January 27, 2010

Chaotic Scramble for Food in Haiti: You're in Charge of Your Own Disaster Plans

Shades of Katrina emanate from the descriptions of "anarchy" engulfing the streets. Remember the Superdome, the "looting," the alleged explosion of mayhem? The media conjured images of death and destruction with voyueristic zeal, while curating the stories to fit a prevailing narrative of savagery and social breakdown. - Please Don’t Superdome Haiti

The Superdome During Katrina

A disaster medical assistance team, DMAT, from San Francisco area, CA-6, served in the Superdome during the Katrina Hurricane. Conditions were horrific.

Greta Van Susteren of Fox interviewed Dr. Charles Burnell, an emergency room physician who was providing medical care in the Superdome. Asked about the level of violence among the 20,000 displaced residents who sought shelter inside the giant stadium, Dr. Burnell said: "We had three murders last night. We had a total of six rapes last night. We had the day before, I think, there were three or four murders. There were half-a-dozen rapes that night. We had one suicide last night. We had one military policeman shot." Dr. Burnell described the Superdome situation as "very unstable, very high tension, a very dangerous environment." While National Guardsmen were on hand for protection, he said that "every time there was an incident that broke out, they had to tend to that, which left us uncovered." Burnell said the task of treating people inside the stadium became impossible after they ran out of supplies. "We did not have oxygen, we did not have any medications to speak of," he said. But what forced the New Orleans doc to finally abandon the giant evacuation center was the threat of violence. "Until I can insure that I'm not putting my life in any significantly dangerous situation as I was before - I will not be back in the Superdome," he told Fox. - Doc: 6 Murders, 12 Rapes Inside Superdome, Newsmax.com, September 1, 2005

Two Weeks After Haiti Quake, Food Aid Falls Short

By Vivian Sequera and Ben Fox, The Associated Press
January 27, 2010

Street vendors openly sell U.S.-donated rice by the cupful from bags marked "not for resale." At a homeless camp, a young woman told of thieves who tried to sell her own food back to her.

As she spoke, a gang of youths pushed into a line of people waiting for water Wednesday, shoving an elderly woman, who screamed and swung her bucket at their heads.

Such scenes and worse are common among crowds of Haitians lining up for rice, beans or ready-to-eat meals, forcing U.N. peacekeepers to fire pepper spray and Haitian police to swing sticks to restore control.

Whether locked up in warehouses or stolen by thugs from people's hands, food from the world's aid agencies still isn't getting to enough hungry Haitians, leaving the strongest and fittest with the most.
"These people are just hungry," U.N. spokesman Vincenzo Pugliese said of the thousands thronging food distribution points. He said U.N. peacekeepers would reinforce security at the sites.
Two weeks into the quake catastrophe, food remains scarce for many of the neediest survivors despite the efforts of the United Nations, the U.S. military and scores of international aid agencies. Haitian leaders say coordination has been poor, while relief experts say this disaster is presenting unprecedented challenges.

Clutching a grocery bag filled only with small packets of donated water, 25-year-old Julia Jean-Francois shrugged in resignation Wednesday.
"I lost all the rice, beans and oil that were distributed last week. A group of young men shoved me and grabbed the bags and ran away," said the young woman, whose mother was killed in the quake.
An hour later, one of the men returned and offered to sell her the same food for the equivalent of $18. She refused, relying instead on a communal kitchen she formed with some homeless neighbors.

She said Haitian police patrolling nearby did nothing while people were robbed.
"We complained, and they got into their truck and left," she said.
The World Food Program acknowledged that rising tensions and security incidents — "including people rushing distribution points for food" — have hampered deliveries.

Since the first days of the massive relief effort, however, other problems have also delayed aidblocked and congested roads, shortages of trucks, a crippled seaport and an overloaded Port-au-Prince airport.
"The unblocking of the logistical bottlenecks is an absolute priority," the European Commission said Wednesday, describing a seven-day backlog of 1,000 relief flights seeking permission to land.

