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1/15/2010
CAN ANYTHING BE DONE TO SAVE HAITI?
CATEGORY: WORLD POLITICS

Something huge is going to have to be done in Haiti and done quickly or there will be a humanitarian catastrophe bigger than anything most of us can imagine.

Here’s the situation; 3 million people are without food, without water, without proper sewage, without shelter, and without a government that can facilitate aid that is now pouring into the stricken island nation.

What’s more, the prospects that much of this situation can be alleviated in the near future are close to zero. The earthquake has absolutely pulverized the country, paralyzed an already weak and ineffective government, and shortly, will shatter the civil compact that all societies must have if the law of the jungle is to be prevented from taking hold.

President Obama is responding magnificently - but it is not enough. How can it be when so much is needed by so many in such a short amount of time? As always, the US Navy is being called upon to deliver thousands of tons of supplies to the decimated population. But the port where they will be unloading those supplies is unusable:

What little infrastructure Haiti had before the earthquake was badly damaged, complicating relief efforts.

Supplies couldn’t come in by sea because Haiti’s main seaport was badly damaged during the quake, with the main dock partially submerged and cranes that move containers partially underwater and listing badly.

The port “has collapsed and is not operational,” said Mary Ann Kotlarich, a spokeswoman for Maersk Sea Lines, a big shipper.

The airport is, if possible, in even worst shape:

Things at the airport weren’t much better. Haitian air-traffic controllers couldn’t handle the volume of flights arriving in Port-au-Prince, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, leading to a suspension of U.S. originating aircraft for at least a few hours on Thursday. The airport has also run out of aircraft fuel, so inbound planes have to carry enough fuel to be able to leave without refueling.

Planes from Brazil, Spain and Belgium lined up outside the airport terminal. A handful of American military personnel sitting on the grass abutting the runway served as air-traffic control.

Adding to the chaos, thousands of victims camped out at the airport, which was also without electricity for long stretches of time. On Thursday night, planes were still circling the airport for hours, while dozens of airplanes were reported to be scattered around the damaged tarmac. U.S. officials are analyzing whether other permanent or temporary strips can be opened up to provide additional places to receive airborne assistance.

Thousands of American soldiers are being deployed to help distribute the aid and act as security for aid workers.

The rest of the world is doing what they can but, as usual, when Mother Nature goes on a bender, the world looks to America to do the heavy lifting, spend the money, supply the manpower, donate the food, water, and supplies, and eventually, take the lead in rebuilding. Meanwhile, the extraordinary generosity of the ordinary American is once again being put on display as even in the midst of a punishing recession, the nation’s churches and charity infrastructure are mobilizing a gigantic private relief effort that will dwarf the $100 million pledged by President Obama.

If I may be allowed a small political aside;much of the world may wish for an emasculated America - perhaps even some in our own government - but a world without America as she is now, with all her faults and maddening inconsistencies, would be a world where those Haitians wouldn’t have a chance. There would be hundreds of thousands of dead before much help could reach the island without the US Navy and American generosity leading the way. That’s the bottom line and maybe someday, the rest of the world will take note of this fact.

As it stands now, there is still the frightening possibility that all of the world’s labors in trying to assist Haiti will simply be inadequate due to the scale of the disaster and the conditions in Haiti itself. Since it is generally believed that buried survivors in an earthquake must be reached within 72 hours for them to have much of a chance of survival, it would seem that the heartbreaking efforts of people to try and dig their loved ones out of the rubble with their bare hands will be all the help most of those suspended in a hellish limbo between life and death can expect. Too many collapsed buildings and not enough help in the form of professional rescuers means the loss of life from the quake and its aftermath will probably be even more stunning than figures coming from the Red Cross now.

And the topper to this disaster may be that tens of thousands of Haitians will be desperate enough to climb on to rafts and leaky boats, seeking succor from the US:

In Miami’s Haitian community, leaders say they fear that the earthquake’s aftermath and political unrest could prompt people to flee Haiti on rafts and in boats.

