Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Privates Will Save Haiti?

NGO's (private charities) have the mission, but not the capacity. The U.S. military has capability, but not mission.

Haiti is a test for America's new methods for supplying development aid, working with private organizations. Tuesday's 7.0 earthquake took most of the impoverished country back to the Stone Age. The world saw Katrina like conditions:

Lack of water, food, shelter and basic sanitation for survivors
No electricity or communications
Destroyed/inoperable hospitals
Few open hospitals overwhelmed, limited fuel for emergency generators
Inoperable port
Overwhelmed airport

People opened their pocketbooks to aid Haitians, contributing tens of millions to charities. Many donations will take 30 to 60 days to work through cell phone billing cycles to reach the charity, much less the Haitian people.

Despite the outpouring of financial support, day 3 ended without distribution of food and water to millions of traumatized Haitians. Trucks didn't roll from the 1,500 international aid workers in country. People perish after 3 days with on water in 90 degree heat. The etched faces of live reporters reflected the dire situation.

Day 4 found Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visiting the airport. Her plane delivered water and MRE's, meals ready to eat. Twenty four U.S. military helicopters dropped food and water around Port-au-Prince, selecting empty zones for their drop. Can twenty four military helicopters supply three million people with food and water? For how many days?

In the week before the disaster Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about returning U.S.A.I.D. to its proper place as the "world's premier development agency." She highlighted the shift to working with private organizations. Her husband, President Bill Clinton happens to run one, the Clinton Global Initiative. Bill is also the UN Special Envoy to Haiti. Reuters reported in July 2009:

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said on Wednesday a lack of cooperation between Haitian politicians, aid groups and business leaders was hurting efforts to help the impoverished Caribbean nation.

"If it is a question of money that's my problem, but if it is not about money, that's something Haitians need to resolve among themselves," he said. "That's a little surprising to me."

President Obama referred to Haitian NGO's in his earliest remarks after the quake. A scorched earth can provide the impetus for cooperation.

President Clinton did his part to raise money for the Haitian crisis. He could be seen or heard on the airwaves, telling people to send money. Yet, this wasn't new. Clinton held an investors conference on Haiti last fall. It focused on agribusiness, alternative energy, textiles and tourism. The Miami Herald reported:

An unprecedented trade mission to Haiti later this week will produce significant investments and desperately needed jobs for the country, former President Bill Clinton announced Tuesday at the Americas Conference.

Clinton used an appearance at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables to give what he called his "progress report" on Haiti since U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked him to devote a year to helping a storm-ravaged Haiti rebuild and attract investments.

But he also used his visit to reiterate his support for temporary protected status, which will allow undocumented Haitians to temporarily stay and work in the United States. Clinton also said that his wife, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, shares his opinion.

"Not a week goes by that I don't push for this," Bill Clinton said.

The earthquake gave a final push for Haitian temporary protected status. It happened before some Haitians got food or water.

Clinton's 2009 Progress Report on Haiti included a call for "non-governmental organizations to better coordinate their activities." This was before an earthquake flattened much of the country.

It didn't take much research to unearth concerns. President Obama called for "slow and steady progress on the ground" in a situation with "fear, anxiety and a sense of desperation"?

America's "less than preeminent" U.S.A.I.D. will work with non-cooperating Haitian NGO's to save devastated Haitians. I hope Haitians can wait for the privates to ride to the rescue. To top off the Katrina similarity, President George W. Bush joined President Clinton in asking for private sector donations.

Note: While the U.S. military has more capability, it is stretched by wars in two theaters and constrained by contracting out key functions to private contractors, including food, water and shelter for soldiers. How has this practice impacted our ability to respond to mass natural disasters like Haiti?