"Many mistakes have to be rectified in order to bring help to the people who need it," Haitian President Rene Preval complained to reporters.
The U.N. food agency urgently appealed to governments for more cash for food for Haiti — $800 million to feed 2 million people through December, more than quadruple the $196 million already pledged.

Some 1 million Haitians have been made homeless in the Jan. 12 quake, which killed an estimated 200,000 people. Surviving in the open in impromptu squatter areas, these displaced people remain in urgent need of emergency shelters, said the International Organization for Migration, which has so far been able to fly in only a fraction of the estimated 200,000 family-size tents that are needed.

As a stopgap, the organization was trying to rush in tens of thousands of tarpaulins and plastic sheets — an upgrade for people miserably squatting under bed sheets or cardboard.

The Geneva-based agency, the Haitian government and other groups are working to clear land and install facilities for tent camps on Port-au-Prince's outskirts — an option meant to last only three to five months, before the heavy rains of summer and hurricane season.

On food aid, the World Food Program says it has reached more than 450,000 people since the quake, but U.N. officials estimate 2 million people need regular supplies.

The senior U.S. officer in Haiti said Haitian families simply cannot rely on any particular location for rations.

Food is "flooding" into the city, Lt. Gen. Ken Keen told reporters, "but it's being delivered pretty much in terms of where we can get to and where we can distribute it," not always in locations that are "sustained every day."

At some regular distribution points, such as near the Champs de Mars plaza where thousands of homeless are living, daily food handouts have drawn unruly lines of frantic people. Desperation boiled over earlier this week and Uruguayan peacekeepers retreated as young men rushed forward to grab U.S.-donated bags of beans and rice. A pregnant woman collapsed and was trampled.

Fears of official corruption also are surfacing.

Paul Coroleuski of the U.S.-based Convoy of Hope, which has distributed aid in Haiti for three years, said he has more than 100 tons of food in a Port-au-Prince warehouse ready to hand out, but it has been delayed for days by Haitian officials who say they will take over distribution.

Private agencies like his worry that Haitian officials "will do what they always have done, which is the government takes care of the government and the people are secondary," he said.

Haitian officials denied the government plans to take over food distribution from private agencies.

Coroleuski's frustration and distrust of the government is echoed in Port-au-Prince's streets.
"If they turn it over to the Haitian government, they would take it all for themselves," said Muller Bellegarde, 30, as he waited for food in the unrelenting tropical sun.
Haitians remember that when the government took charge of delivering international aid to the city of Gonaives after deadly hurricane floods in 2008, much of it ended up sold on the black market.

UN Peacekeepers Fire Pepper Spray on Thousands of Hungry Haitians Waiting for Food

Daily Mail
January 27, 2010

Thousands of hungry Haitians spilled into the streets defeating barbed wire and a tiny contingent of blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers distributing food.

The chaotic scene unfolded outside the wrecked presidential palace in Port-au-Prince where aid agencies struggled to control 4000-strong mass of desperate Haitians, two weeks after the devastating earthquake struck.

Security forces fired pepper spray into the air in an effort to disperse the thousands of men, women and children jostling for food.
UN peacekeepers struggle to control the thousands of desperately hungry Haitians outside the wrecked presidential palace in Port-au-Prince
Jostle: UN peacekeepers struggle to control the thousands of desperately hungry Haitians outside the wrecked presidential palace in Port-au-Prince

As the overwhelmed soldiers finally retreated, people rushed forward to grab sacks of pinto beans and rice, emblazoned with the U.S. flag.

A vomiting pregnant woman, still gesturing at her mouth to show hunger, was carried off by UN troops after collapsing out of the crush of bodies.

Soldiers had done their best to prepare for the crowds. They erected barbed wire, cutting off the street from the sprawling tent city.

Troops then ordered people to line up in four queues, 20 yards form where the food was to be dumped.

Haitians push forward despite security forces firing warning shots and pepper spray into the air
Arms up: Haitians push forward despite security forces firing warning shots
One peacekeeper (far right) can be seen using pepper spray to try and keep crowds under control
Vain attempt: One peacekeeper (far right) can be seen using pepper spray to try and keep crowds under control
Two trucks were parked between the people and food, while a UN armoured car was on guard to the side.
But even the peacekeepers armed with batons and riot shields could not hold back the agitated crowds.

