On Sunday, October 9, President Obama signed a disaster declaration for the state of Florida, clearing up federal funds to aid in cleanup and recovery efforts for the state. Hurricane Matthew battered the state over the weekend, and people evacuated coastal areas en masse. But though there was certainly damage in Florida, Haiti took the worst beating from the storm.
With over 400 deaths and massive damage, many Internet users were surprised at the lack of response from social media outlets such as Facebook, which has previously provided flag filters for profile pictures as a show of solidarity to areas affected by natural disasters or attacks. Consider research paper topics on disaster preparedness, natural disaster response or what some users have considered a lack of concern social media shows for poorer, non-white nations in distress.
Hurricane Matthew: Disaster preparedness
“Hurricane Matthew’s effects will be felt across the Caribbean and into the US, but with a lack of resources, storm mitigation strategies, and information distribution, no communities will feel those effects more than poor communities both at home and abroad,” wrote Rowena Lindsay in her Christian Science Monitor article, “Hurricane Matthew: Strongest Hurricane to Hit Haiti in a Generation,” posted October 5, 2016. Lindsay noted that poor communities in remote areas struggle to evacuate when dangerous natural disasters approach. Worse, after a storm, poor communities struggle more with recovery.
Megan Howe, writing for BBC News in the October 7, 2016, article “Hurricane Matthew: How are Haiti and Florida coping?” made some comparisons on how the state and small Caribbean nation prepared for the storm.
Florida held mass evacuations, with rerouted traffic to enable residents to get clear of the most dangerous areas. Haiti also held some evacuations, but due to the damage from the 2010 earthquake and subsequent damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, much of the necessary infrastructure for evacuations and communication is still not in place.
- In Florida, the storm caused 600,000 people to lose power. More than 22,000 people were housed in state provided shelters during the storm. In Haiti, some of the hardest hit areas included the town of Jeremie, in which 80% of the buildings were destroyed.
- In Florida, there has been a tremendous loss of electricity, and some homes may have been destroyed. In Florida, over 400 people were killed by the storm, and three people were reported infected with cholera as a result of the storm damage as of Howe’s article.
- President Obama communicated with Florida Governor Rick Scott and other governors in southeastern states before the hurricane to discuss disaster preparedness. He released federal funds to Florida in two disaster declarations: one before, and one after the storm. In Haiti, much of the aid is coming from NGOs, as the government is responding slowly, leaving many to fend for themselves.
Facebook’s lack of concern
Given the tremendous amount of damage to Haiti, and its continual beating by natural disasters since 2010, why hasn’t Facebook released a flag filter as a show of support? According to a popularly reposted opinion article in Ebony by Neffer Kerr, “So… Where’s the ‘Pray for Haiti’ Facebook Filter?” published October 6, 2016, it has everything to do with race. “Let’s talk facts for a minute. Between 1791 and 1804, Haitian slaves rose up and rebelled. They used their belief systems and religion as motivation and solidarity to overthrow the French. This was the only successful slave revolt and ever since then, they have been treated like the scourge of the world,” Kerr wrote.
The idea of Haiti being cursed goes back as far as Thomas Jefferson, who was concerned that the successful slave revolt would negatively impact the American economy. That superstition was reinforced by an image of Hurricane Matthew over Haiti that Weather Channel Senior Meteorologist Stu Ostro promoted as having the appearance of a skull. Looking into the negative stereotypes about Haiti that persist in the media, especially in light of the damage the nation has taken from Hurricane Matthew and other storms, or analyzing how the lack of infrastructure makes disaster response difficult for governments or NGOs would make interesting research paper topics.
What do you think could be done to improve natural disaster response in Haiti? Tell us in the comments.