We must overcome compassion fatigue for flood victims

The Cranston Herald ·

For several days I have been tuning out media coverage of flood victims of Harvey, Irma and Maria. I am sick of hearing about floods.

But I watched the DemocracyNow! news broadcast, available online, and could not remove my eyes from their coverage of the apocalyptic Puerto Rican flooding – and I found my compassion.

I have little money. But I was so moved by this report I gave $1000 for relief efforts. Here's why:

  • Rudger's professor, Yarmar Bonilla, says Maria is "Katrina times 100";
  • Every town in Puerto Rico is flooded;
  • Most of Puerto Rico's 3.4 million people must seek food;
  • Ironically, most people have no (fresh) water;
  • Many people are homeless;
  • Others are trapped in their flooded homes;
  • Most people have no power;
  • Without phones, many cannot contact worried loved ones;
  • Inland towns are often inaccessible;
  • Flood waters are diseased; and
  • In the town of Lares, cadavers float in the streets.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens (though they cannot vote for President and have no representation in Congress).

Puerto Ricans are poor (before the hurricane, Puerto Rico was already in a state of emergency: The poverty rate is double that of the poorest U.S. state).

Puerto Ricans receive little aid (U.S. aid is paltry; and foreign ships are prohibited from importing food due to the Jones Act, a substantial burden even before Maria struck the island).

Puerto Ricans are subjected to extreme economic injustices (despite Puerto Rico having an austerity budget and declaring bankruptcy this year, President Trump's tweet suggests he is more concerned about obtaining “billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks” for Puerto Rico’s “massive debt” than caring about their devastated and desperate citizens.

As I write, I cry.

I cite my giving only because I want it known how seriously I take the devastation caused by Maria. Givers cannot boast: Giving is not "charity"; it is justice. I interpret Psalm 24:1 literally: "The Earth is the Lord's, and everything in it" (including my wallet). So we are stewards, not owners, of all we possess.

If you want to give, I commend the online PBS NewsHour article: How you can help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico. Often, local relief organizations are the most effective. So I gave to United for Puerto Rico (spearheaded by Puerto Rico's First Lady).  

This catastrophe is so extreme I am taking action I have taken only once before: I am sending this message to every person and organization I have ever emailed. I encourage you to do the same.

And give what you can.

A Providence resident, Rev. Harry Rix is a columnist on spirituality and ethics. He is a parishioner at the Central Congregational Church.