Every time a soldier fired a warning shot the crowds jumped back, just for a moment, and then pushed forward again screaming.

The episode came two days after similar scenes in the Point Rouge area, when Brazilian U.N. peacekeepers were forced to fire flash grenades and pepper spray to dissipate an unruly crowd.
'Due to insufficient strength of military personnel providing security in the site of the distribution, the population tried to loot, putting the lives of the military personnel and the (World Food Program) members in danger,' according to an internal Brazilian UN report.
A young man's eyes light up as he sees dozens of sacks of rice and pinto beans
Surging crowds: A young man's eyes light up as he sees dozens of sacks of rice and pinto beans

Thousands of people were left without food after the chaotic scramble
Retreating: Thousands of people were left without food after the chaotic scramble

With thousands left without food after the melee, president Rene Preval called for more tents for the homeless who are spread across empty lots, parks and plazas in the hundreds of thousands.

In the surrounding Champs de Mars plaza, Haitians were living out in the open, many with nothing more than a plastic sheet to protect them from sun and rain.
'We live like dogs,' said Espiegle Amilcar, 34. 'We're sleeping, eating and going to the bathroom in the same place.'
The global agency supplying tents said it already had 10,000 stored in Haiti and at least 30,000 more would be arriving.

Children hold up placards demanding help in Leogane, one of the towns worst hit by the earthquake
Going without: Children hold up placards demanding help in Leogane, one of the towns worst hit by the earthquake

But the International Organization for Migration said:
'The supply is unlikely to address the extensive shelter needs.'
Meanwhile as Haiti's mobile phone system began working again, thousands of voicemails and texts from people trapped in the ruins were heard and seen for the first time.

Survivor Rene Emile, 32, cried when she read the text from her husband Peter who was on training course in the capital when the building he was in collapsed.
He wrote: 'Send help, we are still alive. May the Lord bless you and keep you, his face shines upon you. I love you.'
Mrs Emile told the The Sun:
'This is all I have left of my husband. Some words on a cellphone screen. This is all there is and it arrived too late.'

Troops Fire on Starving Crowds in Haiti

By Patrick Martin, World Socialist Web Site
January 28, 2010

... An extraordinary denunciation of the Obama administration’s conduct in Haiti was published in the Wall Street Journal, issued by three New York City doctors, Soumitra R. Eachempati, incoming president of the New York State Chapter of the American College of Surgeons, and Dean Lorich and David Helfet, orthopedic surgeons and colleagues of Dr. Eachempati at the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City.

Their statement appeared under the headline, “Haiti: Obama’s Katrina, Many post-quake deaths could have been prevented.” The three doctors, who were among the first to reach Haiti after the quake, wrote that:
The delays imposed by the US military on relief groups entering the county “proved tragic. Upon our arrival at the Haiti Community Hospital we found scores of patients with pus dripping out of open fractures and crush injuries. Some wounds were already infested with maggots. Approximately one-third of the victims were children. Most of the patients already had life-threatening infections, and all were dehydrated. Many had been waiting in the hospital compound for days without water, antibiotics or even pain medicine. The hospital smelled of infected, rotting limbs.”
They continued:
“The U.S. response to the earthquake should be considered an embarrassment. Our operation received virtually no support from any branch of the US government, including the State Department. As we ran out of various supplies we had no means to acquire moreLater, as we were leaving Haiti, we were appalled to see warehouse-size quantities of unused medicines, food and other supplies at the airport, surrounded by hundreds of US and international soldiers standing around aimlessly.”

