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Editorial: Committing to respond

When students returned to campus to begin the spring semester last January, an earthquake had just ravaged Haiti. While relief efforts in Haiti are far from complete, we now again find ourselves back at school with another major humanitarian crisis unfolding abroad. Pakistan's prime minister said that flooding in the country had affected 20 million people as of mid-August, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said the destruction in Pakistan is unlike anything he had ever witnessed.

The University's response to the crisis in Haiti has been strong, and we hope that a similar outpouring of campus support for the people of Pakistan is forthcoming. Farrukh Malik '11, president of the Pakistani Students Association, told the editorial page board that there will be benefit concerts coordinated with other student cultural and performance groups, craft sales and a lecture series about the social and political factors surrounding the disaster in Pakistan.  

He also noted that there will be differences in how campus response efforts approach the two crises in Haiti and Pakistan. Because the two disasters received disparate levels of domestic media coverage, public awareness of the situation in Pakistan must be improved, and fundraising events for Pakistan will be coupled with educational outreach. We applaud these efforts and encourage students to get involved.  

One of Brown's greatest strengths is the initiative we take as an institution in addressing the needs of communities affected by calamitous events, whether natural or man-made, domestic or international. Though we are glad to see the steady repetition of ad hoc responses to crises, we believe that Brown must make a permanent commitment to disaster relief and humanitarian aid.  

Following the earthquake in Haiti, we called for the creation of a center at Brown devoted to humanitarian crises. The proposed center would serve two related purposes. First, it would coordinate campus efforts to respond to disasters in other parts of the world. And second, it would facilitate academic study and field research on crisis response and relief. As we noted in January, Harvard and Johns Hopkins universities both already have centers with this sort of mission.  

Catastrophic events can strike in varying ways and require different responses, so we think a campus center for disaster relief is crucial. Such a center could provide resources to students organizing benefit events and facilitate cooperation between students, the administration and academic departments.

In addition, a center at Brown could take responsibility for tracking the progress of relief efforts in affected regions, ensuring the University's involvement will go beyond an initial emotional reaction. Relief work on campus could thus continue across years even after some student leaders have graduated, providing sustained support.

By also emphasizing academic research and first-hand experience, this new center could also play a role in training the next generation of leaders who will manage crisis-response efforts on the ground in affected countries.

We are all at risk of getting "disastered-out" and finding our desire to help spread too thin among places in need. It is our hope, however, that a new center can lead a committed, multifaceted approach to humanitarian aid and allow Brown to maximize its efficacy in aiding people around the world.


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



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