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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Lessons from Haiyan for Stephen Harper and Rob Ford

If you haven't heard, the Philippines has been devastated by typhoon Haiyan.  Some 10,000 died as a result of the initial onslaught, but that is only the beginning.  It won't be long before the after-effects of the storm - disease, starvation, violence bred from desperation - begin to swell the numbers of Haiyan's victims.  In fact, an each-man-for-himself mentality is already taking hold, with people looting and fighting over what limited resources there are.

The Government of the Philippines is in no way up to the task of managing this crisis.  Left to fend for themselves, things would only get worse.  Fortunately for them, the UN and international partners, including Canada, are stepping in to offer much needed help.  Thanks to forward-thinking planning, we have well-trained, well-equipped professionals able to strike out for crisis zones at a moment's notice. 

We also have an amazing, scalable emergency management framework that is becoming an international norm.  Shared practises, terminology and professionalism are allowing Crisis Response personnel from across the country and around the world to work seamlessly, efficiently and quickly in tandem.  

Relatively new to the disaster relief game are online coordination platforms like Ushahidi that allow real-time, multi-level coordination between assets, logistics and needs.  It's amazing, really - one system can connect a concerned citizen writing a cheque in Argentina to Red Cross resources landing at a port to US military personnel on the ground in any disaster zone, anywhere in the world.  Some entrepreneurial leaders are even re-purposing war vets into disaster relief teams, ensuring they have meaningful work that harnesses their skill sets and accomplishes good.

It's great to see new parks being built in Toronto - everyone loves a ribbon cutting, especially the governments who want nice, visible wins to sell come election time.  But the DVP is a problem still in need of a long-term solution.  The recent flooding has raised questions of just how prepared we are for the next disaster; there are still public buildings in this city without emergency lighting and with mold issues caused by the water damage.

Federally, we have a government that attacks both public servants and the information sharing process with gusto.  Leaders like Rob Ford and Stephen Harper are selling the message that the governments of which they are the leaders are oppressive creatures to be starved, rather than connective tissue that allows for circulation of resources.  Among those poor sods who feel their jobs of proactively trying to prevent the next Danzig, or the spread of infectious disease or even ensure we have sound infrastructure for the vulnerable are vital, morale is low.

One has to ask - if Canada were to face a natural cataclysm of similar scale to a Haiyan or even a Katrina, and if it were to strike more than one jurisdiction at a time - how prepared are we to manage it?  When we have leaders that are staunchly anti-society, who would the people rally behind and look to for inspiration when disaster strikes?

There is no economic reason why Canada should be expending resources in the Philippines; they're not major trading partners, we stand little to gain from supporting them.  On humanitarian grounds, though, it's the right thing to do.  There's also this little thing where, when we proactively assist others in their time of need, those acts of altruism build confidence and appreciation that can be reciprocated in things like bilateral free trade agreements or help should we ever face similar consequences.

We can play the populist card, appealing to the selfish instincts of society.  We can pillory all opponents or even potential opponents, clearing the landscape of opposition.  We can cut corners and bend rules behind the scenes in ways few residents will notice, until the aggregate fractures of these actions come to light.

But that's the approach that has landed both Rob Ford and Stephen Harper in the messes they face right now.

These, then, are the lessons Canadian leaders should take from Haiyan:

All of these can be summed up in one neat, tidy phrase - do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It's not a new message, but one we'd do well to remember; after all, those who forget yesterday's lessons are doomed to repeat yesterday's mistakes - and pay the consequences for them.

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