Haiti Earthquake By the Numbers

The Associated Press
January 26, 2010

The earthquake that hit Haiti, by the numbers:


- Magnitude-7.0 at 4:53 p.m. EST (2153 GMT) on Jan. 12
- Aftershocks: 56 of magnitude-4.5 or greater


- Bodies recovered: 150,000 (includes 54 Americans, 44 Europeans)
- Estimated dead: 200,000
- Rescued from collapsed buildings: 134
- Injured: 194,000
- Children who are unaccompanied, orphaned or lost one parent: 1 million
- People enduring amputations or other surgery: 200,000


- Homeless: 1 million
- Living in makeshift camps: 700,000-800,000
- Tents needed for homeless: 200,000 family-size
- People who have fled Port-au-Prince for the countryside: 236,000


- Structures destroyed: 70% in broad areas of the capital; 90% in towns closer to the epicenter
- Schools destroyed or badly damaged: 90% throughout the capital
- People who need food aid: 2 million
- People receiving food aid: 400,000


Backlog of planes waiting to land at the airport: 800-1000

Flights landing per day: About 140

U.S. military: About 20,000 troops, 18 ships

U.N. peacekeeping troops and police: 12,500

Donations: More than $1 billion from governments, including $575 million from Europe and $316 million from U.S. government, in addition to $470 million in donations through private U.S. charities.

Sources include the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, U.S. Geological Survey; European Commission Monitoring and Information Center; U.S. Agency for International Development; International Organization for Migration; U.S. Department of Defense; The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Save the Children.

Many Flee Haiti Capital, Government Planning Tent Cities

Associated Press
January 22, 2010

Haitians are fleeing their quake-ravaged capital by the hundreds of thousands, aid officials said Friday, as their government promised to help nearly a half-million more move from squalid camps on curbsides and vacant lots into safer, cleaner tent cities.

Doctors said a 69-year-old woman was pulled from the wreckage of a building on Friday, 10 days after the magnitude-7.0 quake, but some teams were giving up the search and efforts focused on expanding aid for survivors.

Aid officials said some 200,000 people have crammed into buses, nearly swamped ferries and set out even on foot to escape the ruined capital. For those who stay, foreign engineers have started leveling land on the fringes of the city for tent cities, supposedly temporary, that are meant to house 400,000 people.

The goal is to halt the spread of disease at hundreds of impromptu settlements that have no water and no place for sewage. Homeless families have erected tarps and tents, cardboard and scrap as shelter from the sun, but they will be useless once the summer rainy season hits.

The new camps "are going to be going to places where they will have at least some adequate facilities," Fritz Longchamp, chief of staff to President Rene Preval, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Doctors treating the newly rescued woman said she was in bad shape after being trapped for so long.
"There is very little hope, but we are trying to save her life," Dr. Ernest Benjamin told The Associated Press.
Doctors at Haiti's General Hospital were treating the woman with oxygen and intravenous fluids.

Thursday was the first day since the quake in which nobody was pulled alive from the ruins, U.N. mission spokesman David Wimhurst said.
"We all hope that others have survived and can be found, but the more days that go by without signs of life, the dimmer these hopes will become," he said.
Armies of foreign aid donors, instead, turned their attention to expanding their pipeline of food, water and medical care for survivors.

With extensive swaths of Port-au-Prince in ruins, more than 500 makeshift settlements with a population of about 472,000 are now scattered around the capital, said Jean-Philippe Chauzy, spokesman for the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration. Getting them to safer quarters could take weeks.
"These settlements cannot be built overnight. There are standards that have to be designed by experts. There is the leveling of the land, procurement and delivery of tents, as well as water and sanitation," said Vincent Houver, the IOM's mission chief in Haiti.
The move will be voluntary and temporary, according to Elisabeth Byrs, the spokeswoman for the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva.
"It's to help them in a first move. After, the people will decide if they want to stay," she said.
Many people are just trying to get out of the capital, often back to the farms or provincial homes of relatives.

The U.S. Agency for International Development said Friday that as many as 200,000 Haitians have fled the capital and many more are trying to do so ...

Haiti's government estimates the Jan. 12 quake killed 200,000 people, as reported by the European Commission. It said 250,000 people were injured and 2 million homeless in the nation of 9 million. Others offer smaller estimates.

The disaster has prompted what the Red Cross calls the greatest deployment of emergency responders in its 91-year history. Nations around the world have offered what they can: more than $500 million from European nations, money even from impoverished Chad and Congo, and a ton of tea from Sri Lanka.

