Responding to the Haiti crisis

The scenes from Haiti are terrible. We have all watched horrified, concerned at how long it is taking for the rescue teams to arrive and to find living people from amongst the rubble. We have all been urging on the shipments of food, drinking water and medical supplies to deal with the immediate needs.

Today it is good news that the US military have both taken control of the congested airport and established an air bridge to their carrier using 19 helicopters to ferry supplies and injured people. An American hospital ship is on the way, which is also much needed.

We are all impressed by the selfless and urgent response of many rescue teams including the UK firemen, and wish them every success in getting involved and assisting in the crucial remaining hours of the rescue phase.

I would like the journalists on the ground to tell us more about local conditions. They report on the absence of food and shelter for those who have lost their homes, and they tell us so many of the rescue people and much of their materials have been held up trying to reach the airport from the air or once on the ground by the chaotic arrangements for unloading and despatch to the affected areas. It leads me to want to know how did so many journalists get in so quickly, as they have been there with cameras, satellite links and all necessary equipment for some time. How are the media people finding food and shelter themselves? Can we learn from their experiences? Can they help the wounded and the hungry during the times of the day when they are not reporting? It would be difficult to be a dispassionate bystander amidst so much grief. Journalists themselves in such situations are brave, the images they send back can do a lot to unleash aid on the scale needed.

It is never going to be possible in most locations for the US or other advanced military powers to arrive in force within a few hours with a temporary airport/harbour/air bridge on a scale large enough to do what it takes. It is usually going to be necessary to use what facilities remain closest to the scene of the disaster, whilst the ships make their way to the affected area. That also requires co-operation with the government of the country concerned, listening to their requirements and leadership. Where that government itself has broken down or is badly damaged it will take the leadership of the UN and other bodies, using the people and assets of the major powers most closely involved.

The role of the US military as this crisis unfolds is going to be pivotal to what success it achieves. It is a vivid illustration of the commonsense of the David Cameron proposal that the Uk should have a rapid reaction force for handling humanitarian crises and for development after a civil war or other disruption in a country, financed in part from the Overseas Aid budget. We are just seeing how, in this crisis, it is the world’s largest military power which has the best and most comprehensive contribution to solving the problem. It is also good news that even at great distance some 30 other countries including our own can assist. In this case the ability to fly helicopters from a carrier, the ability to deliver large quantities of supplies by sea and the ability to produce a fully functioning hospital ship will be important. So too will any field hospital established through airborne suppllies in the immediate future.

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28 Comments

  1. Martyn
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    John,
    I had the same thoughts regarding the almost-instant appearance of several teams of TV (inc. BBC) reporters on the scene and wondered at how and where they had based themselves with access to shelter, food, water and, presumably power for their satcom cabins. Hope it doesn't cause too much resentment amongst the earthquake survivors.
    As ever, it is the poor who are suffering the most, with no signs of the Haiti leadership being involved or disadvantaged. It is to be hope that now that the USA is managing the airfield that aid will start flowing, despite what I am sure is a nightmare management situation for them.
    I would expect the Americans to soon have the port open again, which should turn speed things up and then, sadly, we can expect to hear reports of theft, corruption and the usual dog-eat-dog scenario that so often follows these awful natural events.

  2. Chris H
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    What is evident from the many reports is that this area has long been considered prone to bad earthquakes, due to the nearby fault zone. Reporters are blaming the bad quality of buildings for many of the deaths, but isnt this just typical, that the countries and people most at risk from natural disasters dont seem to get any long-term ongoing aid….like advice on better building construction… until it's too late.
    It makes me query the official Richter scale rating for this quake; given as 7 in the majority of reports, but looks far worse than that. While fragile buildings would be expected to fail, some of the others I've seen in photos looked pretty substantial; that National Palace, for example. I'm inclined to think this quake was closer to an 8 than 7; and maybe a bit more.

  3. Alan Wheatley
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    The UK too could send a carrier. Just as long as we have a carrier (and necessary associated resources) to send.

