A friend told me a story at dog park this morning that on its face sounds painfully callous. A year or so back, he recalled, another friend of his was working in a medical clinic in Haiti; the conditions were horrible, the population painfully poor. As my friend related this morning, his doctor buddy said these words: "I hate to say it, but maybe what this country needs is a huge natural disaster. That way, the rest of the world might wake up to how bad things are here."
The doctor's point, of course, wasn't that he wanted a major loss of life or property. Instead, he was pointing to the desperate conditions in a country in which the literacy rate is sub-50% and the vast majority of citizens live below the poverty line; a place right in America's backyard where millions of people wake up each morning with no hope of a better future.
So, what to do. The images from Haiti are indelible and we, as caring people, are pouring millions in relief aid to the needy there. CNN will be covering the crisis wall-to-wall and we'll be watching as good news slowly emerges and the relief efforts and rebuilding start to take hold. Crisis relief will, in fits and starts, work.
But as our attention turns elsewhere, as it inevitably does, will we miss the real issue? That long-term, systemic poverty is a chronic condition, not a crisis-triggered one. Six months or a year from now, will most of the world again turn its attention away from the chance to help those in dire need of opportunity?
The people of Haiti need immediate relief, but then they need business loans, education, a better medical system and more. I'm hoping this crisis helps us see that.