Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In Haiti, No One In Charge

 This is no criticism of U.S. military and humanitarian relief aid in the first week after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that flatten half of Haiti last Tuesday. God knows their intentions were sound.

No one seems in charge. Not the Haitian government which was feeble before the quake and totally crippled beginning with the first after shocks. Not the United Nations blue-helmeted security forces shaken to the bone with numerous deaths.

The only semblance of authority was the U.S. military from a party table and laptops performing air traffic control duties at the Port-au-Prince's one runway airport. They established a priority list of plane arrivals and departures. For the most part, the much needed supplies remained for days at the airport.

Some really questionable decisions were made. Doctors Without Borders which had established clinics in Haiti years before the quake, dispatched a portable, inflatable hospital surgery unit carried in two planes. One was allowed to land in Haiti, the other was forced to land in the Dominican Republic resulting in two lost days before it was made operational.

On Thursday night, Belgian relief chief coordinator Geert Gijs ordered a surgical team evacuated from a makeshift hospital leaving just operated victims abandoned because of security reasons.

For all the valid reasons we heard during the chaos on why water, food and medical supplies were not delivered to the horror-stricken, injured, thirsty and hungry victims, one country excelled.

That, of course, was Israel.. Hours after landing, they established a fully equipped field hospital and performed dozens of surgeries. A second team was dispatched Monday night and was operational by midday today.

The IsraAID/FIRST medical teams consisting of 12 medical personnel treated some 200 people, performed 25 surgeries and delivered.three babies in its first day.

The U.S., in particular FEMA, should use Israel as a model. It is a lean, mean, surgical task force with years of practical experience.

The U.S., by comparison, is a bumbling, fumbling giant funneling a wealth of resources too often unable or incapable of being logistically delivered in a timely fashion. It occurred in New Orleans after the Katrina hurricane and we see the same logistical blockage in Haiti.

It is not a case of "helluva job Brownie." It is a case of lack of leadership on the ground. Where is the general or admiral to kick butt and take names and get the job done.

Isabelle Jeanson, a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Emergency Communications Officer, wrote in an email from Haiti on Sunday: "MSF is still concerned that delivery of vital supplies is being delayed."

"Patients who were not critical only three days ago are now in critical phases. This means that people will die from preventable infections. It's horrible. It's really so terrible that people are begging for help and we can't help them all to save their lives!"

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper called it "stupid deaths."

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who led relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said the evacuation of the clinic's medical staff  involving Belgian, Canadian and U.S. doctors was unforgivable.
"Search and rescue must trump security," Honoré said. "I've never seen anything like this before in my life. They need to man up and get back in there." They returned the next morning.

"I find this astonishing these doctors left," he said. "People are scared of the poor."

Under the leadership of President Barack Obama, the U.S. has pledged $100 million in relief aid, committed almost 10,000 troops and countless Coast Guard vessels to Haiti while at the same time suspending the deportation for 18 months of up to 200,000 Haitians said to have entered the country illegally.

I can't help but wonder if we have learned our lesson supporting whatever government the Haitians concoct. Giving money directly to the government is akin to flushing it down the toilet. The money supply line must be changed during that nation's rebuilding process. Smarter people than me no doubt can figure it out. Some of the humanitarian relief organizations made productive strides in schooling Haitians in the operation of medical clinics and hospitals.

Americans have big hearts and always respond to national and international disasters. I don't like what I'm seeing as a future for Haiti. They have nothing but hope and despair. The rebuilding process must start at ground zero. There is no infrastructure -- that big word we take for granted until the bridge collapses or the sewer line bursts.

At the moment our government is on a path to adopt Haiti. That is a recipe for disaster.

The sad thing is that within six months -- exactly as what happened with the tsunami on Christmas Day 2004 off the Indian Ocean -- Americans will have forgotten about Haiti.


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