    Perhaps part of the operational funding could come from the Overseas Aid Budget.

    As to what we can learn from journalists, the man (I forget who, but I think someone from the UN with relevant knowledge) interviewed on Radio 4 and questioned on this point explained that journalists travel light, and what kit they have is to support themselves not to provide any assistance to the needy.

    • Posted January 16, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      I thought I heard today that David Cameron was planning to merge the Overseas Aid and the Defence budgets. Perhaps, however, I misheard. Good idea, though.

  4. Jack Stone
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I am not from your side of the party and do not share most of what you write or stand for but I fully agree with what you have written.American have done well in this crisis but we as a country could do better if we had a rapid reaction force that could quickly help in situations like this.
    I also think there is a case for the UN to take a more active role in the rebuilding of countries after natural disasters like this.To often it is left to the country concerned and money tends to be ill spent, wasted or ends up benefiting those at the top rather than those who need it.

    • Matthew Reynolds
      Posted January 16, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      I think that this is no time for petty political disagreements about who agrees with whom from whatever wing of a political party.Suffering people are more important than cheap remarks.

      It proves that we cannot cut overseas aid as to do so would be disgusting and so seeking to earmark 0.7% of GDP for international development is wise.That is what the Parable of the Good Samaritan is all about as we must not walk by on the other side.

      The USA have done superbly both in terms of the 10,000 troops that they are sending and the £60 million in aid spending that they have committed to helping the population of Haiti.Those people have had a horrifying time under vile monsters like Papa Doc and my hope is that as the West honors its overseas aid spending pledges that the entire nation can get rebuilt so that their future is better.It is the least that those brave and wonderful people deserve.

      Aid monies need to be dispersed with maximum efficiency to ensure that as few lives are lost as possible.The UN is too unwieldy to do this and so perhaps a regional group of concerned nations could be built up under American leadership so should this happen again then the response can be more effective.I fear that delays cost lives and so the more flexibility the better as we seek to keep the response procedure as close to the local people who we seek to help.A regional rapid reaction force is called for if that area is at risk from such terrible events.

      Now is not a time for highlighting discord with internal party point scoring but for praying for those stricken with tragedy and to be generous with our own money (if we have any spare).It is a time for people to understand that we need each other and that no man is an Island as we read in Robinson Crusoe.The shallow consumerist individualism of our age was shown not to work as communities drew together to deal with the snow.In the face of this even greater calamity people are pulling together to give aid to the needy.After all Our Lord did not call the Apostles individually but together and by being together we can deal with life's problems.

      'What so ever you do to the least among you you do to me'- as Our Lord himself said.People might well say where was God when this happened- I would say that the Holy Ghost was guiding those in the relief work and was comforting those in distress.This happened due to geometric fault-lines as it is part of how the world works or it could cease to support life.God is there because he is moving people to supply monies and to pray and is sustaining those in suffering as well as guiding the rescue effort.

      Now is a time for faith,hope and love – not for internal party splits being focused on.This crisis reminds us how lucky we are and that when a minor problem like not agreeing with an MP comes a long we should thank God that we are not really suffering like people in Haiti whose family has been wiped out.We should ask God why me when good things happen because as sinners we do not deserve them.What happened in Haiti highlights the fragility of our world and how we cannot take the good things in life for granted.It is an occasion for humility and gratitude for what we have.It is also a time to draw together in recognition of our common humanity as we are all made in our Creators image & likeness.It is these common bonds that explain the futility of individualism and the need to help each-other in a crisis.

      So to finish it is a time to remember the fact that trivial internal Tory splits are of no significance compared to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.The humane thing to do is to set such minor disputes aside and focus on the good in people and to do what we can in prayer & alms giving to help those suffering in Haiti (perhaps by starting our Lenten observances sooner as that helps the needy and our Souls to boot).

      • Kevin Peat
        Posted January 16, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

        "That is what the Parable of the Good Samaritan is all about …"

        If Christian values are to be invoked when it comes to aid abroad then please let us reassert the faith back home in full. Otherwise leave religion out of decisions about how to spend taxpayer's money.

