Tag: haiti

‘Tis the season

This year began with a human tragedy of horrific proportions — the earthquake in Haiti. We may never know precisely how many people died, but the government in Port-Au-Prince estimated 230,000 in February.

The news did not improve as the year progressed. Consider this ANI news report from Saturday about flooding in Pakistan — and keep in mind that floodwaters have not yet receded in some areas even though the worst flooding occurred months ago:

It is estimated that the floods affected up to 20 million people, while over 750,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

The UN had rated it as the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history, saying that the number of people suffering from the crisis exceeded the combined total in three recent mega disasters – the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

In 2011, experts predict that thanks to La Niña, Kenya may well experience a humanitarian emergency. Zimbabwe is on the brink of disaster because of cholera, measles, and flu outbreaks.

Haiti itself is ending the year with a cholera epidemic that has infected 100,000 people and killed nearly 2200 already.

And yet, despite these truly heart-wrenching emergencies, the number of people harmed and killed in them is dwarfed by the ravages of day-to-day poverty of the type described in Paul Collier’s work on the world’s “bottom billion.” A billion people live in abject poverty on $1 a day and roughly another billion live on $2 per day.

In the November/December Washington Monthly, Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, explains that “complex humanitarian emergencies” like the Haitian earthquake and Pakistani floods are not, in fact, the primary source of human suffering worldwide:

[F]ocusing on war, flood, famine, and earthquakes is in itself a selection mechanism. Humanitarian emergencies are thankfully rare, concentrated, and usually short-lived events. Take Africa—often seen as the home stable for the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Less than three-tenths of a percent of the population was affected by famine in the average year between 1990 and 2005. And in 2005, only one-half of 1 percent of the population were refugees.

If tens of millions of people are in need of urgent assistance every year, this still suggests that, however telegenic are humanitarian crises, they don’t represent the biggest challenges of global poverty. More than 16 percent of children born in Africa die before their fifth birthday, for example. Around a billion people worldwide are malnourished….The considerable majority of extreme human suffering occurs outside of what is commonly recognized as a crisis situation.

Kenny explains in that article that humanitarian emergencies are often rightly followed by new emergency assistance — even as development aid to address the endemic problem of global poverty languishes. Thanks partly to the Great Recession, government development assistance is certainly down from peak levels earlier this decade.

Americans like to consider themselves a charitable people — particularly at this time of year. Indeed, Giving USA Foundation reports that Americans give away over $300 billion annually, which is over 2% of GDP. And it amounts to a lot of cash. Jeffrey Sachs has been saying for years that global poverty could be eradicated for about $200 to $250 billion per year.

However, close scrutiny reveals that individual charitable giving by Americans does not typically go to causes that help the global poor — or national poor, for that matter. In the December 6 issue of The Nation, CUNY Graduate Center History Professor David Nasaw asks, “Where does this money go?”

Some to disaster relief or to feed, clothe and shelter the poor—but not very much. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich claims that only about 10 percent of charitable giving goes to the poor and needy. A third goes to religious organizations; 13 percent to education; 7 percent to hospitals, healthcare organizations and research; 4 percent to arts and culture; 3 percent to international peace and relief efforts; 2 percent to environmental and animal-related causes.

Although it is never easy to quantify giving, closer scrutiny of individual, as opposed to foundation, funding indicates that much of it goes to causes that directly or indirectly benefit the donors. Individual donors are more likely to give to the church or synagogue they or members of their families attend, to their alma maters, their children’s private schools and the museums and cultural institutions they patronize.

I am not sure of the precise NGO or IO targets for charitable giving to alleviate global poverty, but I am certain that this issue should be a higher priority for individual donors like you and me — though Nasaw points out that the 3.1% of Americans earning $200,000 or more annually (or who hold assets above $1 million) give about 70% of the $300 billion US total.

I guess that means we need to convince affluent people to be less selfish in their annual giving.

One last note. Nasaw points out that thanks to the US tax code, “every $100 donated to charity by a high-income person means $35 less to the Treasury.” He is not trying to sound like a Grinch (or perhaps a Scrooge), but if affluent people could not deduct their private donations, the US Treasury would have nearly $75 billion potentially to use in the public interest.


Overcoming Fears of Unicorns and Rainbows

U.S. Southern Command (SOCOM) is using a new transnational information sharing system in the All Partners Access Network (APAN) to coordinate its efforts with hundreds of NGOs and dozens of IOs in Haiti. It is a one-stop coordination platform that allows real-time questions/requests on resources and Information Sharing. SOCOM has been sharing imagery of bridges, transportation networks, and even public disturbances to facilitate responses and coordinating communication among NGOs and other relief agencies.

