Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A week after the Haiti earthquake the debate continues: Who should be in charge of the disaster response?

Time is still running out in Haiti
by Mike Marcellino

Note:  One January 14, two days after the earthquake struck Haiti, in a commentary, Mike Marcellino reasoned the the U. S. military was best suited to take charge of the disaster response.  Today, the United Nations and what's left of the Haitian government remain in charge.

Seven days after an earthquake struck Haiti, the question of who is (or should be) in charge of the disaster response is still debated.  U. S. Marines who landed five days ago asked the same question.

A retried U. S. Army general on PBS Newshour tonight said the U. S. military should take charge as it's self contained and able to address all the challenges from medial treatment to security.  They are also ready and near  Haiti.

A retired bureaucrat  with USAID (United States Agency for International Development) thinks the United Nations can do the job once coordination is in place.

At this point, the only thing for certain is who is not in charge.

The military isn't, apparently to avoid looking like a U. S. takeover of Haiti.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) isn't.  The U. S. agency responsible for domestic disaster response and should have learned some lessons form Hurricane Katrina. FEMA is expert in immediate reponse, such as USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) and making progress out of chaos.  FEMA refers all reporters' questions to USAID.

USAID, which falls under the U. S. State Department, is the U. S. agency in authority, but it doesn't provide immediate disaster response itself, only coordinates and provides material aid and expertise.

Even though disaster experts say the first 72 hours is critical to saving lives and preventing greater secondary health issues, the United Nations and a Haitian government in collapse remain in charge.

Today, critics and the media continue raise question, such as, why planeloads of medical teams and supplies of Doctors without Boarders continue to diverted from landing in the Haiti airport controlled by the U. S. military.

One thing certain is Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and it was devastated by an earthquake, leaving 200,000 or more dead, 3.5 million homeless and Port-au-Prince in shambles with chaos and violence in the streets.

Mike Marcellino is a two-time national award winning journalist.  He also served as a U. S. Army combat correspondent in the Vietnam War and worked as a Congressional staff member on international human rights issues affecting Soviet Jews and the people of Taiwan.

copyright by Mike Marcellino 2010