The U.N.'s World Food Program said it has distributed more than 1.4 million food rations — each with three meals, and has a fleet of trucks in bringing food and supplies.
"We are planning to flood the country with food," Myrta Kaulard, the agency's Haiti director, told the AP.
To speed that flood, the U.S. Army, Navy and Coast Guard are trying to patch up the Haitian capital's only functional industrial pier, which is key to getting in large aid shipments as well as to Haiti's long-term recovery.

Only four ships have been able to dock at the pier, where 15-inch-wide (40-centimeter-wide) cracks make it risky to let more than one truck work at a time, and damage is so extensive that military officials say they don't know how long it will take before ships can dock and unload in large quantities.
"I wouldn't even ask my workers to risk it. I don't trust it," said Georges Jeager Junior, a businessman who plans to shift his port operations to the northern city of Cap Haitien, a 12-hour journey over bad roads from the capital. Jeager Junior said that means prices will soar.
Damage at the country's badly damaged main oil terminal has kept any tankers from landing since the quake, so gas stations on fuel trucked in from the Dominican Republic.

On the waterfront Thursday, sporadic rounds of gunfire echoed from the nearby downtown commercial area. Scavengers continued to rampage through collapsed and burning shops. U.S. troops patrolled nearby to protect aid convoys, but were leaving policing to Haitian and U.N. forces.

At a building in the Carrefour neighborhood, where the multi-faith Eagle Wings Foundation of West Palm Beach, Florida, planned to distribute food, stick-wielding quake victims from a nearby tent camp stormed the stores and made off with what the charity's Rev. Robert Nelson said were 50 tons of rice, oil, dried beans and salt. Fights broke out as others stole food from the looters.

At the south of Haiti's main bay, near the earthquake's epicenter, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard — which together have put 20 ships into the relief effort — set up a triage center amid the rusting motorboats, with dozens of military doctors treating the most urgent casualties on the lawn.
"The injured seem to just keep showing up," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chris Worth. "We've been working from dawn to dusk since getting here."
Emergency medical centers almost everywhere were swamped with patients critically injured by the quake. There were dire shortages of surgeons, nurses, medicines and medical tools.
Doctors said patients were dying of sepsis from untreated wounds.
"A large number of those coming here are having to have amputations, since their wounds are so infected," said Brynjulf Ystgaard, a Norwegian surgeon at a Red Cross field hospital.

Struggle to Survive in Haiti Camps

By Matthew Price, BBC News
January 18, 2010

There is a sign hanging over the road with a blue arrow pointing to the left of it. "Help needed," it says.

Further along, a group of men are hanging a fresh white banner between two telegraph poles — "St Patrick's Refugee Camp."

Nearby, and through the wire fence, there's a partially-destroyed school.

You see the displaced and dispossessed, row upon row of them with plots neatly divided by lines of string tied to trees.

Most have some blankets, some a few pillows. Here and there, the odd chair. But all have little, or worse — some say — nothing.

Tens of thousands are crammed into the makeshift camps.

Along dusty streets, you see them queuing for water.

Fresh water is in short supply.

The number of dead that remain under the rubble is also a worry.

Disease could begin to spread.

Prices are rising in Port-au-Prince for food and fuel.

Some fear the desperation could provoke violence.

Haiti's humanitarian crisis is growing.

People here are making the best of the harsh conditions. They are hugely resourceful.

A main concern, however, is that without enough food aid and water, malnutrition will make them more susceptible to disease.

If the weather changes and it starts to rain, that will also make things far worse than they are even now.

And in the long term — they say here — that without a government and without jobs, they can never rebuild.

It will take more than a few weeks of fund-raising to bring Haiti back from the dead.

Food Security Collapses in Haiti as Machete-Wielding Gangs Fight in the Streets

By Mike Adams, Natural News
January 16, 2010

Overnight, Haiti has gone from an organized, civil nation to a scenario of total chaos with gangs running wild through the streets, ransacking shops and fighting over food with machetes.

Learning this, many an ignorant westerner might naively say, "That could only happen in Haiti. It's because those people are so poor, so uncivilized. It could never happen here..."

Oh but it could.

