Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Anguish, Hope, and the Rebuilding Challenges In Haiti

Amazingly, there are still reports of people being pulled from the wreckage in Port au Prince. In the following video, US soldiers are seen helping provide medical care to a man who was apparently pulled from the wreckage nearly two weeks after the 7.0 quake.

The US continues providing significant amounts of resources for the humanitarian aid effort, including the hospital ship USNS Comfort, which has dealt with hundreds of the most seriously injured. The US military has identified a 100 acre parcel near the coast to establish a hospital to treat less seriously injured patients.

The choices made by the doctors and the patients is often a grim one; in one instance a police officer had to get his foot amputated because gas gangrene had set in, but would likely lose his livelihood in the process and a way to support his four children. Yet, if the amputation wasn't done, he would likely die within days.

Here's a running tally of what the US government medical teams have accomplished so far, and what they hope to do in coming weeks. USAID is also issuing radios to help keep Haitians informed of what's going on.

Americans looking to adopt Haitian orphans are going to run into roadblocks and delays because the Haitian government is ill equipped to deal with the interest and the need but wants to approve each adoption.

The BBC reports that the strong US military humanitarian response may itself be partly to blame for the slow distribution of aid to Haitians, and looks at how the situation differs with Aceh province in Indonesia that was devastated by the SE Asian quake and tsunami in December 2004. That's nonsense, given that no one else in the world has the capabilities to mount the logistical effort to assist with the numbers needed. The BBC claims that the US military is shouldering out relief aid from other sources, particularly at the airport and that the numbers of troops sent in to help is hampering relief efforts. It also minimizes the fact that the Indonesian government was in a better position to respond since its government structure and military were capable of responding and its capital of Jakarta were unaffected while Port au Prince was the capital of Haiti and the Haitian government, which wasn't particularly effective before the quake is now facing the near total devastation of its government offices and infrastructure. There isn't anyone locally who can coordinate efforts, and even the UN offices there were badly damaged with significant loss of life to those UN officials who had cultivated relationships with Haitian government officials.

In sum, even when the US does the right thing, they get slammed. Nice.

ESPN has cut ties to a contributor, Paul Shirley because he went on the record at his own website saying that he wouldn't contribute to the Haitian aid relief efforts. Shirley wrote:
I do not know if what I’m about to write makes me a monster. I do know that it makes me a part of a miniscule minority, if Internet trends and news stories of the past weeks are any guide.

“It”, is this:

I haven’t donated a cent to the Haitian relief effort. And I probably will not.

I haven’t donated to the Haitian relief effort for the same reason that I don’t give money to homeless men on the street. Based on past experiences, I don’t think the guy with the sign that reads “Need You’re Help” is going to do anything constructive with the dollar I might give him. If I use history as my guide, I don’t think the people of Haiti will do much with my money either.
It doesn't make him a monster, and it shouldn't rise to the level of being grounds for losing his slot at ESPN but he's verbalizing a legitimate concern that many have about the Haitian government and rebuilding efforts - that the money is going to go to waste. It's a shame that many feel this way (and was also included in a David Brooks column in the NY Times), and that there's plenty of evidence to back up that concern.

As Glenn Davis points out, by not donating at all, there's a 100% chance of not helping Haitians desperate for aid. It's a concern that could be overcome by donating to charities that have a track record of doing good work and making sure that the money goes where it should - to helping those who need it, rather than sucked into an administrative morass or wasted in graft and corruption. I chose my donation in just that fashion. I chose Doctors Without Frontiers because they have doctors on the ground there (and in other hotspots around the world where there aren't enough doctors to provide routine care). It's what they do; and the needs in Haiti are such that DWF (or MSF as it's known by the French acronym) will be there for a long time to come - long after the media coverage wanes and the Haitians will be left to struggle to pick up the pieces.

Haitians will have to pick up the pieces and do much of the heavy lifting themselves; rebuilding their government infrastructure and cleaning up Port au Prince; the rest of the world should be there to lend assistance, but it should not and cannot do it all for the Haitian people. They've got to be able to learn how to build the institutions from the ground up. This is an opportunity for Haitians to finally put decades of mismanagement and corruption behind them and work towards a better future. Let's hope they don't squander it amid the rubble.

A team of French rescuers have pulled another Haitian alive from the rubble 15 days after the quake.

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