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Jan. 13 2010 - 12:26 pm | 388 views | 1 recommendation | 4 comments

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.

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.


4 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    The UN should move its headquarters down to Haiti…since haiti is a showcase for the UN’s best work…and Obama should go down to haiti, too…bringing with him some of the hope and change he is famous for

  2. collapse expand

    It’s been pointed out to me that while my point about not overlapping aid remains valid, I picked a really lousy example to demonstrate that point: baby formula.

    Baby formula is actually a very controversial subject in the developing world. A number of health professionals push for women to breast feed whenever possible.

    That’s not just for nutrition reasons.

    In the developing world, where literacy rates may be low, parents will either misunderstand the ratios by which baby formula should be mixed. In some cases, moms and dads who are used to scrimping to get by will water down baby formula – to make it last.

    Unfortunately, that can give a baby diarrhea – which can be fatal.

    There have also been problems attached to people being convinced they need to spend some of their precious earnings on expensive, imported baby formula, when breast milk is better. And free.

    Those are some basic reasons. If anyone can fill me in on any others, please do.

    So let’s pretend that I actually wrote, “Of key importance will not be overlapping one type of assistance – for example, not having too many mosquito nets, while cooking utensils/water purification systems/blankets/vaccines go overlooked.” Your choice.

  3. collapse expand

    MP, thanks for your great article (and updating the baby formula example). I agree that a well-coordinated aid response is vital. I look forward to reading more of your articles.

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    About Me

    I'm a freelance journalist and writer who has recently returned to the US after 17 years living overseas, primarily in Southeast Asia.

    In 1992, I went to Cambodia – then at the height of the UNTAC peacekeeping mission - to cut my teeth on journalism.

    ….I was in Hong Kong, for the 1997 Handover to Chinese rule; and then it was off to

    …..Indonesia - for the fall of President Suharto in 1998, through the the reformasi movement; the East Timor conflict, its independence ballot and peacekeeping mission; the fallout from September 11th in “the world’s most populous Muslim nation” and the Bali bomb, and myriad points in-between during a five and a half year span;

    …. and onwards to India, where I was Voice of America radio/television correspondent for South Asia between 2003 and 2006, which included rotations in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with my “patch” of India, including Kashmir; Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

    I’ve freelanced my way in and out of Bosnia, Burma, Egypt, the Philippines, Pakistan, Thailand. I’ve also filed out of Vietnam and Malaysia.

    My name is Mary Patricia Nunan, and I vastly prefer “MP.” If you’ve heard me on the radio or seen me on tv – NPR, VOA, CBC, BBC or others -- it would have been as “Patricia Nunan.” I’ve never had much use for the “Mary.”

    See my profile »
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