WASHINGTON – Tsunami. Hurricane. Earthquake. Since 2004,the world has endured natural disasters leaving entire areas flattened and flooded with hundreds of thousands left homeless,injured or dead.
The Indian Ocean Tsunami struck Indonesia Dec. 26,2004. Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas in August 2005.
Now Haiti continues to make headlines after the earthquake that struck a month ago.
While each instance was a different natural disaster occurring in a different part of the world,these historic tragedies are not as different as one may think. A new theory links the tsunami,hurricane and earthquake to climate change.
Researchers discussing “Climate Forcing of Geological and Geomorphological Hazards” at a London conference in September concluded that even slight climate change can affect the earth's crust.
“It suggests climate change could tip the planet's delicate balance and unleash a host of geological disasters,” Deputy News Editor Richard Fisher wrote about the conference in New Scientist Magazine.
Hurricanes were previously linked to climate change,while other disasters were not,said Anthony Penna,professor emeritus of environmental history at Northeastern University.
Penna has written books about the environment and is writing a book about the history of natural disasters.
The rise in ocean temperature in the Gulf of Mexico is thought to have strengthened Hurricane Katrina because the water was warmer than usual,about 80 degrees,Penna said.
Now the increased intensity of earthquakes and tsunamis,which are caused by underwater earthquakes,are thought to be a direct result to climate change.
“There is a body of research data that suggests not that it's not just the warming of waters,but as glaciers melt,they dump more water in oceans globally,” Penna said. “The added weight from the oceans is causing the faults to become more active.”
According to a 2008 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report,the sea level has risen more than a foot in the last century and is expected to rise 1 to 3 feet along the Atlantic Coast in the next century.
The Jan. 12 earthquake was the third in Haiti in 250 years along the fault where the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates meet.
“If,in fact,the added weight by melting glaciers is actually contributing to earthquakes,then we're going to see more of them,” Penna said. “We're going to learn more about it in the future. Unfortunately what we're going to learn is from more quakes.”
As aid continues to pour into Haiti,the country will begin to rebuild.
Even after five or six years,however,New Orleans and Indonesia are still not 100 percent recovered,and some question the amount of U.S. support given to victims of foreign disasters.
Recording artist Lil Wayne spoke to reporters earlier this month while recording a remake for the 25th anniversary of “We are the World” for Haiti relief.
“I think it's amazing what's been done for Haiti,but I also think it's amazing what hasn't been done for New Orleans,” he said.
In September 2005,Congress authorized $62.3 billion for victims of Hurricane Katrina,and former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush raised money privately. The former presidents headed a similar effort after the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia. Now the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund is collecting donations for Haiti.
President George W. Bush initially pledged $350 million to tsunami relief and expanded it to $950 million for reconstruction and rebuilding.
In January,President Barack Obama pledged $100 million in addition to sending troops for Haiti relief. Much of aid has gone through non-governmental organizations.
Randy Strash,World Vision U.S. strategy director for emergency response,said donations varied between Indonesia and the Haiti relief due to outside factors.
The tsunami struck during the last week of a tax year,and Haiti's earthquake occurred during a recession.
Obama signed legislation Jan. 22 to make it easier to give. Donors may deduct gifts for earthquake relief given by March 1 on their 2009 tax returns.
The average World Vision donation for the tsunami was $190,and the average donation for Haiti so far is $130,Strash said.
While average donations were smaller,total donations to World Vision for Haiti are 5.5 percent higher than for the tsunami,he said.
Strash attributes this to new methods of collecting donations through texts and social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
“I think we're getting younger donors and smaller donations,” Strash said. “I guess the big question is will it sustain?”
Donations to Save the Children were 15 percent higher for tsunami relief than for Haiti,said Eileen Burke,director of media and communications.
In the first 10 days after the disasters,Haiti relief received $11.9 million compared to $13.9 million for the tsunami.
Burke said she also saw a change in the way people give,mainly through social networking sites and online.
World Vision did not respond to domestic disasters when Katrina struck but raised $12 million for its victims.
Save the Children did not start fundraising for Katrina until several days after the disaster struck,raising $1.5 million in first 10 days.
Save the Children has since developed a domestic disaster plan.
Still,the current donation focus is geared toward Haiti. After a month,more aid is still needed.
“Even before the earthquake,Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,” Presidential Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' said in a Feb. 12 statement,stressing the U.S. would work with the Haitian government. “Today,the need for food,shelter,medical supplies and basic security is enormous,and the coming rainy season will pose new challenges.”
Flattened homes,crying children,piles of dead – photographs,videos and articles about the disaster in Haiti informed the world of just how devastating the situation is.
Raymond Joseph,Haiti's ambassador to the U.S.,said at a recent press conference here that Haiti will soon fall off the front pages,but he hopes people and media will remember Haitians as they rebuild.
Some believe media coverage has gone too far.
Frank R. Gunter,associate professor of economics at Lehigh University,said media coverage of Haiti has become “pornographic.”
“We know there's a terrible disaster. At some point it's just excessive,” Gunter said of photos from Haiti displaying graphic images of injury,death and nudity with victims' faces clearly in focus. “There's no sense of privacy.”
Reporters traveling to Haiti take up room on planes that could have been used for aid,and they consume food and water needed by the disaster victims,Gunter said.
“Yes,we need 300 but do we really need 1,000?” he asked.
Gunter was in the Marine Corps and was deputy director of the coalition coordination center during tsunami relief in Indonesia. He said the amount of media covering the tsunami was less than that in Haiti.
“Not everyone was carrying around a cell phone with a camera. We were not as wired in. Not so true anymore,” he said. “Everyone has a cell phone. Everyone can put them on the Internet. It's worse than in the tsunami.”
Joan Deppa,associate professor of communication at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications,is the author of “The Media and Disasters: Pan Am 103” and an expert on disaster coverage and crisis communications. She said she disagrees that the media is overexposing the situation in Haiti.
“To cover down there is extremely hard work. There's no place to stay and be comfortable during the days on the field,” Deppa said. “If you win a Pulitzer for this coverage,you've earned it.”
Still,the media has made mistakes,she said.
When it came to Hurricane Katrina,the media started labeling “survival behavior” such as raiding grocery stores for bread as “looting,” Deppa said.
When individuals and civil rights organizations pointed out the misuse of the word,the media stopped using it,she said.
Deppa said she was surprised the same mistake is being made in Haiti. She said the language barrier may be the reason no one in Haiti has pointed out the mistake.
“You have to understand that the news media,when they are in that kind of a situation,they are trying to make sense out of something,and it's easy to get caught up in stereotypes,” she said. “But once you show them that they are wrong,they'll stop doing the wrong information.”
The media's job is to inform the public,and after disasters such as Hurricane Katrina,the media that put pressure on the government and spurred the public to donate money and time to rebuild,Deppa said.
“Seems to me that is an extraordinary service that the media is doing and really doing for the whole world,” she said.
Joseph called for a moment of silence at the press conference in honor of the 23 journalists who died while covering the Haiti disaster. As a former journalist,he said he approves of the Haiti coverage and hopes for more.
“Media has done a really good job,” Joseph said. “Hopefully there will be people digging up stories in the next months and even years.”