Haiti isn’t so different from wherever you live — a city in America, Canada, Australia, the UK or anywhere else. Everywhere in the world, people will fight for survival when the situation becomes desperate. The only reason the streets in your town aren’t overrun with firearms and machetes right now is because food is plentiful. The electricity works. The water supply is functioning and police keep the relatively few criminals under control.

But wherever you live, your city is just one natural disaster away from total chaos. Hurricane Katrina proved it: Even in America, a civil, law-abiding city of people can be turned into looting, stealing and dangerously armed bands of gang-bangers.

And you know why? Because people aren’t prepared for disasters. Come to think of it, most people aren’t even prepared for a disruption in food and electricity lasting more than 48 hours. Almost nobody has spare food, water, emergency first aid supplies or the ability to physically defend themselves against aggressors. They are betting their lives on the bizarre idea that their government will save them if something goes wrong.

The people of Haiti are now learning what the people of New Orleans already know: Your government won’t save you. In a real crisis, you are on your own.

Law and Order is a Fragile Thing

When disruptions occur — whether through natural disasters, radical weather events, war or civil unrest — governments and city police organizations can break down within hours. In Haiti right now, there is no government running anything. No police force. No authority. It’s every man (and woman) for himself. If you want to eat, you pick up a machete and fight for it.

It is a desperate situation.

This article isn’t really about Haiti, by the way. It’s about YOU and where YOU live. If a natural disaster struck your town tonight, would you be prepared?

Do you have the means to procure clean water if the water system breaks down? Do you have a way to provide shelter for yourself and your family if there’s no electricity or heating fuel available? Can you physical defend yourself and your family against aggressive marauders desperately searching for food? (Or do you have enough to share with them? If so, how will you share with the hundreds or thousands that follow in their footsteps?)

Most people aren’t prepared for the unknown. They live lives that are entirely dependent on the continued successful operation of public infrastructure, law and order. And if that infrastructure is ever interrupted, they are completely unable to fend for themselves.

Most people live out most of their lives in precisely this situation. Every American city is a future Haiti just waiting to happen under the right (or wrong) circumstances. Civility is a fragile thing. Law and order is a thin veneer on society. And it can disappear in mere minutes.

Be Prepared

This article, though, isn’t a doom-and-gloom assessment of our modern society. Rather, it is a reminder to all of us to get real about personal preparedness.

If you don’t have a portable water filter, some storable food, a warm sleeping bag and all sorts of other preparedness items all ready to go in a “go bag,” then you may find yourself in the same situation millions of Haitians find themselves in right now.

Most Haitians have a reasonable excuse for a lack of preparedness: In terms of per-capita income, Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the world. It’s difficult to stockpile water filters, storable food, and outdoor gear when you’re living on a couple of dollars a day. But for people like you, living in “wealthy” nations like the USA, you CAN afford to be prepared.

You can afford water storage containers. You can afford sprouting seeds and some simple sprouting trays. You can afford an emergency LED flashlight, a high-quality multifunction knife tool, and an emergency tent. Most likely, you have the financial means to get prepared starting right now. So if you haven’t already done it, get to it!

You can find all sorts of preparedness products at http://www.beprepared.com/ and even retailers like http://www.vitacost.com/ sell water filters and other preparedness items. Camping outlets like http://www.rei.com/ are also great sources for preparedness gear.

Protect Your Health

Right now, Haiti is in a health crisis. The hellish conditions, lack of clean water, and lack of medical assistance is leading to rapidly deteriorating health conditions there.
So what do you really need to protect your health in a crisis?

Clean water is a priority. You’ll need five gallons per day per person to cover hydration, cooking and rudimentary bathing needs. You’ll need a portable water filter (like a Katadyn ceramic filter) to remove parasites and other “germs” in water that you might find through other sources (rivers, streams, etc.).

You’ll need a powerful anti-viral, anti-bacterial herbal tincture. Herbs can save your life against infectious disease. You’ll also need a serious first-aid kit that includes bandages and some western medical supplies such as antibacterial creams, emergency sutures (with needles), gauze and medical iodine.