        It is a tough world and our politicians' only duty is to protect us against it.

        • Matthew Reynolds
          Posted January 17, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

          When you look at the suffering and carnage that has taken place in Haiti then we must do what we can to help.Of course after 13 years of Labour misrule we need to get poverty rates down by reforming welfare,improving schools,empowering charites,taking the working poor out of tax etc.

          We saw what happened with Hitlers Germany when secular values replaced Christian ones and so Christians must have a place at the table when it comes to civic decision making.

  5. A.Sedgwick
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    It is as you say absolutely horrendous. Cameron's idea for an emergency rapid deployment force is excellent and needs to be expanded. Our emergency fire service unit of 64 personnel and dogs was out there very quickly and my guess is the big TV Channels have standby equipment, supplies and a charter aircraft at the ready at all times.

    There is a strong body of opinion, as usual ignored by leading politicians, that Overseas Aid needs to be re-evaluated, re-organised and not necessarily increased. The feeling is too much overseas aid goes to the wrong countries, maybe for political reasons. There are so many smallish charities canvassing for help my regular thought is are they getting enough tax £s from us. How much overseas aid goes in admin, waste, theft and local corruption.

    Within the overseas aid budget there should be a contingency fund of £100s millions to rebuild the lives of people ruined by major disasters. The overall emphasis should be on closely managed projects.

    • chefdave
      Posted January 16, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      We don't have the money to go around saving the world. Why should I have to pay to rebuild Hatian houses when the government won't even let me have my own?

      • Posted January 16, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

        Underlying all this is the huge question which chefdave puts so succinctly: Why should we help these people when it is quite obvious that they are not helping themselves? They seem to be just sitting there waiting for someone else to do it for them.
        Good old USA!
        So where, please, is the al Qua'eda team of rescuers? Or the Hamas Firemen? What about the Somali Pirates sending a boat or two?
        I am not being flippant. For Christians, helping people is of the essence. For Muslims it simply is not of the essence. There is no quote in the Koran that tells a similar tale to the Good Samaritan. Helping people of the Faith, yes. But not necessarily Kufars (unbelievers). "That is what the Parable of the Good Samaritan is all about as we must not walk by on the other side." Matthew Reynolds (above).
        If you are not a practising Christian or fellow traveller, then, like chefdave,there really is no answer to the question, "Why bother?"
        And it is no good even being a Socialist: China has been conspicuously absent, as has the EU qua EU.
        The way we take Christian ideals for granted always heartens me.

        • Little Black Censore
          Posted January 17, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

          "The way we take Christian ideals for granted always heartens me."
          A thought-provoking remark! But we can't go on for ever taking them for granted if the people who explicitly believe in them die out. We are using up spiritual capital accumulated over centuries.

  6. Posted January 16, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    I have read several reports from Haitian nationals explaining why the death toll is so high there and not on neighbouring islands or the Dominican Republic which is on the same island. They all have the story of the exploitation of Haiti, first by France who extracted vast sums of money for their independence, then by the US and big business who loaned them money to buy France off then systematically destroyed the economy by predatory import pricing, which eliminated the farming industry. After paying the population slave wages in factories and supporting the most ghastly dictators (Duvalier father and son) the US then colluded with the local elites to remove the democratically elected president (Jean-Bertrand Aristide) twice. The second time the CIA kidnapped him and took him to Africa. The subsequent power vacuum and appalling poverty has resulted in no building standards at all and no infrastructure to deal with disasters along with violence and crime at levels unseen in any other country in the Caribbean.
    These reports are all the more believable given the USA’s record of overthrowing any government it doesn’t like (the list is very long). Bear in mind also that the hurricane in 2004 which resulted in 2600 deaths on Haiti also hit Cuba with higher winds and more rain but only killed 4 people there.
    The earthquake cannot be blamed on anyone but the death toll is man made.

  7. chefdave
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Why is it that the U.S and to a lesser extent the U.K are always expected to clean up the mess?

