New York Times Editorial
With every day that passes in the mud and rubble of Haiti, the failures of the relief effort are heartbreaking. There are four main strands to the campaign to make sure 1.2 million homeless people are sheltered and safe as the weather turns fierce. All are inadequate.
THE MAJOR PLAYERS The United Nations and foreign countries and aid organizations have dispatched tents, tarps, food, water, medicine and doctors, as they should. They have done a lot of good, particularly the United States, which rushed supplies, a troop force that peaked at about 20,000 and a hospital ship. Many lives were saved. After meeting with Haiti’s president, René Préval, this week, President Obama pledged continued aid.
But after nearly two months, it’s not enough. Only half of those displaced have received even the crudest means of emergency shelter: plastic tarps and tents that will hardly protect them when floods start in earnest next month, and the hurricanes come in June. In hundreds of crowded settlements around the country, like the ones sheltering more than 600,000 in Port-au-Prince, food, water, medical care and security remain spotty.
Large swaths of the earthquake zone remain untouched by aid. They are choking in rubble, and trucks and volunteers have barely begun to scratch out safe places in the wreckage for people to live.
Relief agencies have overcome staggering obstacles, starting with the fact that the quake demolished the United Nations mission, killing much of its leadership and employees. The United Nations is in high gear now, but it has been rightly criticized for disorganization. Last month, in a scathing e-mail message, the emergency relief coordinator for the United Nations, John Holmes, blasted his colleagues for having been too slow to step up to the challenge. Weeks after the disaster, he said, several of the agency “clusters” in charge of handling needs like food and shelter had not even developed a basic overview of what they had to do, much less a plan.
THE HAITIAN GOVERNMENT The quake ruined the presidential palace and the best managers and workers were still on the job when the tremors hit. President Préval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive have not been able to resume strong or even visible leadership.
The government has not made decisions or has made confusing ones. It has, for instance, refused to allow undamaged or lightly damaged schools to reopen with a full curriculum until all schools can reopen — letting children languish. Mr. Préval was visible at the White House on Wednesday, but in Haiti the question “Where is Préval?” draws a shake of the head.
THE N.G.O.’S Existing charity mechanisms have been revved up to try to match the staggering scale of the earthquake, and new ones are being invented. The big multinational nongovernmental organizations are providing vital support to the United Nations.
But there are thousands of others, like the small rural mission churches and other groups that right now are offering just pinpricks of relief.
THE PEOPLE Haitians are eager to help themselves. Refugees are forming settlement councils and electing representatives to collaborate with the nongovernmental organizations. They are building homes themselves, clearing rubble themselves, burying the dead themselves, organizing security brigades themselves. But they are as overmatched as everyone else by the scale of the disaster.
There is a burning need to tap the energies of Haitians — not just the devastated national government. That means at the grass-roots, church, business and neighborhood groups that know the country, speak its languages, and are deeply committed to its rebirth.
Efforts to do so have been negligible so far. A report by Refugees International, an advocacy group in Washington, says that Haitians have been excluded from major planning at the United Nations compound because they don’t know about meetings, aren’t allowed in or don’t have the staff to send. The United Nations Development Program has hired more than 70,000 Haitians to clean debris. Much more is needed.
Haiti should be able to count on American technical expertise, security and money, especially as energy shifts to rebuilding. Everyone should keep improving basic efforts to keep refugees safe and in good health. But, ultimately, it is the United Nations that must take responsibility to lead and coordinate the relief efforts.
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