Don’t forget a supply of high-potency nutrition. Some spirulina or chlorella tablets can provide crucial nutrition. Chia seeds, nuts or even peanut butter can give you essential calories. If you have time and space, sprouting seeds can give you the all-important living foods that will enhance your immune function and help you deal with the tremendous stresses of a crisis.

This isn’t a complete preparedness list, of course. If you want one, get this amazing preparedness course that was recorded during the financial bailout crisis. It offers a wealth of information about personal and family preparedness.

Or figure out what you need in this way: Shut off ALL your infrastructure for a weekend and see how you do. Live without water, electricity, heat, grocery store food, fuel and phone service and see how prepared you really are!

This is the best test of all. And if you really want to see if you’re ready for a Haiti-style crisis, assume that your house has collapsed from an earthquake and you have to survive outside, in your yard, without anything from your house. Where is your stuff now? How will you survive the next 48 hours in your yard, with no help from anyone else and your house in a pile of rubble?

Proper planning avoids future emergencies. And no neighbor or city is entirely insulated from natural disasters or other unexpected events.

Profiting from Haiti’s Crisis

By Benjamin Dangl, Toward Freedom
January 18, 2010

... One report from IPS News in Haiti explained:
“In the day following the quake, there was no widespread violence. Guns, knives and theft weren’t seen on the streets, lined only with family after family carrying their belongings. They voiced their anger and frustration with sad songs that echoed throughout the night, not their fists.”
Bob Moliere, an organizer within the popular political party Fanmi Lavalas, was killed in the earthquake. His wife, Marianne Moliere, told IPS News after burying her husband:
“There is no life for me because Bob was everything to me. I lost everything. Everything is destroyed,” she said. “I’m sleeping in the street now because I’m homeless. But when I get some water, I share with others. Or if someone gives some spaghetti, I share with my family and others.”
It is not this type of solidarity that has emerged in the wake of the crisis — and the delayed and muddled response from the international community — that most corporate media in the US have focused on. Instead, echoing the coverage and calls for militarization of New Orleans in the wake of Katrina, major media outlets talk about the looting, and need for security to protect private property ...

Handling a Crisis on the Scale of Haiti

January 19, 2010

Troops, doctors and aid workers are flowing into Haiti, while nations pledge millions of dollars in aid. But how do you handle a crisis of this magnitude? Richard Gordon and Mike Evans of the Bournemouth University Disaster Management Centre, outline the planning and potential pitfalls of such an operation.


A fundamental principle of disaster management and international assistance is that it is the stricken country's responsibility to take the lead in inviting in international assistance (via the UN resident representative), and then co-ordinating that assistance to best effect.

In most cases, however, the host government to a greater or lesser extent, will have been incapacitated by the natural disaster, so the UN sends in Disaster and Assessment Coordination teams (UNDACS) to provide initial coordination of international assistance. UNDAC teams tend to deploy for no more than three weeks and then like to hand over once again to the host government. But this may not be long enough for the Haitian government to resume control of its own affairs.

The request for international assistance for Haiti will have been speeded up by the presence of UN troops and other agencies already on the ground.

The US has offered its assistance, in addition to the UN's in-country co-ordination teams. This will provide a significant logistical and command and control element. However, there are likely to be incidents of disagreement between US military and international governments and aid agencies on the ground, as priorities and objectives are set and implemented on Haiti's behalf.


International assistance is co-ordinated in "cluster groups" to ensure that essential aspects of the disaster response are properly co-ordinated and monitored. In Haiti, these cluster groups include:
  • water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash) cluster: chaired by Unicef
  • camp co-ordination management cluster: chaired by IOM for natural disasters
  • emergency shelter cluster: chaired by IFRC for natural disasters
  • logistics cluster: chaired by WFP
  • emergency telecoms and IT cluster: chaired by Unicef / WFP
  • health cluster: chaired by WHO
  • nutrition cluster: chaired by Unicef
  • early recovery cluster: chaired by UNDP
  • protection cluster: chaired by OHCHR / Unicef
The UN has a concept of On Site Operations and Co-ordination Centre (OSOCC), which aims to provide that sort of tactical co-ordination to bring together international aid agencies and local government and community representatives.

