Responding to Haiti's Crisis

By Oser, Gabriel | Journal of International Peace Operations, May/June 2010 | Go to article overview
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Responding to Haiti's Crisis

Oser, Gabriel, Journal of International Peace Operations

Challenges to Supporting the Post-Disaster Relief Effort

BECAUSE the U.S. Ak Force had taken over the Port au Prince International Airport and closed it to anything other than daily military and aid flights, Unity's Crisis Response and Facilitation Team (CRAFT), like so many others responding to the disaster, made its way to Haiti overland via the Dominican Republic (DR). The border crossing at Jimani served as the most accessible point of entry from Santa Domingo. The journey required a four-hour drive through modern Dominican cities and quaint little towns in the country side, highlighting the contrast between one side of Hispaniola to the other, and orientating the team to the locale and the background of the indigenous population.

The team made its last stop for fuel at the service station on the outskirts of Jimani, where, for the first time on the journey, children surrounded the vehicle, asking for money in both Spanish and Creole. The line for the border crossing began several hundred meters away.

On the Dominican side, tractor-trailers with aid supplies and heavy machinery lined up as far as the eye could see, while smaller vehicles jockeyed for position in between them, all inching their way to the border gates. Many of the smaller vehicles stood out from the crowd; shiny, newer model SUVs transporting Blanc (foreigners) to Haiti to support the immediate crisis management in the crippled country.

On the Haitian side, motorcycle taxis and tap taps, small pickup trucks with benches welded to their chassis that were operating as make-shift buses, delivered passengers as close to the border as possible before said passengers continued on foot out of Haiti and into die DR Many tap taps were carrying loads of people heavy enough to make their front ends bounce up slighdy. After the tap taps dropped them off, the Haitian passengers continued on, burdened by die heavy loads they carried on their backs, in their arms and on their heads, to whatever promise or perception of life existed for them in the DR.

Since January 12 the number of international aid workers attached to NGOs in Haiti has skyrocketed. Haiti has long been home to scores of NGOs and hence the organizations' collective organizational knowledge was tremendous; as was their empathy and the long-term commitment - they and their staff remain on the front line of this disaster. Many are faith-based organizations providing assistance and developing immediate-consequence management programs for the millions of Haitians impacted by the earthquakes. Other international organizations have mid- to long-term mandates to build capacity within the Haitian population to rebuild their country's infrastructure, utilities, industry and public services.

The emergency and crisis management phases that have followed the earthquake have also drawn in large numbers of wellintentioned, but less prepared organizations that have unfortunately created additional challenges. Many have arrived without orientation or appreciation of the issues and dangers indelibly linked with the situation, dangers that range from environmental to health and security risks.

The stark images of destruction the team observed during its first journeys through Port au Prince and surrounding areas remain burned into their minds to this day. The massive destruction is reminiscent of European cities destroyed by aerial bombings during World War II.

At first glance, many buildings appeared so perfecdy symmetrical that it was hard to believe diat they were actually the remnants of structures that had once stood six or more stories high, but had collapsed downward on themselves. The earthquakes had reduced other buildings and facilities to no more than piles of rubble, with cement, clothing, furniture and human remains all mixed up in an unnatural and grotesque collage.

It is not surprising that engineers from around the world have concluded that the enforcement of building regulations was virtually non-existent, which allowed for low-grade building construction practices.

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