Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti's Earthquake

Well, I volunteered to pilot a relief flight into Port au Prince. I'm not much of a humanitarian, it was more out of a sense of morbid curiosity and for the adventure. Tried to talk my emergency-room-physician-buddy into going along, but after similar trips to Afghanistan, India and Nepal, he's had enough. Packed a hammock, water filter and work gloves and waited for a plane to be dispatched. It never was, though. Haiti's airport simply can't handle all the relief traffic that's pouring in. I'm writing this from the airport in San Juan, and it's busier than I've ever seen it before with planes that waited over Haiti for a turn to land until they ran low on fuel, then diverted here. Heard other planes on the radio diverting to Los Americas in the Dominican Republic and Providenciales in Turks and Caicos.

So I'm just following the news. I'm willing to bet that, just as with the relief effort after the Indian Ocean tsunami, mountains of supplies will rot before they can be distributed. Well-meaning people are donating record amounts to charities that will spend most of it on more fund-raising, salaries and other "administrative expenses". Giselle Bundchen gave 1.5 million to the Red Cross. The reporter said "She can afford it", which struck me as downright rude. Maybe I'm just protective of Giselle because I know we'd make a good couple. President Obama has pledged an additional 100 million in aid, which means that about 90 million will end up in the pockets of corrupt politicians.

Haitians being interviewed on the news are mostly angry that they aren't being rescued quickly enough. They're in dire straits, but the attitude still seems shockingly ungrateful. Like New Orleans after Katrina all over again, they seem to choose victimhood over self-reliance. Especially in a region plagued by hurricanes, you'd think people would have had the foresight to keep some supplies squirreled away. Even the poorest families have the means to keep some water and beans in empty pop bottles or something.

Supplies are piling up alongside Port au Prince's single runway. Distribution is a problem since many roads are damaged and there's a lack of fuel. Communications are poor, hindering the coordination of efforts. Injuries are becoming infected, and the usual post-disaster diseases will be making an appearance soon. There are reports of gangs with machetes stealing relief supplies.

What can we take away from this? Tens of thousands of Haitians are without shelter, water, food, light, medical supplies, sanitation, transportation or security. What would be useful if such a disaster occurred where you live? Tents, jerry cans of diesel fuel, paraffin lamps, candles, firewood, bicycles, medical kits, non-perishable food, the means to purify water, a latrine or sawdust bucket, defensive firearms, and the knowledge to use all of the above.

Update: I guess I'm more human than I thought. Pics and video from Haiti are keeping me awake at night. I'm still on a list to fly in there, but haven't been called yet.

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