The Tsunami’s Application to Haiti

All Gone Now...

An article in The Economist discusses the lessons learnt from the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 which can be applied to the recent devastating Haiti earthquake. Apparently, aid agencies concur that it is not the matter of the amount of aid being delivered to Haiti, but more of the local capabilities and responses to the earthquake that will make or break the relief efforts.

Post-tsunami, 9 months later, only 39% of money promised to be spent has been dispersed. It is not that more money is needed, but the types of aid being donated must correspond with the need. When “Viagra, ski jackets and Father Christmas costumes” can be donated to the tsunami victims, it does indicate that there is the lack of sensibilities in terms of what people donate and how they provide aid. We cant really fault the kind-hearted for wanting to do something, but to donate such unsensible and insensitive stuff to people who need more than those seems to smack of sheer stupidity. Or is it just a chance to clear one’s home of junk?

In addition, local administration has to be strong and in charge during a disaster. Malaysia’s response to the tsunami (Penang was affected) contrasts vastly with Aceh’s response. Malaysia’s effective governance made relief efforts useful while the political conflict in Aceh made it even more difficult for relief efforts, even if we ignore the fact that the epicentre of the disaster was in Aceh. Even the proliferation of too many NGOs can create headaches, as each NGO fights to distribute aid and contribute to relief efforts, which can make control and management very messy for the local administration. This was proven in Aceh with 180 NGOs operating there at one point, and may prove to be another problem in Haiti which had “more NGOs per capita than anywhere else in the Americas”.

Another article by the BBC on the differences between Haiti and Aceh points out other problems that Haiti faces that Aceh did not face, such as the lack of coordination and information on security forces operating in Haiti, which made Haiti appear to be like a “war zone” as portrayed on TV. And considering that Haiti at its best of times is already a nightmare, one can imagine how the earthquake would make things so much worse.

So the Haiti government as well as other governments and NGOs helping out in Haiti have to make sure they learn some lessons from the tsunami response efforts, or else even more will suffer.