Likewise, dozens of NGOs and other networking organizations like Crisis Mappers have been crowd sourcing a wide range of information requests on APAN. Last week, they crowd sourced exact locations of hospitals and other medical facilities throughout Haiti and the Dominican Republic to determine available beds for post-op care and recovery of those treated in mobile surgical units. The mapping platform Ushahidi, which was started by a couple of Kenyans in the aftermath to the political violence in Kenya in 2007, began compiling mapping information in Haiti via Twitter tweets and media reports less than 24 hours after the earthquake. SOCOM relied extensively on this mapping to determine areas of need and to prioritize which transportation routes to clear.

It’s hard to measure the effectiveness of this effort, but it seems that Information Sharing is coming of age. Just over a decade ago, when Sarah Sewall assumed the post of first DASD for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance there were very few mechanisms for coordinating US military and NGO efforts — and even fewer in real time. This was not simply because of limited technology, but because of deeply embedded organizational cultures the promoted distrust and disdain of one another. The military has often referred to the relief agencies and NGOs as the “unicorns and rainbows” community.

I guess the next step will be to watch and see if the Pentagon can take some of this information sharing and overall coordination experience in Haiti and integrate it into the stabilization and reconstruction efforts in the Balkans, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan — the levels of coordination each of these efforts have been severely lagging.


Unfolding Lessons of Haiti

First, as posted at LGM, I predict this book is going to sell a whole lot of copies this year. Unlike many ongoing crises that suffer from lack of aid money, in Haiti the relief lag we are seeing is due not to compassion fatigue (text message donations surpassed $10 mil today, equal to the amount pledged by Brazil or Switzerland) but rather to sheer logistical strain caused by poorly built or now-destroyed infrastructure.

(You simply can’t offload supplies from ships without dock cranes. You can’t land planes full of relief shipments and inflatable hospitals without a functional control tower. To save lives, search and rescue crews must get their equipment from tarmac to disaster zone efficiently. Helicopters need landing zones not decimated by rubble. And most importantly, military folks with the choppers need to be able to communicate with the civilian aid agencies who have the supplies.)

A lesson for human security specialists may be: is some level of international governance over basic infrastructure going to be necessary to resolve coordination problems like this in the future? There’s a lot of talk in the MDGs about development aid for food, vaccinations, school supplies, but how about for construction of roads, ports and control towers that can withstand natural disasters? This would seem to be a prerequisite for effective civilian-military response in such scenarios. An international community that can trace nuclear materials or close an ozone hole could establish and implement such standards if it chose – half the problem is lack of political imagination.

Second, my bet is the US military is thinking hard about what its prominent (yet inevitably sluggish) role in this disaster means for its maritime force posture. Climate disasters like this may become more prevalent and the humanitarian fall-out presents security risks if they occur in areas near US borders; the US is positioning itself as a global humanitarian hegemon bent on rebuilding nations ravaged by state failure and disaster. All this has important implications for naval readiness as well as strategic communication. Galrahn at Information Dissemination made a cogent set of points in this regard:

There have been 3 Admirals on C-SPAN in the last 6 months, and only once was it on an issue related to the sea – that was the BMD change. Every other time you see an Admiral on C-SPAN it is Mullen or the topic is prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The media is focused on Haiti, and the symbol of American power is going to be the largest thing everyone can see – USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). Be visible, take pictures from the air that include the carrier, and turn USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) into a symbol of hope. The Navy doesn’t have a single Admiral actually in a Navy post today (which means Stavridis and Mullen don’t count) who is recognizable by the average American, but every American knows what a Nimitz class aircraft carrier looks like – as does the rest of the world. Showcase the ship, because it is a symbol and symbolism matters in soft power. The whole world is watching.



If you are trying to follow the news about Haiti, I recommend reading Mark Leon Goldberg’s UN Dispatch. If you are looking to donate to the relief effort, then check out The Daily Beast’s rundown of NGOs operating effectively in Haiti.

Goldberg and I agree that Reverend Pat Robertson is a fool. Media Matters transcribed his January 13 comments about the Haitian tragedy:

PAT ROBERTSON: And, you know, Kristi, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, “We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.” True story. And so, the devil said, “OK, it’s a deal.”

And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other. Desperately poor. That island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti; on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, et cetera. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy, I’m optimistic something good may come. But right now, we’re helping the suffering people, and the suffering is unimaginable.

I’ve previously blogged about Robertson’s idiocy, but this latest comment is truly abhorrent given the circumstances. Haitian leaders are estimating between 100,000 and 500,000 dead, but nobody really knows right now.


The Real Climate Negotiations

Bill McKibben has a long interview on the public radio show Speaking of Faith, which you can listen to here. An insightful quote from the transcript:

The negotiation that’s underway, we think is between China and the U.S. and the EU. It’s really not; the real negotiation underway is between human beings on the one hand and physics and chemistry on the other. We’re going to have no choice but to adapt, whether it’s gracefully or in violent and ugly fashion to that demand of basic bottom line of the planet.

Food for thought as news of the devastation in Haiti from yesterday’s earthquake trickles out of Port-au-Prince this morning. For an easy way to help, see here.


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