Sunday, January 17, 2010

Aid Haitus

It's been painful to look at the news over the past week, since the earthquake in Haiti. It's too easy to imagine how many people must be trapped there by very small amounts of concrete or debris... I saw film of a sweet little girl of two, who was able to walk out of the building she had been trapped in once a little bit of the structure was moved.

Often when these things happen, I tend to do what I can, donating money if I can afford it, and then I stop reading the news, because I think it can simply make one depressed, without any prospect of being able to change things.

One thing made me very angry though. Some people broke into the remains of a supermarket, and it appeared that either the UN peacekeepers (!) or local police, were firing at them for that.

If you have been caught in the middle of a disaster of the scale of Haiti - or Katrina before that - I do not think that looting food from a destroyed supermarket should be illegal and prevented. It makes no sense to me that humanitarian aid should be inhumane. If there were foodstuffs and water available in the wrecked supermarket, and people who required foodstuffs and water still not reached by the aid which is flooding to Haiti, then they should have been allowed to take and distribute it. It's different if they are looting TVs and people's possessions. Or trying to make a fast buck out of the food.

I can't understand why the surviving members of Haiti's government and local government aren't organising what can be organised, and that's one of the things that could be organised: commandeering the water and foodstuffs that are available in the ruins.

America has promised help and aid, and although we may be suspicious of their motives, there is no doubting that they are sending massive numbers of people and equipment. What America has proved over and over is that they are a lumbering administration which takes a long time to take decisions, with a massive hierarchy. The length of time it took them to respond to the effects of hurricane Katrina in their own country showed that they take a long time to get their act together. It seemed that journalists from other countries around the word were achieving more in terms of on-the-ground help initially than the army and officials who were there.

It is frustrating that, once again, news teams seemed able to respond, get to the area in question with their equipment and supplies far faster than any government could get aid to the same area. That the UN were concentrating on trying to rescue their own personnel was understandable... but when they progressed to policing the area rather than trying to help the people who are stuck there without food and water and medical help, it made me angry.

I hope that the delay in getting aid to the people who need it is purely logistical, and there aren't people from agencies and governments around arguing the toss about who should be in charge of what. Unfortunately, due to sheer numbers and firepower, it seems likely the Americans will be in charge. I hope that works out well for Haiti and not badly. I hope America has pure motives and not the usual power-, land-, oil-, and money-grabbing motives which seem to be behind nearly everything they have done in the past few years, when they have marched into other countries. I used to have the same faith in Obama that the Americans had, but the fact that Guantanamo is still open has undermined that trust.

In the end, in this sort of situation, it should be people and not things or assets, which are important. For many people, trapped in their homes, time has already run out. For many thousands of others, their health and continued existence depends on the people who arebringing aid, defeating the logistical challenges, getting the right stuff to the right people, and doing it quickly. I pray that they will.

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