Haiti aid falling short — and not in dollars

A fascinating new report released today by Refugees International on the Haiti aid effort is a striking indictment of the current efforts so far, particularly on the part of the United Nations. As FP‘s Turtle Bay reported a few weeks back, the "cluster" approach to tackling aid has been a total flop, but the U.N.’s ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

A fascinating new report released today by Refugees International on the Haiti aid effort is a striking indictment of the current efforts so far, particularly on the part of the United Nations. As FP's Turtle Bay reported a few weeks back, the "cluster" approach to tackling aid has been a total flop, but the U.N.'s admission. Now, as more details are emerging, this rather depressing excerpt sums it up:

By all accounts, the leadership of the humanitarian country team is ineffectual. Following the earthquake, it took three weeks for the Humanitarian Coordinator to call a meeting with aid organizations. During his visit to Haiti, John Holmes, the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, chastised humanitarian colleagues by pointing out that “several clusters ha[d] yet to establish a concise overview of needs and develop coherent response plans, strategies and gap analyses.” It required his personal intervention to shorten the time frame for the universal distribution of plastic sheeting from May 1st to April 1st. The rainy season is imminent, with thousands of Haitians sleeping outside, lacking even the minimal shelter that plastic sheeting provides.

I don't want to be in the business of chastising U.N. assistance in every global disaster zone, but I must say that some of this strikes me as eerily similar to what I've just reported on in Zimbabwe, where it looks like the United Nations may have failed to respond to a cholera epidemic for months. There, it may have been political pressure keeping things from getting off the ground. In Haiti, it might be politics of another sort ... internal politics, and even competition, between international and local NGOs: 

A fascinating new report released today by Refugees International on the Haiti aid effort is a striking indictment of the current efforts so far, particularly on the part of the United Nations. As FP‘s Turtle Bay reported a few weeks back, the "cluster" approach to tackling aid has been a total flop, but the U.N.’s admission. Now, as more details are emerging, this rather depressing excerpt sums it up:

By all accounts, the leadership of the humanitarian country team is ineffectual. Following the earthquake, it took three weeks for the Humanitarian Coordinator to call a meeting with aid organizations. During his visit to Haiti, John Holmes, the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, chastised humanitarian colleagues by pointing out that “several clusters ha[d] yet to establish a concise overview of needs and develop coherent response plans, strategies and gap analyses.” It required his personal intervention to shorten the time frame for the universal distribution of plastic sheeting from May 1st to April 1st. The rainy season is imminent, with thousands of Haitians sleeping outside, lacking even the minimal shelter that plastic sheeting provides.

I don’t want to be in the business of chastising U.N. assistance in every global disaster zone, but I must say that some of this strikes me as eerily similar to what I’ve just reported on in Zimbabwe, where it looks like the United Nations may have failed to respond to a cholera epidemic for months. There, it may have been political pressure keeping things from getting off the ground. In Haiti, it might be politics of another sort … internal politics, and even competition, between international and local NGOs: 

Currently, coordination and communication between Haitian civil society and UN and international NGOs are largely missing, with both sectors operating along parallel and separate lines. Local organizations have a hard time accessing meetings at the UN compound in Port-au-Prince, where UN agencies and international NGOs have established task-specific cluster groups to improve communication across operating agencies, discuss specific needs, and coordinate activities in order to avoid overlap and maximize outreach and coverage of a response. Haitian groups are either unaware of the meetings, do not have proper photo-ID passes for entry, or do not have the staff capacity to spend long hours at the compound.

The report highlights a few other predictable yet tragic difficulties of having so much international aid flowing in:

civilians perceive that the focus of UN peacekeepers as well as U.S. and Canadian military forces has been mainly on the protection of humanitarian workers rather than on Haitians who are at greatest risk during this period of upheaval.

Getting the Haiti aid right — and quick — will literally mean life or death for hundreds of thousands in coming months. The report points out that "Some 700,000 people in Port-au-Prince are without homes or proper shelter and another 600,000 people have left the capital." As the rain starts to fall in coming months, those displaced will need shelter and clean water, and a fragmented aid effort means that both will be in short supply.

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

Tag: Haiti

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