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The everyday natural disaster nobody sees

By Dan Haesler - posted Thursday, 9 December 2010

The everyday natural disaster nobody sees

It is obvious people go the extra mile to help those affected by a natural disaster. We only need to think of the global responses to the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In January 2010, the world mobilised its efforts to respond to the earthquake in Haiti that left 220,000 people dead.

There would not have been an Australian school child or employee that wasn’t asked to donate or contribute in some way to at least one of these relief efforts. When an issue such as this is front and centre in our minds, we respond.


However, there is another natural disaster that is destroying lives every day, the effects of which will be handed down to generation after generation. The effects from the fallout of this disaster include sub-standard living conditions, poor education, poor health and higher levels of crime. Ironically this became all the more apparent to me having recently visited New Orleans spending time with survivors of Hurricane Katrina as well as teachers and social workers who work with their children.

For those born into poverty, every day is a natural disaster. Yet in this case, society often appears to turn a blind eye. The very same people who criticised George W Bush’s administration for their inept response to Katrina are the ones who cross the road to avoid the homeless. Those who ran around the office with a bucket telling you how much you should give to help the Haitian people are the same ones who avoid eye contact with those, who really should just go get a job.

It seems that a cause is not a just one unless it is leading the hourly news, or a famous rock star is challenging us all to do our bit.

Living in poverty, as with any natural disaster, hits children the hardest; and all too often we think of poverty as something that is common in other countries than our own.

In 2007, UNICEF’s report on Child Poverty in the OECD (PDF 1.51MB) stated that Australia has a relative child poverty rate of nearly 12 per cent. That is, 12 per cent of children living in a house where the family income is 50 per cent or less of the median wage. Some people argue that the poverty level is higher than this, as relative poverty only looks at those who (for whatever reason) earn very little, and not those who earn nothing at all. More than 500,000 Australian children live without an employed parent in their household.

As a society we must look at ways to break the cycle. There are many factors that need to be considered when addressing poverty, government spending to improve housing and benefit payments as well as pushing for an increase in the minimum wage; and then there is education.


Education is often lauded as the great bright hope; if we can educate the young, they can break free of the poverty trap and yet the very same 2007 UNICEF report states that Australia led the way along with Finland, Canada and Japan with regard to education (an overview of reading, mathematical and scientific literacy at age 15.)

How can this be? How can we excel at education and still have more than half a million young Australians living without an employed parent in their household?

The fact is, the poor are being failed by the very thing that was meant to save them. Education for the poor is fundamentally flawed.

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About the Author

Dan Haesler is a teacher, writer and speaker and blogs at He is the 2010 recipient of the NSW Premier's Anika Foundation Teachers Scholarship to address and raise awareness of youth depression.

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