“A large wave of people taking to the sea, I worry about it,” says Jean-Robert Lafortune, chairman of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition. Political instability, even more than economic troubles, he says, is likely to lead to “a Haitian exodus.”

Officials say they aren’t gearing up to cope with a flotilla. “We’re not there yet,” says Philippe Derose, a councilman in North Miami Beach. But he and others complain that the Haitian government has failed to show leadership or organize even a morgue for the thousands feared dead.

It’s happened before. And the conditions that are forming in Haiti today probably means it will happen again.

By: Rick Moran at 9:40 am
7 Responses to “CAN ANYTHING BE DONE TO SAVE HAITI?”
  1. 1
    Eddie Said:
    10:45 am 

    Galrahn at Information Dissemination, the best Naval blog out there, has written several great posts on Haiti and our response. His latest is the most useful, outlining why it will get much worse before it gets any better and possible options for the US in the near-term:

    http://www.informationdissemination.net/2010/01/calm-before-storm-in-haiti.html

    I don’t appreciate how the media is mischaracterizing “tension” for what it likely is; the remnants of armed and dangerous gangs who the UN failed to dismantle over the past few years. They are going to be a major problem for the US forces on the ground because of some of the support they enjoy among the citizens there, especially as they loot relief centers and hamper relief efforts going to other neighborhoods.

    When you consider that over 3/4 of the world’s poorest live in major quake or other natural disaster threat zones, most of them in densely packed urban cores with questionable construction and infrastructure, this is likely the harbinger of the sorts of disasters we’ll see more of in the future. In that sense, there are two small blessings in this disaster:
    1. our military and government (and their private partners) moving forward from the tsunami relief and Katrina relief can learn and apply even more here about what works and doesn’t work, what capabilities are best used and what ones we still lack, and how to deal with massive at-risk populations.
    2. Haiti’s ambassador to the US observed yesterday that being able to rebuild Port-au-Prince with a more suitable and modern infrastructure for millions of people (rather than 50,000 as when it was originally built more than two hundred years ago) may help Haiti in many ways.

  2. 2
    Shaun Said:
    11:16 am 

    Thank you for this post. Some random thoughts:

    * Those thousands of U.S. troops are actually only 3,000 or so Army and Marine regulars. Those services are severely overextended because of Afghanistan and That Other War.

    * I recommend today’s David Brooks column in the NYTimes as a crash course on why Haiti was in such dire straits BEFORE the earthquake.

    * That sound of one hand clapping is for the Robertsons, Limbaughs and other right-wing darlings, as well as Fox News talk-show hosts, most of whom are doing virtually nothing on the catastrophe. After all, Scott Brown is THE story of the hour.

    * By all means contribute relief money, but do not give it to the American Red Cross, an organization with a long track record of being corrupt. I myself would recommend the Mennonite Central Committee (http://mcc.org).

  3. 3
    lionheart Said:
    11:21 am 

    Nothing good can come of this horror, but it does provide an opportunity for all of us to put our political differences aside, and come together to help those pitiful souls. Imagine that, liberals and conservatives working together on something.

    One caution I would like to air… I’ve heard that some of organizations funnel contributions directly to the Haitian government, which is wickedly corrupt. Be careful who you give to, unless you want your contributions buying gold for the prime minister’s Swiss bank account.

    Love him or hate him, O’Reilly supports an organization that has very strict accountability for their donations: the Haitian Health Foundation (http://www.haitianhealthfoundation.org/).

  4. 4
    Eddie Said:
    11:45 am 

    That Brooks column is very good. Reihan Salam had good thoughts on the disaster that was Haiti prior to the quake:
    http://agenda.nationalreview.com/post/?q=ZGI4ODEzZTY1MjhiMzI5ZGE3YTY3ZTk4MmZmOTllNTU=

    Tyler Cowen also wondered if this essentially dooms this nation of 9 million people as a viable state:

    http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/01/geopolitical-speculations-about-haiti.html

    Rick’s points are well taken though, especially about the incredible generosity of the American people, both for their private help and their public support of the overstretched military being deployed to help.

