When the Wishing Well Runs Dry

If there is one group of people not eyeing the tsunami aid pledges like Jerry Lewis at a telethon, it would be Hondurans. They know the idea of cruel fate: a region that can least afford it being hit hardest by a natural disaster. They remember 1999’s Hurricane Mitch — “the most destructive natural disaster in Central America’s modern history” — even if we willfully do not.

They have their own numbers that, considered in proportion, are just as unsettling as those we’re still hearing out of South Asia. Five billion dollars in damages. One million left homeless. Two-thirds of the country’s highway infrastructure destroyed beyond any salvation. Economists and diplomats fearful that the country had been set back at least 30 years.

And they certainly remember all the pledges of aid that came rushing in with as much fervor as the waters did during those five fateful days. And though “the international community pledged about $9 billion to help rebuild Central America…most of that money never materialized. Half of what did was offered as loans.” In fact, the few remaining remnants of those international community “aid” efforts are crumbling bridges (only meant to be temporary structures anyway). It’s as if those slapdash civil engineering projects are trying to force us to face up to reality instead of allowing us to revel in a fantasy world of just how “generous” we are.

Hondurans can’t forget Mitch and its aftermath; the immediacy of their surroundings won’t allow it. And in these coming weeks and years following the tsunami, we must remember Mitch again; the decency of our humanity demands it.