Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cry Me a Haitian River – Relief Workers Stop Complaining and Do Your Job

Today’s headlines were mostly about the earthquake-ravaged Haiti – as they should be. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake is a phenomenal natural event – anything ranked five and higher is usually a killer quake.

Amidst the intense sense of complete hopelessness as search and rescue efforts turn into salvage, clean-up and restoration of one of the poorest places on the planet, one disturbing trend began showing up in the news stories – the unprepared and somewhat surprisingly daft response from relief workers.

Relief workers are complaining that they can’t do their job, because of disorganization, violence and looting.

But aren’t relief workers – from organizations supposedly ready and waiting to jump into action for just these sorts of things – supposed to know how to manage the chaos to do their jobs?

This isn’t the first large-scale relief effort for these organizations. The Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, even the United Nations itself, have all been involved in natural and man-made disasters as larger, and in some cases larger, than Haiti’s current state of unrest.

Yes, every situation is different, but what the relief agencies are moaning about are situations encountered in most natural disasters – and some man-made ones.

Lawlessness, looting, and everyone fighting for themselves with little to no regard for their fellow citizens has happened in the United States during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, famines in Ethiopia, wars in the former Soviet Union and many other places where these non-profit humanitarian agencies have already been.

And that is something we do have to remember, most of these agencies are non-profit groups doing human good, out of the goodness of their hearts. So we aren’t chastising them for their life-giving good work.

But one must question the value of these efforts – and whether or not donating food, money, medical supplies, volunteer time and other tangibles – is worth it, if these organizations just can’t cut it.

Millions of dollars worth of life-saving food, clean drinking water and medical supplies are reportedly sitting in makeshift storage areas at the airport in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, because of this disorganization.

Doctors Without Borders has told the media that given the current situation, there is little sign of significant aid distribution.

Meaning that the donations people all over the world have made to help those affected by the earthquake in Haiti may never reach the intended recipients.

Or worse, they will be the cause of even more human suffering, as the desperate people of Haiti continue the chaos by killing each other, just to keep alive.

The situation in Haiti is of a similar size to the Boxing Day Tsunami which roared across the Indian Ocean in 2004, killing about 230,000 people in 14 countries.
About $7USD billion was donated in total to assist with the Tsunami relief efforts. Current estimates put the death toll in Haiti at about 50,000 to 100,000 deaths from the earthquake.

Again, many of the non-profit relief agencies working to restore life in Haiti, were involved in the relief efforts during the Boxing Day Tsunami, so why are they still complaining about the same things?

One would have figured that in the time since the Boxing Day Tsunami, and all the other disasters these relief agencies have helped in since, that they would be better able to handle similar situation.

Although life-saving supplies such as food, clean drinking water, shelter, clothing and other such basics, are in dire need in Haiti, I personally feel uncomfortable making any donation, knowing it could end up sitting in an airport’s hanger, or worse, being the cause of someone’s death because a bunch of unprepared aid workers were ambushed by a group of disloyal dissidents.

Something to think about next time you are approached for a donation.
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