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.