    Both our nations are detested the world because of Britains imperialist history and America's overbearing foreign policy. But whenever there's a crisis the world looks to us for both leadership and aid.

    As a general rule I think that we should stay out of the affairs of other states, if we do have to have a rapid reaction force the country that needs those services should pay for it. This would not only save the British taxpayer from spending even more money on overseas aid, but it would mean that the country in question would owe us no political/trade favours once they got back on their feet.

    Of course charities could step in like they always have done for these sorts of disasters.

    If the world wants non-intervention then lets give them that.

  8. Kevin Peat
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    We shouldn't underestimate the amount of money the media have for transport and for commandeering hotels. A good book to read if you want to know how it's done is The Circuit by Bob Shephard. Frankly I'd want SAS standard close protection with me. I suspect most journalists out there will be huddled in groups in some facility or other.

    If water is available naturally in fresh form then it can be filtered for individual use easily enough using portable equipment. Food can be carried in ration packs and resupplied military style at huge cost. By the way – you never see a fat field reporter.

    What a wonderful time for our discredited politicians to divert attention from the mess they've made at home and look statemanly.

  9. Posted January 16, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    In would rather have the US military running the aid programme than the UN with their long record of incompetence & corruption.

    However the real problem in Haiti is that they have NEVER had a true rule of law & therefore the basic requirement for any sort of social progress isn't there. Unfortunately I don't know how to produce that & recent history shows that international aid tends to make that worse b y disproportionately helping the thugs (eg Palestine, Kosovo, Bosnia & probably Iraq & Afghanistan)

  10. backofanenvelope
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Maybe we need to resurrect the idea of a UN mandate. The US could take over the government of Haiti. They could then expel the UN and the various aid Quangos and install a responsible uncorrupt government.

  11. Javelin
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Recent history has shown us good Goverance should be the first goal of the foreign office, without judgement of the politics. A rapid response in a crises should be another goal.

  12. Posted January 16, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Oh dear, I am about to get myself shot.

    We have had AID agencys in Haiti since after Baby Doc got run out of town. almost 25 years worth of AID to help a country that had been run into the ground thanks to a father son double act.

    Now because of the earthquake we are finding out they have done NOTHING to actually help the people.

    If you have been listening to the reports who are "out and about" in the back of beyond, and listened to the people they are interviewing (This helps how?) you will hear the constant crys of there is no one here, there never was anyone here.

    Why send a reporter, why not send someone with Skills, have him cut down a few trees (Sorry Geen folk) and make a shelter, start a fire.

    (Even more insulting now) Kill the odd wild animal or dog (If you need food you'll eat it), send someone with practial skills.

    Bags of rice, and tents. I predict that 10 years from now we will still have people living in tents. WHY because that is the level of our help.

    Big AID agencys are a scam, they have accountants, Directors, all who take a cut, they spend money trying to make money.

    You want to help, take your skills go there and live of the land and help out. Oh dear, wouldn't get anyone doing that now, but send another reporter, looks good for the career picture with people suffering in the background.

    • alan jutson
      Posted January 16, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      William

      I understand your comments and some of your thoughts.

      The fault with most of the aid programmes worldwide, is that it involves people and Governments just sending money to other Governments, corrupt or otherwise.

      Some of this Money seems to be rarely spent on any meaningful project for the good of the many, but seems to get syphoned off in numerous ways with Bribes, bungs, and theft, for private gain.

      Funded Projects which do seem to work, seem to be organised by local groups in the Country concerned with World wide affiliation, like Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, Round table etc. these Charitable Organisations (Lions and Rotary number about 3,000,000 members worldwide) carry none of the expenses and overheads that many other organisations do (Members pay their own expenses). They only filter aid and money to the Local Lions or Rotary Club members in the area involved so that it can be distributed at the point of need, they then know it will reach the very people who need it, and those people are then encouraged to help themselves.

