16 January 2010

Drop the water now!

With all the money being donated to Haitian relief from people around the world, the failure to deliver clean water to the Haitian people through air drops is appalling and absolutely inexcusable.

"It seems to me that (air drops of water)'s a formula for contributing to chaos rather than preventing it," says Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "Without having any structure on the ground, in terms of distribution, that an air drop is simply going to lead to riots as people go after that stuff."

We're at the point where concerns of riots over water should be trumped by the fact that thousands are dying for lack of clean water. The Air Force is saying that it will be two days before it can distribute water if all goes as planned.

"The urgency was growing..: On a back street in Port-au-Prince, about a half dozen young men ripped water pipes off walls to suck out the small amount of water trapped inside.

"This is very, very bad, but I am too thirsty," said Pierre Louis Delmar.

..."And soon, it will be too late in any case.

"Beyond three or four days without water, they'll be pretty ill," said Dr. Michael VanRooyen of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in Boston. "Around three days would be where you would see people start to succumb."

"The next morning after the earthquake, as a military man of 37 years service, I assumed … there would be airplanes delivering aid, not troops, but aid," said retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who coordinated military operations after disaster struck the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005.

"What we saw instead was discussion about, 'Well we've got to send an assessment team in to see what the needs are.' And anytime I hear that, my head turns red."

"In the first two days after Tuesday evening's quake, "we saw national media in, but we didn't see Air Force airplanes taking in food and water," Honore said. Nor were military doctors on the ground treating the injured, he said.

"..A rapid response unit such as the 82nd Airborne Division can deploy within 18 hours of an order to go, said retired general Jack Keane, the former Army vice chief of staff."

Whatever the intentions behind the original decision not to air drop, in light of "a coordination failure among military operations and humanitarian agencies" the decision has to be changed.

You may be wondering, where is the Haitian government? Where are the Haitian doctors? The main medical school started by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was closed down during the coup in which US Marines flew him out of the country, during which Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch confirmed that systematic human rights abuses took place in the presence of UN peacekeepers. The practice of dispensing aid to NGOs rather than the Haitian government was accelerated in the past decade by the Bush administration's determination not to give any money to the Aristide government. The Haitian oligarchy has never paid taxes despite the fact that their profits constitute an overwhelming percentage of the GDP. The US, France, and Canada instigated an international embargo against Haiti up to the past few years over falsified charges relating to legislative elections. The country is still paying off debt accrued by the US-backed Duvalier dictatorship, almost all of which was embezzled.

Amid the total absence of government institutions and health provisions, the 95th anniversary of the first US military occupation in Haiti will bring a new US occupation for an undetermined length of time, bringing a soldiers-to-civilians ratio higher than the current US occupation of Afghanistan. There will apparently be no unconditional provision of the world's donations of water, food, and medicine, so Haitians will have to accept this occupation in order for the survivors to eat and receive emergency medical aid.

The "hearts and minds" of Haitians will process the facts of their misery much more clearly than anything I can surmise. Aristide says he wants to return to the country, but the US military's control of the airport has already been accompanied by the US State Department's statement "the last thing that we need is to have someone land and put an additional burden in an already-stressed situation," despite the fact that Secretary Clinton is landing there. A Haitian presidential election year looms in which President Preval can't run for reelection, Aristide's Lavalas party has been forced in to exile and assassinated by the Haitian National Police amid the presence of the UN, and the continued presence of the US military is likely. Though it's unclear whether the constitutional prohibition of three terms applies to someone who has begun two coup-shortened terms already, Aristide has a legal right to enter Haiti and should do so to see to it that the will of the Haitian people and the compassion of people around the world is acted upon.

Bay kou bliye, pote mak sonje. The giver of the blow forgets, the bearer of the scar remembers.

1 comment:

Ian Keenan said...

A few air drops finally started on Monday.. more today apparently. The phrase 'too little too late' will apply here.

Democracy Now! has great coverage of the crisis as usual but they say air drops are impolite. A little bit of perspective on that.. They have parachutes and everything. Strong people get them first but the more water the more it gets around.