Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti Enters Critical Day 3 After Quake

The Haiti earthquake is Hurricane Katrina cubed. People die after their third day with no water in 90 degree heat. Those with serious injuries or medical conditions may already have perished. President Barack Obama spoke of aid for victims on day 2:

This morning, I can report that the first waves of our rescue and relief workers are on the ground and at work. An airlift has been set up to deliver high-priority items like water and medicine.

The quake devastated Port-au-Prince Tuesday around 5:00 pm. Day 1 news reports highlighted aid being rushed to Haiti. Day 3 news reports are of bottlenecks in aid delivery. NGO's complained in television interviews of a lack of communication, coordination and security.

President Obama sounded eerily like Rev. Pat Robertson in his remarks:

Finally, I want to speak directly to the people of Haiti. Few in the world have endured the hardships that you have known. Long before this tragedy, daily life itself was often a bitter struggle. And after suffering so much for so long, to face this new horror must cause some to look up and ask, have we somehow been forsaken?

Bad form, should anyone believe God is with people in suffering. Then came the Obama pep talk, complete with future tense:

To the people of Haiti, we say clearly, and with conviction, you will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten. In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you. The world stands with you. We know that you are a strong and resilient people. You have endured a history of slavery and struggle, of natural disaster and recovery. And through it all, your spirit has been unbroken and your faith has been unwavering. So today, you must know that help is arriving -- much, much more help is on the way.

If help were arriving, thirsty, hungry, injured people would know. So would reporters:

But two days after the earthquake, there was little evidence of the aid effort in the capital of the hemisphere's poorest country.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke on international aid last week. She lobbied for returning USAID to its place as the "world's preeminent development agency." She called for working with private organizations, like the Clinton Global Initiative. What happened between her speech and the Haiti earthquake to improve USAID's capabilities? Likely very little. It's interesting to note President Bill Clinton's primary fundraising role for Haitian rescue and recovery efforts

President Obama implored the Haitian people (without cell phones or televisions) to understand:

None of this will seem quick enough if you have a loved one who's trapped, if you're sleeping on the streets, if you can't feed your children. But it's important that everybody in Haiti understand, at this very moment one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history is moving towards Haiti. More American search and rescue teams are coming. More food. More water. Doctors, nurses, paramedics. More of the people, equipment and capabilities that can make the difference between life and death.

Like Katrina, there is no local capacity. It must come from elsewhere. Capabilities only make the difference if they arrive in time.

My intent is not to criticize anyone helping with the rescue and recovery effort. People are doing the best they can with what they have. NGO's have mission but not capacity, while the U.S. military has capacity but not mission. That said, Pentagon Chief Bob Gates is much more engaged than Donald Rumsfeld after Katrina. His resources will likely determine the ultimate success of the mission. The AP reported:

The U.S. military has distributed its first aid in the massive effort to help quake-ravaged Haiti.

The first distribution occurred about midday Friday.

That's for an estimated 3 million people. One Haitian man praised the prospect of the U.S. military's arrival. "When the U.S. occupation is good and big, it creates work, builds roads, helps people," he said. Not only that, Milton added, Marines tended to toss the remains of their meals into the city's omnipresent mountains of garbage. "They bring good ham and cheese," he said. "And you know it's good food because they have eaten it."

That "good ham and cheese" now comes from a contractor. Virtually all support services for the American military are privatized, food, water, even shelter. How has this impacted our ability to respond in Haiti? It's a question for another day. The priority is to immediately meet the most basic of human needs.

Help is on the way. It will get there when it gets there. I hope the Haitian people understand.

No comments: