What Haiti needs most? Coordination
Still just 20 hours after the earthquake off Port-au-Prince, governments and aid-groups are engaged in immediate crisis relief – and, along with the media, are assessing the full scale of the crisis. What are now emerging are reports of what will be the myriad individual tragedies to affect the people Haiti.
- There is word that the Archbishop of Port-au-Prince Joseph Serge Miot has died.
- The Christian Science Monitor reports that a well-respected aid-worker, Brazilian Zilda Arns was killed in the quake. Arns is said to have “revolutionized” children’s health during her 25 years of effort in Brazil, and was coordinating with UNICEF to expand her program into Haiti.
- Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic.com – has posted some video of the earthquake happening, filmed by some understandably frightened people on a hillside outside the city.
- President Obama has joined the chorus of international voices to make a statement, pledging assistance to Haiti. Among other efforts, the US is considering sending a Navy hospital ship, currently docked in Baltimore, to Haiti.
What will be crucial in the next phase of aid-operations in Haiti is the coordination of relief efforts.
The good news is that the Port-au-Prince airport is apparently open to aid flights– meaning it can receive personnel and supplies.
Bringing millions of dollars of relief supplies into an impoverished country with dozens of different governments, aid groups, international institutions like the UN and the World Bank at work, alongside local authorities and concerned citizens, will no doubt be beset with coordination issues – which will likely emerge in the media in the coming days.
Of key importance will not be overlapping one type of assistance – for example, not having too many mosquito nets, while baby formula goes overlooked. Or, on a more complicated level, not to have too many medical trauma teams on hand, while the reconstruction of sanitation systems goes overlooked.
Forgive my cynicism, but there is also always the risk of turf wars connected to aid-distribution - surprising though that may sound. Snafus may result from bickering between various agencies and aid-groups over whose-relief-plane-bumped-whose-off-the-manifest if the Port-au-Prince airport is filled to capacity by the influx of assistance, just to pull an example out of thin air.
It takes a special calling to be an aid-worker, especially in crises like this one, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ambitious careerists among them, for whom Haiti represents a resume-building opportunity. That can lead to individual agencies putting their own needs — to show results in the context of their own office politics — over the needs of the overall aid-effort. What do you mean you need baby formula? Hand out these mosquito nets!
What’s more, in the days after the Kashmir earthquake of 2005 and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, both of which I covered, the provision of relief materials was interrupted by politicians.
In Aceh, Indonesia, for example, there was some grousing about the jet and the security involved in bringing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to the scene, which some said blocked the abilities of an already overwhelmed airport to receive aid.
In Indian-Kashmir, the single road to the earthquake zone was blocked for half a day by a prime-ministerial motorcade.
Let’s hope relief-workers in Haiti avoid these snafus. Because it’s not just aid, but a well-coordinated aid-effort that’s going to save lives.