    And O’Reilly’s picks on charities have been very solid over the years, especially as he has been willing to admit when he was fooled by one. He remains the best on Fox News.

  5. 5
    Richard bottoms Said:
    1:31 pm 

    Appreciate your take on the disaster.

    Were it not for evil bastards like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson, conservatives might actually get credit for supporting a much needed humanitarian effort instead of being openly ridiculed for the raving racism of teh crazies who rule the Far Right airwaves.

    My only surprise is Glen Beck having held his tongue, at least for the moment. Maybe even he has a point below which he will not stoop in Fox’s effort to fire up the base.

  6. 6
    Andy Said:
    7:15 pm 

    Rick,

    Good post. As you observed, logistics will be a key factor in relieving suffering in Haiti and you are quite right that the facilities most necessary for logistics - ports and airfields, are damaged and inadequate. This is, unfortunately, a limiting fact that we simply can’t overcome in a timely manner. I can hold hope we’re able to come up with some creative solutions to prevent Haiti from becoming a scene out of Mad Max.

  7. 7
    Steve Said:
    6:24 am 

    Several comments here are not very well informed.

    First, Maersk may not be able to operate withoug a functioning port. The US Navy can. This is something we’ve been working on since before D-day. Plus, we can offload their ships.

    Google JLOTS, or Joint Logistics Over-The-Shore. Or the Improved Navy Lighterage System, which can function further offshore and in higher sea states than the previous systems. That’d be a good start. You’ll see that we have, in cooperation with the Army, developed systems designed to move massive amounts of materiel ashore where there are no functioning ports. And it is something we can do in a timely fashion.

    These capabilities don’t get the press our warfighting capabilities do, but they’re vital and exactly what is needed in Haiti right now. These capabilities are also not being stretched thin by our involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan, no matter how often you hear it in the press. It simply isn’t true. Not the Navy’s, and not even the Army’s. These capabilities are simply lying idle.

    Second, the “raving racism of teh crazies who rule the Far Right airwaves” is a media fiction. Of course, you’re being spoon fed that story by the same media who where openly lying about Limbaugh earlier this year when he was part of the group making the bid on the Rams. Rick Sanchez of CNN (to pick just one aggregious example)admitted he was spreading lies; an internet fabrication attributing to Limbaugh a comment about giving James Earl Ray a medal of honor was just too good for him to check out. Of course, spreading lies is nothing new for CNN.

    Of course, they do this because the tactic works. As the commentators on this thread are demonstrating by being sucked in by it. It isn’t a sign of intellectual superiority to be tricked by heavily edited clips, or outright fabrications, even if they are things you truly want to believe when you hear them.

    I realize in certain circles it’s considered lowbrow to listen to Limbaugh. But then, these circles are the same ones who couldn’t get a Democrat elected in Mass. Which hardly recommends the approach of falsely smearing people as racists, whether it’s Limbaugh personally, his audience by extension, the tea partiers, anybody who criticizes Obama, etc.

    Seriously, if you want unhinged lunacy you won’t find it on Limbaugh’s show. You will find it on MSNBC. Where, all of a sudden, Massachussets voters are now racist rednecks who are sending what Olbermann calls a racist “teabagging” homophobe to the Senate.

    Now, there’s a winning political strategy. I know it didn’t hurt Murtha when he called his own constituents racists and won in 2008. And using the “if you don’t vote for Obama you’re a racist” gambit probably did play on sufficient people’s desire to prove they’re not racist to help put him in the White House.

    I’m just saying it’s not a winning long term strategy. It gets old.

    To apply the smear “racist” falsely and too often really lessens its impact. And, frankly, if you smear enough people who know what motivates them, and know it’s not racism, then it just makes them look at other people being called the same thing in a new, more favorable light. The natural conclusion being, “I know they’re lying about me; maybe they’re lying about Limbaugh. Or those other people.”

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