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Quakes and disasters: How to help

Interview: How relief agencies respond to emergencies and long-term problems.

A resident surveys the debris in Constitucion, March 1, 2010. (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

BOSTON — To find out about the emergency response to the earthquake in Chile and how the world responds to disasters and longer-term health problems, GlobalPost talked to Marie-Noelle Rodrique, the deputy director of operations for Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

How is Medecins Sans Frontieres responding to the earthquake in Chile?

We have sent a team of five to six people to Chile and they are busy assessing the situation. Chile is a different challenge for us. It is quite a rich, well-organized country with generally good health care where the population generally has good access to health care. This is not a country where we usually work.

Slideshow: Day three of the Chile Quake

The Chile government and authorities are responding well to the emergency. They need money. They need equipment and supplies. But they are getting help to the people in need. They are getting supplies and health care to the many people who are homeless.

There are not so many gaps in the health care as a result of the Chile earthquake. We at MSF are looking for those gaps. We have gone to Santiago and to Concepcion and the various smaller cities of southern Chile. We find they are quite well equipped medically. We are trying to find the pockets of people outside of the main epicenter, places that may have been overlooked, where people are in emergency need.

In the wake of the back-to-back earthquakes in Haiti and now Chile – how do you respond to donor fatigue?

People give money when they can identify with the victims. So for instance with the tsunami of 2004 many people had visited the areas as tourists so they were engaged with the areas that were devastated. MSF found that people responded with generosity and they maintained their donations throughout the year to help in that emergency. If people can indentify with a situation then you see a huge outpouring.

Slideshow: scenes of destruction

In the case of the earthquake in Haiti, the United States and Canada have a very close proximity to the island. People know about Haiti because they have big immigrant populations. The news media went to Haiti and gave it very big coverage on the television and radio and in the newspapers. That resulted in a big generous response.

But when you look at Pakistan, which had a devastating earthquake in 2005, it did not get the same kind of response. Pakistan is very far away and not many people had visited there. The media coverage was limited. There were not so many journalists who reported on the disaster and the suffering in Pakistan. So there was not a big a response in donations.

Identification, proximity and the media agenda, the way the media highlights the disaster, the way media coverage can bring the disaster right home to the people — these all contribute to the way people donate.