Jared Diamond wrote two of the books I consider essential for anyone wanting to be involved at any level with community planning.

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

In the latter book, Diamond investigates societies that have collapsed (for example: the Anasazi in North America, the Vikings in Greenland and the Easter Islanders in the South Pacific). One of the later chapters in the book looked at modern day societies in distress and compared, in compelling fashion, the destitution of Haiti with the relative "prosperity" of the Dominican Republic (two halves of the island of Hispaniola).

Collapse is out on loan from our library here, so I can't quote from it directly, but as I've heard the news and seen the pictures all week about the terrible earthquake, I kept thinking about Haiti's depiction in Collapse. A society that is subject to very unforgiving geographic features (highly erodible soils, slow growing conditions, deforestation, difficult weather patterns) has been further plauged with corrupt governments that have chosen to exploit what few resources that half of the island has. All of this created a tragedy, even before the ground shook so mercilously.

At our church we have had a number of missions to Haiti. We get return speakers that are always compelling. We've raised more money and materials locally for Haiti than for any other country I am aware of. When I was in the Army we used to send Guard troops from our unit there as volunteers. The troops built schools, dug wells, constructed sewers. The basics you just can't fathom humanity anywhere being without in times of such global wealth and prosperity.

Reports this week have been full of such stories of volunteering from communities all across the United States and Canada. Missionaries. United Nations staff. Red Cross volunteers. The list goes on and on and on of the people who were there trying to help BEFORE this geologic catastrophe.

I think all of us, to one degree or another, are searching for answers as to why we are so fortunate while others are seemingly condemned to suffer so horrifically. Our national disaster of job losses, wealth destruction and threatened long-term stagnation rightfully takes a back seat in our consciousness to the real suffering of those that have lost the little they had.

So many lives changed forever.....Children. Families. Parents and grandparents. Friends. Lovers. 

And they are the "lucky" ones that survive. As of now, it appears that tens of thousands will not.

The Red Cross is an amazing organization with the right expertise in place to quickly respond to tragedy. If you have the means, their efforts in Haiti are worthy of your consideration. Regardless of your ability to contribute directly to the relief effort, please join all of us at Strong Towns in thoughts of peace and hope for the people of Haiti.