NEWSWEEK: You’ve noted that the relief effort so far has been overly militarized. Given that the military is responsible for coordinating much of the aid, why do you think that’s inappropriate?
KLEIN: It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Every day that people are not receiving food, it becomes harder to maintain order. What we’re hearing from U.N. and aid agencies is that they’re afraid of going out without military escort. And what we just saw during the quake is that some foreign investors had their own parallel privatized disaster infrastructure. Citigroup sent in private-security SWAT teams equipped with medical supplies and satellite phones to save their people, but not their neighbors. That’s dehumanizing. Aid should be prioritized over security. Any aid agency that’s afraid of Haitians should get out of Haiti.
In his narrow, malicious way, Pat Robertson is making a First Commandment argument: when the God of Israel thunders from his mountaintop that “you shall have no other gods before me,” he means it. This God rains down disaster—floods and so forth—on those who disobey.
But Robertson’s is a fundamentalist view. It’s so unkind and self-righteous—and deaf, dumb, and blind to centuries of theological discourse on suffering by thinkers from Augustine to Elie Wiesel—that one might easily call it backward. Every Western religious tradition teaches that mortals have no way of counting or weighing another’s sin. “If that happened to the Haitians because they’re so sinful, then why hasn’t it happened to him?” retorts Bart Ehrman, a Bible scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
By Friday night, doctors will have to give up on treating newly found survivors—there probably won’t be any more—and start thinking about the long-term health effects of the disaster. Acute injuries that aren’t effectively treated, especially broken bones that are set improperly or not at all, may end up crippling patients for life. Blows to the head can cause a permanent decline of cognitive function. And even survivors who don’t outwardly appear to be injured may suffer long-term consequences of the earthquake, says Irwin Redlener, director for the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health: “It’s highly likely that we’re going to see a lot of patients who survive this trauma and then have exacerbations of existing conditions like diabetes and asthma, or who develop stress-related medical disorders like coronary artery disease and hypertension.” Mental health issues and post-traumatic stress disorder, which can set in any time in the six months or so after a diaster, will be “absolutely overwhelming,” he says, especially since many aid workers don’t speak Haitian Creole and won’t be able to communicate well with the people they’re trying to help. These ailments might sound like small worries to some in the developed world, but for Haitians, who already struggle under so many other burdens, they may be too much to bear.