Monday, January 25, 2010

Fear Of The Poor Hinders Rescue in Haiti

According to an article last week in the Times of London, "Fear of the poor is hampering Haiti rescue." Author Linda Polman reports that,

The rescue operation is becoming notorious for the slowness with which aid is reaching the victims. Five days after the quake hit, many places are still largely bereft of international aid. Not through lack of funds, supplies or emergency experts. Those are all pouring in from dozens of countries. But most of the aid — and aid workers — seems stuck at the airport.

Rescue teams have pulled survivors from five-star hotels, university buildings, a supermarket and the UN headquarters, all in Port-au-Prince’s better neighbourhoods. In poor areas, where the damage appears much greater, apparently forgotten victims report on Twitter that they have yet to encounter the first foreign rescuer.

Many aid workers are reported to have orders not to venture out without armed guards — which are not there at all, or only after long debates with the UN military command...

The Haitian people seem to scare aid workers more than Somali warlords, Darfuri Janjawid or Afghan Taleban. Frightened Dutch aid workers abandoned a mission without reaching the collapsed building where people were trapped, and frightened doctors have left their patients unattended.

The experience of CNN’s medical reporter, Dr Sanjay Gupta, is telling. In a makeshift clinic he encountered a Belgian medical team being evacuated in a UN bus. UN “rules of engagement” apparently stopped them providing security for the doctors. The Belgians took most of their medical supplies with them, to keep them out of the claws of robbers.

Dr Gupta and his camera team stayed the night, monitored the abandoned patients’ vital signs and continued intravenous drips — and they were not robbed. Some rescuers are leaning so much toward security that they will allow people to die.

The media are not helping. CNN rules in the rubble. “Outside of a military conflict, this is our biggest international deployment since the tsunami in 2004,” according to Tony Maddox, the managing director of CNN International. So the image of the aid operation being beamed back is primarily American — and one of the big problems is the American view of Haiti.

CNN won’t stop telling aid workers and the outside world about pillaging (the incidence of which — for the first four frustrating days at least — did not compare with what happened after Hurricane Katrina) and about how dangerous it is to distribute food, because of the likelihood of “stampedes”.

Nor is the US Government, the biggest player in the aid operation, doing anything to help to relax the atmosphere. On the contrary. When President Obama said that the US aid effort would be “aggressive” he meant it. The humanitarian operation is not led by civilian agencies, but by the Pentagon.
As we continue to watch the coverage of this disaster and it's aftermath, we can't help but think that both the US media and our government have a lot to answer for.

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