Haitians Suffer From Lack of Coordinated Relief Efforts

3 03 2010

Photographer: Matthew Marek/American Red Cross

Weeks of misery are stretching into months for the people of Haiti.

With well over 200,000 deaths, untold numbers of lingering injuries, and more than one million homeless, Haitians need the efforts put forth by the world’s people to make a  difference, to get them on the road to recovery.  But those efforts are falling short.

The biggest obstacle has been and continues to be a lack of coordination between the many civilian and military agencies providing assistance.

The problem isn’t that there’s no one to lead—there are many capable and qualified groups and individuals to lead global emergency response efforts.  The problem is getting the rest of the responders to follow a leader from an agency other than their own.

A recent Associated Press article reported that Haitians have enough rice and beans, but are running short on other items critical to survival, such as tents, tarps, and toilets.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is immunizing unvaccinated Haitians against measles, tetanus, diphtheria, and other diseases, but officials worry that the approaching rainy season will bring with it a sharp increase in respiratory infections and malaria cases.

Despite some successes, aid organizations receive thumbs down for the poorly-planned distribution of the first wave of food supplies, and the continuing lack of coordinated efforts which leave people in need with no shelter, no clean water, and no sanitation system.

So, what are the answers?

A better plan of action for first responders

Many countries have called for a more unified response. Rather than several military forces, charities, and organizations scrambling to help and stepping on each other’s toes, ideas for streamlining relief efforts have included forming giant response teams based on geographic area, or giving the U.N. more power to direct a global response.

Making the affected country’s government central to the relief effort

Wary of eyes watching for signs of an “occupation,” it is generally agreed that it’s crucial for the local government to be restored to get normal operations up and running as soon as possible.

Establishing a compromise between military and civilian organizations

The U.S. military, considered the most equipped to help due to Haiti’s nearness, has not offered a summary of what equipment and technology are available for relief efforts. It was criticized for slowing down entry of supply shipments in the early days of the crisis and for not communicating with the U.N. Although some problems have been remedied (the U.S. agreed to give priority to aid shipments rather than military flights), it is still a long way from integrating with other aid organizations.

It may be tempting to wash our hands of this mess, but if we do, the Haitians will be the losers and there will be no winners.

Contact your representatives and insist they improve coordinated efforts in Haiti.  And, please keep giving to the Haitian people.  We can’t turn away from so much need. Please look for a reliable charity or organization and continue to support work being done to restore and rebuild Haiti.