Monday, 8 February 2010

Humanitarian work in Haiti

We have all been moved by the terrible plight of the people of Haiti and I have blogged about it here. But when I read this article in the Bernwode News by Jane Moore, I gained a far greater insight into the work of those men and women who go to the aid of people beset by a disaster of this order. Thank-you Jane for this:

We are daily and increasingly shattered by the tragedy in Haiti. As a public health humanitarian relief worker I am in disbelief at how devastating this week-old disaster is. I can imagine the scene all too well.

Many people I talk to here are angry at the slow response to the emergency. The first thing to say is that there is, of course, no or very limited local capacity. With the UN and other 'resident' international agencies' staff and buildings all but wiped out; with every family affected and national NGOs struggling with their own challenges; no telecommunications networks; hand lifting of relief goods (huge water tanks included and much other vast equipment needed) at the airport; and the UN having only skeleton staff who know the community, the co-ordination must be a nightmare.

The normal response to a disaster is described below: The United Nations (based in New York) will have have a presence in a country. United Nations Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA - a department of 15 - 20 people) would normally co-ordinate the disaster response. UNOCHA allocates each agency to an appropriate 'Cluster' . This system has been successfully put in place since Tsunami. The Cluster System divides into six sector areas: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion (WASH); Nutrition and Food; Child Protection; Health; Shelter and Security. Oxfam will normally lead the WASH programme, Merlin and MSF lead Health and Nutrition, World Food Programme take on food distribution, and Save the Children would take overall responsibility for 'Child Tracing and Protection'. All agencies and local government departments attempt to keep to the very detailed 'Sphere Standards' - the humanitarian 'bible' reminding agencies e.g. how many litres of safe drinking water each individual in a refugee camp should receive and how many calories of food each child should have. UNOCHA would usually issue an update every half hour to the head of each agency by e-mail. Daily compulsory  meetings would take place. This coordination, due to the scale of the damage, has simply not been able to happen.

Our prayers go to all those affected and the thousands of relief workers: engineers, health workers, and security specialists now working in Haiti.
Jane Moore

1 comment:

  1. I think it puts our priorities into perspective. The world has a clear set of priorities. I watched a documentary on TV about what caused the EQ. It was fascinating to learn about such things as subduction zones where one tectonic plate slides under another dragging the edge with it until it flips back out causing grinding vibrations. The fact is that they could experience another devastating EQ any time soon.

    When we consider the cost of these kinds of relief efforts, it highlights the fact that we can put our money where our mouth is when we need to. It remains to be seen whether common sense can extend far enough when it comes to using forsight in the re-building of the disaster zone. Will our priorities change or will the old ones dictate the severity of the next disaster? I am afraid my confidence in human priorities is low with regards to the answer. It remains to be seen.