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Should books be a part of emergency relief efforts?

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Nobel literature laureates JM Coetzee, Doris Lessing, and Toni Morrison, along with Nobel peace laureate FW de Klerk and authors Jeffrey Eugenides, Junot Diaz, Michael Cunningham, Joyce Carol Oates, and Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat, are among those who have signed the petition. The campaign, organized by Libraries Without Borders, is challenging the UN and other international organizations to include “nourishment of the mind” as a fundamental post-disaster necessity.

“The first priority is life, but when life is secure, what can people do if they are staying in a camp?” Libraries Without Borders chairman Patrick Weil told the UK’s Guardian newspaper. “They cannot do anything, and they can become depressed. Once life is secured, books are essential. They're not the first priority, but the second... They are so important. They're the beginning of recovery, in terms of reconnecting with the rest of the world, and feeling like a human being again.”

Weil told the Guardian that the first email Libraries Without Borders received after the Haitian earthquake was a request for books to reopen a destroyed library. Libraries Without Borders not only helped reopen the library, it sent an emergency mission to the disaster-struck country to distribute books and educational resources to displaced persons. The work Libraries Without Borders and other literary organizations did in Haiti were transformational, Haitian writer Danticat told the Guardian.

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