      With regard to fresh water, no need for expensive and major equipment which will take months to install. You just need to requisition a large cruise ship offshore, which will produce about 250,000 gallons of fresh treated water a day, whilst you repair the infrastructure.
      The cruise ship could also act as a sort of hospital ship at the same time, a makeshift helicopter pad could be installed (QE2 Falklands Style) for rapid transport of people, water, supplies.

      Whilst I agree with the Uk Government, giving Foreign aid of some sort as a Policy, and certainly with emergency aid in cases like this. I do agree that we need to completely rethink the way in which any Aid is given in future. In that regard I am afraid I do not agree with DC that the present Foriegn Aid Budget should be ring fenced and protected.

      • Tommy
        Posted January 18, 2010 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        Alan,

        I 100% agree with sending cruise ships, there are hundreds in the area and i am very suprised that I haven't heard of any being requisitioned, i have looked for it but not found it.

        These would make excellent hospital ships with all the beds and open spaces as well as kitchens and water making facilities.

        lets hope some arrive soon.

  13. Monty
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    This disaster has helped to highlight the importance of a number of resources which are not always easy to get to a safe staging post. I suppose the most urgent need is clean drinking water, and though the US Navy ships are pretty good at supplying it, they need time to get there. But other aspects are fuel for aircraft and overland vehicles, and also rough terrain vehicles and heavy lifting gear. Engineering vehicles, like bridge-layers, can make it possible for wagon loads of food to be taken into the hot zone, and also for people to be evacuated to camp sites.

    I wouldn't want any of that coming out of MOD budgets though. It would need significant military input, especially in terms of personnel. But the overseas aid budget should be used for this kind of task force.

  14. Bob
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I haven't heard what help the Dom Rep has offered.
    Don't they have sea and airports, hospitals, food, trucks etc. etc.?

  15. Posted January 16, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Lessons we should learn – Sending AID does nothing. Look at our own country, we provide support for those who do not work, and get what we have generations within a family who have never worked.

    Provide AID to a country, they will live off it, then ask for repaymens, you will get nothing back.

  16. thespecialone
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I am against the government giving money to any charity. They are not then charities. Of course we should help the people of poor desparate countries like Haiti; to a certain extent. What is required is a full breakdown of where every single penny of taxpayers' money goes in overseas aid. I reckon that millions could be saved (ok I have no evidence to support that claim, but I believe it), if the money given by the government was not given to other governments. We know how wasteful this government is; but I would bet my mortgage that giving money direct to governments in virtually every African country means a lot of it is syphoned off.

  17. savonarola
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Aid the curse of Africa and the block to reform from bottom up.

    Haiti needs immediate help. The rebuilding is another issue. The money will be spent on the top 5% of the population who will control the projects.

    A major slice of the tsunami monies raised was mis spent. It always is.

  18. Posted January 16, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    As an MP who supports public spending cuts, presumably because there isn't enough money to maintain the current level of public spending, would you please explain why it is that we can afford to send millions if not billions of pounds to foreign countries most people know nothing about, but we can't afford to maintain current levels of public spending? You were elected to serve our people, not the people of other countries. The people of this country can give to charities if they want their money to help reconstruct Haiti. We don't need the present or next government to donate tax revenue that could instead be used to sustain public services.

    If you feel that we can afford to provide aid to areas hit by natural disasters, you should also demand an increase to the amount of money we spend on public services, since we obviously have so much money.

  19. Adrian Peirson
    Posted January 24, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    In the Good old days, We in Britain used to run a tight ship, why not today, why do not all Western nations each have 10,000 family sized military grade tents in permanent storage along with food rations and medical kits.
    Within hours of receiving a call for help we could all have had Transports dropping supplies and emergency teams into Haiti.
    Did Labour outlaw good old fashioned foreward planning too.
    There will be more earthquakes, floods, and volcanoes.
    We in Britain are now reduced to being caught out by snow, how embarrasing.
    What this country needs is a Prime minister wearing a Green and Brown suit for a few years, a Browning in one hand and a copy of Magna Carta in the other.

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