Haiti was never rich, nor did it ever have a modern nationwide infrastructure that we in the more developed nations take for granted. There was never any real money to build earthquake proof housing for the masses. Any social cohesion was within very local tight-knit communities. So when the country was hit by a massive wide ranging disaster like this there could only be one outcome.
There are reported to be some 200,000 dead. Many more may be missing or still buried alive under rubble.
The initial reports coming out of the country showed how minimal the country’s infrastructure was. So bad that aid could get into the airport but got stuck in a bottleneck despite the best efforts of US forces on the ground. It is very easy to sit back in an armchair and sling mud at them, but I bet they are trying as hard as they can to get the aid out!
But once the aid was not seen by these people left hungry, thirsty and in need of medical aid things were destined to get ugly. Put yourself in their position. The violence of self-preservation is kicking in, making it even harder if not impossible to operate effectively. But again, I bet they are trying their hardest!
Within Port-au-Prince alone are about two million people surrounded by dead bodies and devastation, but only enough aid trickling through to sustain a couple of thousand. There is also a push to clear dead bodies for fear of spreading disease, despite Sir Nicholas Young (Red Cross Chief Executive) saying on the Andrew Marr show this morning that this should not be a true priority.
But there are thankfully, still stories of hope as children are pulled alive from the rubble and re-united with their families.
It took months if not years to plan and execute wars in Iraq. Time and money was spent on planning and asset allocation. Within moments nature had unleashed more power, death and destruction that man had inflicted on man in those conflicts. To expect an instantaneous response is ludicrous.
We must now react as fast as we can but also have an eye to the future. It is reported that at least two thirds of Port-au-Prince alone will need to be rebuilt. Where for example is the money to come from to ensure that future buildings are, as far as possible, earthquake proof?
The time delay for aid to arrive is also an issue. Consider how the money and resources tied up with the US, UK and French independent nuclear deterrents for example. They are there just in case. Can we not have a properly equipped international force of an aircraft carrier or two with support ships full of dry goods, shelters and mobile hospitals constantly on alert to get aid as close as possible as quickly as possible to the area of need. It would reassure people that help can be quickly sent their way and also maybe reduce instances of looting and crime. I know that this is simplistic and would only help people relatively close to the coast. But that in my view would be true ‘power projection’.