Disaster Tourists

1 Ramadhan 1435 / 19 July 2014

The current Israeli onslaught on Gaza is fuelling offers of aid from all over the world. Humanitarian relief workers are on standby, waiting for the word go. These are mainly urgently needed medical doctors. But it also includes a group of people that are usually more of a hindrance rather than assistance – disaster tourists or volun-tourists.

Immediately after an area is hit with a disaster, it requires highly specialised help. The first and immediate phase usually involves relevant medical expertise, notably trauma and disaster specialists. However this phase also attracts people who are either curious or clamouring to be there in order to get a piece of the action. They bring with them little or no expertise and far from helping, instead become a nuisance. It is a more of a self-gratifying exercise.

The onslaught on Gaza is ongoing. It is still being bombed. Blown to smithereens. Pummeled to the ground. Reduced to rubble. Heads are being blown off. Limbs are torn apart. 75% of Gaza is without electricity. Food and water is scarce. Every little bit of resource that Gaza is left with is stretched.

Yet we have delegations of Malaysians heading to Gaza to study the situation.  They will head there in big numbers, on a fact finding mission as if the facts don’t already speak for themselves. These people will need to be housed, fed and taken around, depleting whatever little Gaza is left with including precious resources like shelter, food and water.

These disaster tourists or volun-tourists would choke the Cairo immigrations and the Rafah crossings preventing and delaying vital and acute medical specialists, namely brain surgeons, orthopaedic surgeons, cardio-thoracic surgeons, anaesthesiologists, intensivists  and critical care nurses from getting through.

The desire to help others, especially in times of calamity is innate in many of us. Humanitarian relief work can be self-satisfying and it is because of this that those involved need to re-evaluate their intentions. But even good intentions are not enough. They also need to appraise their skills and ask the question, “Are we helping those in need the best way possible? Or is this a well intentioned but poorly thought out effort”.

In the mid and long term phase there will be space for those who dearly desire to improve the lot of the Palestinians. A carefully thought out plan for rebuilding Gaza should be mapped out in one’s organisation scheme of work. It is not a seasonal activity addressing crisis scenarios but a perennial strategic blue print of action to tackle the economic issues of massive unemployment, sheltering the homeless, feeding the poor, scholarship programs for the students, equipping their educational institutions and financial independency program for the widows or women whose husbands are prisoners in Israel.

It is indisputable that Gaza needs IMMEDIATE help. But it needs the RIGHT KIND of assistance. Helping Gaza and the Palestinians in the BEST WAY possible is what they need now.

Dato Dr Musa Mohd Nordin
Chairman VPM

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