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Has Response Really Been Slow?

January 17, 2010

In reading and watching various news agencies cover the disaster in Haiti, the inevitable criticism is shifting into high gear.  After any response, a review needs to take place as there is always something to learn and room for improvement, but that is not what is going on now.  What we see are news agencies stirring up trouble for their own ends.

We live in an age with twenty-four hour news.  Never again will one news anchor, like Walter Cronkite, have a dominating voice in reporting the day’s events.  Moreover, continual broadcasting requires content, and organizations compete for every scrap.  Criticism is low hanging fruit they use to fill the hours.

The adequacy of response really depends on your point of view.  To a Haitian who has lost everything, showing up ten minutes after the first quake would not have been fast enough.  In a disaster, a minute seems like an hour, there is no telling how many people died in the first hours after the quake, undoubtedly the number is high.  Any compassionate person wants to do more and do it quicker.

Standing in the way is the problem of logistics.  Just how do you get aid to the disaster area?  Moreover, what needed aid comes first?  Haiti has one airport that is large enough for cargo planes.  Safety of arriving and departing flights is paramount; a single “mishap” on the tarmac could shutdown the airport and the relief effort completely.  Ships have to be loaded with everything from food to earth moving equipment.  While there are emergency centers that stockpile these sorts of things, it takes time to arrange for its movement.  To compound matters, it takes days to sail ships from where they happen to be, load them, and then reach the disaster area.  Contrary to what may be thought, we do not have ships, loaded with disaster supplies, sitting around waiting.

Restoration of local services must happen in a safe manner.  Opening a compromised gas main would simply add to the gravity of the problem.  The same goes for the water supply and electricity.  As hard as it is to accept, stabilization just takes time and no one is happy with that.  We have to remember, it defeats the purpose of a humanitarian relief effort if you kill the people you intend to help in the process.  More lives are lost with wrong decisions than the time it takes to make the right ones.  This is one of the hard decisions of triage in a disaster’s aftermath.

Given the monumental failures after Hurricane Katrina, scrutiny is called for in any disaster in which we respond.  What we don’t need is news organizations going into a feeding frenzy and diverting attention away from solving problems.  The world is responding and doing it as quickly as possible.  People are donating the funds required along with governmental help.  For all the reporting going on, even the positive aspects, I get the feeling news agencies are seeking to gain advantage from it rather than simply report events as they occur.  Could it be they see disasters with a profit motive?

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One comment

  1. These news agency also need to understand that not only after making all the right decisions and getting priorities straight, once the supplies start arriving; there is no power, runways are not lit up for the airplanes, buildings are crushed into the streets. People are trying their best to get these needed supplies to help the people in Haiti. With a disaster of this proportion it will take time to get the right help in.



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