Response after the Response

There are 3 phases to disaster management: pre-disaster preparation; during-disaster monitoring; and post-disaster relief, rescue, recovery and reconstruction. It is the handling and management of the latter that can make or break governments and test the mettle of the population. It is the latter that gets the most press and publicity.

Professionally, I focus on the former, where pre-evaluations and modeling help make more informed decisions, but the fact is in order to do this, we still need data from past events, ie., data collected post-event from a previous disaster fed into informing us ahead of a future disaster.

But today I’m focusing on post-disaster activities, but it’s important to remember the cyclical nature of disasters. So it’s as important for relief agencies etc to collect the scientific data to assess an event immediately after an impact, almost as important as it is in coordinating relief operations and distribution of supplies etc. One does not need to be at the expense of the other, and can be carried out simultaneously.

But in the medium-term post-event, however, there are some important elements I’ve noticed that have been disturbing. Six months after the Haiti devastation, hundreds of thousands of people are still living in tent cities, and relief supplies are stockpiled in warehouses undistributed. We’re well into the hurricane season, yet there is no urgency to speed up reconstruction. I’m seeing and hearing alot of red tape in terms of getting real traction on the ground. While I understand the need for organization and coordination in getting the job done, and preventing corruption and graft in the process, real people are suffering. Alot of “studies” are being done to “assess” what to do etc, while real people are suffering. The math should be simple: tent cities need to be converted into proper permanent homes quickly; food stockpiled in warehouses need to be distributed ASAP. There is not business as usual, and action needs to be carried out without the usual bureaucracy.

Compare this tepid response to several incidents in China, where the military coordinates emergency response in both the short- and medium-terms. Pound-for-pound, six months after any of their events – floods, earthquakes, etc – you would not see the type of conditions that exist six months after the fact in Haiti. Granted that Haiti’s own government system, in so many ways, isn’t the same as China’s, nor is its capacity to provide response. But when the UN and international relief agencies come in, along with the tons of donations from across the world, and there is still a logjam, something is very wrong.

While real people are suffering…

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parris Posted by: parris August 8, 2010 at 6:05 pm