In the past, there have been issues of who co-ordinates whom. The US is generally suspicious of UN personnel, and NGOs don't generally like to be co-ordinated by military — or by other NGOs for that matter.

The US lead will need to be sensitive in how it deals with these groups and, in particular, how it allows the dissemination of information between agencies. Too often, the military tendency to designate vital information as "restricted" or higher makes it impossible for troops and officers on the ground to share this information with local responders and aid agencies.


A fundamental principle of disaster management is that communications (telephones, mobiles) will fail and, therefore, a back-up needs to be planned. This is very seldom carried out in practice, and in the case of Haiti will have been impossible. Aid agencies will come with their own satellite phones and internet uplinks; the military will have their own comms.

For Haiti's people, there will be very little to use to communicate with one another (lack of electricity, land lines, mobiles systems) and their vital need to talk to each other to confirm who is alive or dead will be frustrated. Organisations such as Telephones without Frontiers will make a vital contribution in providing a limited access for users.


According to Ian Hanson, Bournemouth University Centre for Forensics, a vital component of disaster management is identification of the dead and injured. There is a danger that with the use of mass graves to remove rotting corpses, many people will never be identified. On top of this, a significant number of people will never be found. Middle and long term psychological stress disorders will be prevalent.

Governments will be demanding that their ambassadors in Haiti get out to find out where their own citizens are, says Mr Hanson. Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) requires the careful collection of post-mortem data from a body and then matching it to existing ante-mortem data. In the case of international citizens in Haiti such ante-mortem data will include dental records, X-rays, fingerprints, and possibly facial recognition. DVI activity after the Indonesian tsunami in 2005 revealed that some 80% of positive IDs were from finger prints or odontology or a combination of the two. Kenyon International and other established organisations are deploying to Haiti to assist in this.

For Haitians, there is likely to be an almost total lack of ante-mortem data because standard dental or fingerprint records may not exist. Visual records and identification will be their best chance, however this will become impossible if bodies are left too long before being recovered.

The cost of excavating collapsed buildings for the Haitians with limited equipment is also prohibitive in the recovery of bodies, as is the cost of putting a body through an identification process. Many Haitians may never be identified but memorialised in some way. This is part of the reflection of the cost, political will, resources and technical skills available for poorer nations versus rich nations. As with other areas of disaster preparedness and response, there is a gap between who gets identified, if they can be, and where they are from.


Security is always a big issue in managing disasters. The maintenance of public order is a national responsibility. If, or when, the problems exceed the police capacity to handle them — which is probably already the case in Haiti — then the military are normally called in.

The Haitian police and military will both have suffered significant casualties -- as has the already weak government.

There is a very high risk that, unless aid gets through much faster to the needy, there will probably be a major breakdown in law and order. This could raise very serious issues with foreign national forces — the US in particular — who are armed and who may be forced to use arms to protect themselves.

Security of routes is essential, as it is roads that become the essential lifelines for logistical support and the movement of essential relief to where it is needed.

Roads are being blocked at present and it appears that the police are unable to deploy in sufficient strength to maintain route security.

As a result, the development of a co-ordinated security plan that uses local police, as well as US military and UN troops, will need careful co-ordination and agreed rules of engagement for outbreaks of public disorder.


Haiti has a land border with the Dominican Republic. Disaster management planning includes the prior agreement of cross-border co-operation protocols to ensure that assistance is not stockpiled at the border unable to cross over owing to import/export regulations which have not been previously sorted.


Two key lessons will apply — among others, but these are the two most important:
  1. Survivors want to stay close to where they lived — to be moved into camps is not a favoured option for survivors but it is often the selected option for governments because control is much easier.

  2. A very difficult decision will be reached in the next few days — when to stop trying to find live bodies and to bring in heavy machinery to clear rubble. Trapped victims dehydrate and die after about four-to-seven days, sooner if seriously injured.
Possibly also worth noting that studies into previous earthquakes indicate that epidemics are not the great threat that media often make them out to be. Good quality water is a key.

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