Monday, March 8, 2010

High performance rescue and relief

Dear Colleagues

It is now several weeks since the terrible Haiti earthquake of January 12th. While the toll has been very high in terms of life lost and disabling injury ... the post disaster performance of the rescue and relief community has been very good. In a catastrophe of this magnitude it is always possible to find areas where a better job could have been done, but I would argue that the overall effort has been really very good.

Clearly there are areas where things have not gone well, and while this is regrettable and should not happen ... the human condition is far from perfect. With respect to some of the disorder that is reported including rape ... it should be noted that the number of police in Haiti pre-earthquake may well have been around 2,000 for a population of resident Haitians of some 6 million ... compared to New York where there are perhaps 30,000 police for about 9 million people. These numbers may not be exact ... but the broad idea does not change. The lesson is that Haitians have had to look after themselves and have done it quite well with strong informal systems of governance. This is a factor that should not be underestimated.

I have been impressed with what seems to have been accomplishments of the medical professionals. So far so good ... and well done. But there is now a big job going forward. In the early stages there was volunteer enthusiasm and money ... now there will be much less of both. The healthcare needs will not go down for a long time.

Children's programs are well funded compared to other needs like food and shelter. The deficits in the food and shelter funding are going to be a problem in the months ahead especially as the rains and hurricane season arrives.

Those who have survived and do not have debilitating injuries are ready to do something economically productive. While everything else has been on the agenda, the advocacy for this has been rather muted. UNDP has been able to create some pay for work in the cleaning of debris ... but I would argue this has been very limited compared to what was the need and potential.

Putting Haiti into a mode where there is productive work is an imperative ... but some people would observe that plantation agriculture and sweatshop factories should not be the driving force but something that has a more human face and a sustainable characteristic.

The contractors it seems are at work ... but there is very little transparency yet about what they are doing, how they are being paid and what they are expected to do. The role of contractors in consuming the available funds needs to be addressed ... but it is likely to be too little and too late. Contractors ought to be at the center of high performance rescue and relief ... but this is not very much "on the record" in part, it appears because contacts tend to charge high prices that are embarrassing when emergencies arise. Not good ... but almost the standard MO. Good contractors should be a key part of sustainable effective development.

High performance rescue and relief needs to have people as the beneficiary ... and people as the key resource. Any program that does not have beneficiaries integrated into the program is going to be difficult to integrate into a continuum of development.

Are people and organizations behaving as well as they should? We just do not know ... most organizations are not very interested in the transparency needed for accountability, even those that are very effective ... which opens the field to those that raise money and do nothing! This aspect of rescue and relief has got to change!

Peter Burgess

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