I don’t think I can specifically recall the last time there was something other than “Syria” as the leading headline on Alertnet. I notice this because Alertnet is pretty much my first online stop of the day, pretty much every day. Sure, there are plenty of other things going on in the aid blogosphere. DAWNS and Humanosphere are excellent resources that keep my reader feed alive with the trendy topic of discussion du jour. And of course AidSource is a nearly never-ending source of scintillating conversation related to relief and development work. But as someone who deals with disaster response and humanitarian crises of various kinds as a full-time day job, there’s really no better source that I’ve found for getting at a glance what’s going on in the world that will probably affect my world in the near future than Alertnet. And for what seems like a really, really long time now, Alertnet has had a single story as its homepage headline:
I totally get where Ed Carr is coming from in his angst-ridden rant about students who don’t know there’s a famine on (more than one, actually), or why it matters. But the truth is I sort of gave up on ordinary citizens a couple of years ago. I make my living knowing about famines and massacres, Sphere standards and the nuances of humanitarian accountability. It’s not really fair to expect everyone on the street to have the level of knowledge and understanding that Ed or I do. The IT department, for example, exists precisely so that people like me don’t have to know all about IP address authentication or whatever. I’m sure they roll their eyes, too, when I show up time and time again, unable to make my computer do what it’s meant to do.
And so I suppose I’m not particularly surprised or perturbed that ordinary citizens, like Ed’s students, aren’t busily crunching the numbers on Syria and marching on the US Capitol demanding change, any more than they are hot and bothered about the famines currently ongoing around the world.
What does perturb me, however, is the absolutely pathetic – the less than pathetic reaction (it’s not even a response) by the global humanitarian community. I mean, for how many more concurrent weeks is Alertnet going to report the discovery of another town full of dead bodies, and the response simply be the UN or the ICRC or maybe a random French diplomat opining that the situation is ‘intolerable.’
Really? That’s all you got? That’s all we got?
Yes, I understand that the context is mind-numbingly complicated. I’m not at all saying that one side or the other is wholly pure. Nor am I suggesting that the members of the UN Security Council deploy troops and roll tanks.
But on the other hand, negotiations by the Chinese and the Russians are clearly not helping. Tens of civilians are being killed daily, sometimes hundreds in a week. Forgive my righteous outrage, but I have a hard time fathoming that we (the Whole World) are just sitting by and letting it happen, hiding behind the language of diplomacy.
This is pretty much how I feel:
In Washington DC there’s a Holocaust Museum. In Kigali there’s a Genocide Memorial Centre. In Phnom Penh there are the Toul Sleng Genocide Musem and the Killing Fields. In all of these places you pay admission to look at gruesome photographs or maybe actual human remains, hear stories that make you cringe or perhaps weep, and generally face head on the reality of the dark side of humanity. And at the end of each one you’re confronted with a (rightly) impassioned assertion that we need to never let it happen again. “Never again” is a phrase you see a lot.
Let’s remember that in each of those instances, among a great many others, they all went down in pretty much public view. The world sat by as we’re doing now, watched the numbers escalate, watched reporting new atrocities or massacres the day after, and still managed to have a hundred “good reasons” for not intervening.
I fear that in five years we’ll all look back that this period right now and shame ourselves for having done so pathetically little for those in Syria right now.