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The earthquake that ravaged Haiti earlier this month was a powerful reminder of the country's deep-seated poverty and political misrule. But it was also a reminder that humans are sometimes powerless against the earth — that natural disasters can kill thousands, wound many more and turn civilization upside-down, not just in Haiti, but anywhere on our planet.

The global community has been called upon repeatedly in recent years to respond to major humanitarian crises caused by natural disasters. In 2004, we watched as a tsunami swept over Southeast Asia, killing over 200,000 people. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the American Gulf Coast. Now, once again, we are gearing up to send aid to an area that will need to rebuild itself from the ground up.

Brown has been swift and thorough in its response to the earthquake in Haiti. In the days following the disaster, the University appointed a committee to oversee relief efforts, which include fundraising, medical assistance and scholarship on Haiti. The University has organized supply drives and assembled lists of organizations that are accepting donations. As the semester unfolds, the committee will hold a Haiti teach-in to explore issues surrounding the country's poverty. And in the long term, Brown has pledged to strengthen its focus on Haitian studies, especially in the areas of education and medicine. These are laudable goals, and we encourage all members of the Brown community to get involved.
Brown can further its long-term commitment to relief in Haiti and elsewhere by promoting broader research on disaster response, reconstruction and humanitarian aid. Disaster relief is highly interdisciplinary, drawing from public health, development economics, urban planning and international relations. As a university with strong programs in all of these fields, Brown is well-situated to promote research on humanitarian crises and emergency management that will benefit countries all over the globe.

Indeed, a number of universities have already launched programs like this. Johns Hopkins' Center for Refugee and Disaster Response, for example, collaborates with nongovernmental organizations to develop and implement emergency systems for populations in crisis. Harvard's Humanitarian Initiative seeks to improve humanitarian response strategies to relieve human suffering in war and disaster. Brown could take these ideas a step further by promoting student participation — creating opportunities for students to conduct pertinent research or work with disaster-relief organizations. By establishing ties between students and organizations that work on the front lines, Brown can play a role in training the next generation of leaders who will manage responses to crises.

In the days after the Haiti earthquake, President Ruth Simmons wrote to the Brown community, telling us that we must be prepared "to commit to ongoing efforts even after the initial phase of relief is over." A new center for disaster relief, reconstruction and humanitarian aid would represent not only a long-term commitment to help rebuild Haiti, but also an ongoing effort to relieve human suffering across the globe.
Haiti's earthquake will not be the last natural disaster to devastate a country. Though we hope for the best, we must be prepared for what will come next.

Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to



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