The Streets of Baltimore
The battle for Baltimore, which subsided with the indictment of six police officers, is the latest in a series of conflicts between citizens and police that occur, as President Obama said, “it seems like, once a week now.” The riots are a symptom of a national economic, racial and moral disease. It calls for soul-searching, the president suggested, when a community’s young men are more likely to “end up in jail or dead” than to complete school.
On April 12, the police officers stopped Freddie Gray, 25, because he was in a high-crime area, made eye contact with the officers and ran. They threw him in the back of a truck and took him to jail. By that time he was unable to walk, his spinal cord snapped. In and out of a coma, Mr. Gray died within a week. The city has failed to explain how he sustained the fatal injury. Anger rose in the black community, and as the riots following Mr. Gray’s funeral spread through the city on April 27, the city’s leaders and the Gray family condemned the violence of the mostly young men who smashed cars, looted stores and set fire to a church-sponsored housing project.
Baltimore, with national help, must revitalize its economy, stamp out police violence and do all it can to keep its young people in school, where they can learn about the long history of human and civil rights. Taking to the streets to protest injustice is a vital part of that history. But as Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible.”
Crisis in Katmandu
“Let such a calamity never happen to anyone anywhere,” Amrit Maharjan told Catholic News Service on April 29, standing on the rubble of his three-story house in the suburbs of Katmandu, Nepal. As of this writing, 5,000 people have been declared dead from the magnitude 7.8 earthquake, which struck on April 25. Rescue crews are still unable to reach some of the towns surrounding the main city, leaving individuals to fend for themselves as they search for relatives amid the rubble. Some worry that the number of dead could eventually eclipse 10,000.
Caritas Nepal and other relief agencies are aiding in the rescue efforts, especially in the regions beyond the capital. For many the progress has been too slow. Relief agencies were initially delayed in reaching the quake zone by severe congestion and heavy rains. Meanwhile, those who survived are eager to salvage what they can from the destruction and find new places to live, even if just under a tarpaulin.
Nepal faces a long, slow recovery that will require billions of dollars in international aid. Unfortunately, this will almost certainly divert attention and resources away from preparatory measures that could ameliorate the effects of another earthquake. Nepal’s Parliament is considering a bill that would set up a disaster risk-management commission, but observers worry that it does not focus enough on preparation. Meanwhile, building codes are haphazardly enforced, and builders are reluctant to pay extra for earthquake-resistant materials. Experts say that a similar quake in California would cause 100 times fewer deaths because of preparatory steps already taken. Kunda Dixit, editor of The Nepali Times, pointed out these deficiencies many times in the past, but his warnings went unheeded. The world is now, finally, paying attention.
In a report published this month by the British medical journal The Lancet, a panel of 25 medical experts concluded that two-thirds of the world’s population lack access to “safe and affordable surgery” and that the deficiencies in care will have dire effects on human health and welfare—including death from such treatable problems as appendicitis, malaria and tuberculosis.
Medical professionals from over 100 countries contributed to the report, “Global Access to Surgical Care: A Modelling Study,” which revealed some alarming statistics. Of all deaths in 2010, for example, one-third (about 17 million) came from conditions that could have been corrected by surgery but were not. The study’s authors noted that because of failure to avert this crisis, the cost to the world economy could reach more than $12 trillion between now and 2030. The study was conducted with four aspects in mind: timeliness, surgical capacity, safety and affordability. Research found that in the poorest countries, access to medical and surgical care is critically lacking in all these areas. As noted in the study, the disparity is glaring: in the United States there are 35 surgical specialists per 100,000 people; in Bangladesh there are barely two.
Nearly five billion people on this planet do not have the care they need to keep preventable medical problems from becoming fatal ones. The authors of this study believe that “sustainable financing mechanisms” and a “firm commitment to universal health coverage” to the tune of $420 billion are urgent and necessary. It may seem like a steep cost to pay, but the price in lives lost is even greater.