Ben Parker for IRIN. As the tweets below indicate this is an evolving story about big data, bit tech and new/old forms of humanitarian engagement in the digital age of philanthrocapitalism...

Melania Trump Rocks Flawless Emergency Aid Look En Route to Texas
Melania Trump has bravely opted to survey the Harvey damage in aviator sunglasses, a flawless blowout, a silky olive green bomber jacket with what appears to be limited water repellant capabilities, and actual stilts. The president, meanwhile, has had his khakis pressed in preparation for a light drizzle on the golf course. I am trying to imagine something less appropriate and cannot, although something will surely happen tomorrow to give me new ideas.
Ellie Shechet for Jezebel's The Slot. Disaster response always involves a celebrity element, especially when said celebrities travel to 'the field'...

Update 31 August

Melania Trump, Off to Texas, Finds Herself on Thin Heels
But to dismiss all this as merely much ado about heels, or an example of the pettiness of our divided electorate, is to ignore the reality of the current conversation around the president — to pretend not to notice how sensitized everyone has become to his unpredictable reactions to major events, and to deny the power of the telling detail to invite applause, condemnation or misinterpretation.
It is precisely the superficial nature of clothing, the fact that garments are immediately accessible to all, that makes them the go-to stand-in for more nuanced, complicated emotions and issues.
Vanessa Friedman for New York Times Fashion & Style with a more sophisticated analysis of the President's trip to Texas.

When disaster relief brings anything but relief

The thinking is that these people have lost everything, so they must NEED everything. So people SEND everything. You know, any donation is crazy if it's not needed. People have donated prom gowns and wigs and tiger costumes and pumpkins, and frostbite cream to Rwanda, and used teabags, 'cause you can always get another cup of tea.
CBS News features NPR's Scott Simon with yet another important #SWEDOW reminder: Do not send your unwanted stuff to people who suffered through a humanitarian crisis! This classic post by J. needs no further introduction:

Update 1 September
Melania Trump and the Chilling Artifice of Fashion

That’s what models — and in this case also presidents — do: They inhabit anonymously temporary, unreal worlds born of the realm of luxury logo goods. The devastation in Houston is a tragedy, but so too is this administration’s blank, model’s stare — its mirrored shades in the face of human sorrows. This is not just about fashion. It’s about the urgency of recognizing a certain genre of hypnotizing, dehumanizing spell, and snapping ourselves out of it.
Rhonda Garelick for The, the Trump visit to Texas unleashes some serious pop-cultural reflections on fashion, privilege and disaster tourism!

Hurricane versus Monsoon

Did the rest of the world's media do a little better at keeping an eye on Asia?
So far, the GDELT data suggests that non-American media have kept up some coverage of the Asian flooding, despite throwing resources at the Harvey story.
The gap here is smaller – when Harvey was drenching Texas, it got three or four times as much coverage as the Asian disaster.
Ben Parker for IRIN with another interesting story and graphs on how global disaster media coverage is spread unequally.

Update 5 September
A tale of two cities: flooding in Houston and Mumbai – time to learn?
In Houston’s, as in Mumbai’s case, experts point to deficiencies in land use planning and governance as being partly responsible for the outcome of the disaster. As India and other parts of the world rapidly urbanise, these events signal the urgent need for a transformative agenda in urban planning and governance. They also provide an opportunity to learn and incorporate lessons, so that growing cities can avoid costly mistakes. The extent of rainfall cannot be controlled, but responses and management of it certainly can.
Hans Nicolai Adam, Lyla Mehta & D. Parthasarathy for IDS with an important reminder that challenges of urbanisation, planning and policy deserve more attention in growing urban areas.

Headlines of Harvey

Hope and reassurance come to mind. But perhaps more than these is that spirit, the one Texans reportedly have in spades, the one that sits not in a briefcase or in a convoy full of water bottles but in a bar, shelter or church full of people. It also sits in and is inspired by headlines and stories and Tweets across the media machine. It is a manufactured swell and it is vital to crisis response. Which raises the question, what happens when there is no such inspirational headline, where 99% of the story reinforces a swell of helpless incompetence or the hope that rescue will come in the form of a foreign intervention?
A lot of interesting food for thought in Marc DuBois' short post! I agree with some of Marc's point about the general representations of helplessness versus a stronger focus on how people cope and hopefully build back better. And yet, there is a part of this very North American 'hero narrative' that I am less comfortable with. Narratives of coping and hope often go hand in hand with depoliticizing humanitarian challenges: Harvey was a 'natural disaster' and now we join forces to rebuild like we always have in America!
The risk is that it relives the political-administrative apparatus from a lot of responsibility-this is not about the impact of climate change, zoning laws or weak environmental protection frameworks that support the petrol-chemical industrial complex. 'Natural disasters' happen-and there is nothing 'we' can do about them-other than rolling up 'our' sleeves and rebuild. I guess in the end this is about a magic way to communicate complex narratives: Some people are poor, helpless and are exposed to risks disproportionately and the challenge is to address deep-rooted inequalities while rebuilding communities. On the other hand, a lot of coping takes place locally-without government support or the global humanitarian aid machinery and the question is how media, policy-makers or global aid organization can cooperate better with them.

Update 11 September
Toronto: George Clooney Says "Houston Is Syria" Post-Hurricane Harvey

"It's going to take a long time ... and we'll all have to be involved, because Houston is Syria," (...).
"People in Houston are now refugees based on something that had nothing to do with them. They didn't do anything. They're now victims and they're out of their homes and they will be suffering for a very long time," he added.
Etan Vlessing for the Hollywood Reporter. Clooney says a few smart things in the interview as well, but comparing the war in Syria with the situation in Texas post-Harvey just does not end up and does a disservice to the complicated issues around 'refugees'...

Update 21 September
A very timely reminder from CGDev's Jeremy Konyndyk that giving cash is almost always a good idea in humanitarian situations around the globe!


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