Humanitarian Logistics in Haiti

>> Friday, January 15, 2010

I predict this book is going to sell a whole lot of copies this year. Unlike many ongoing crises that suffer from lack of aid money, in Haiti the relief lag we are seeing is due not to compassion fatigue (text message donations surpassed $10 mil today, equal to the amount pledged by Brazil or Switzerland) but rather to sheer logistical strain caused by poorly built or now-destroyed infrastructure.

(You simply can't offload supplies from ships without dock cranes. You can't land planes full of relief shipments and inflatable hospitals without a functional control tower. To save lives, search and rescue crews must get their equipment from tarmac to disaster zone efficiently. Helicopters need landing zones not decimated by rubble. And most importantly, military folks with the choppers need to be able to communicate with the civilian aid agencies who have the supplies.)

A lesson for human security specialists may be: is some level of international governance over basic infrastructure going to be necessary to resolve coordination problems like this in the future? There's a lot of talk in the MDGs about development aid for food, vaccinations, school supplies, but how about for construction of roads, ports and control towers that can withstand natural disasters? This would seem to be a prerequisite for effective civilian-military response in such scenarios. An international community that can trace nuclear materials or close an ozone hole could establish and implement such standards if it chose - half the problem is lack of political imagination.

Meanwhile, a few signs of hope: the US now controls the Port-au-Prince airport; a couple of emergency field hospitals are up and running and the 19 Seahawks ferried in by the USS Vinson have doubled the capacity of the airport. Also a military drone has been diverted from the Middle East to capture images to assist in humanitarian operations. What a bright idea.

On the other hand, a 5.6 magnitude quake hit Venezeula a few hours ago. Stay tuned.


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