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UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See prorev.com for full contents of our site

January 18, 2010

THE DISASTER RELIEF DISASTER

Danny Schechter, Media Channel - There is a tragic triage underway in Haiti thanks to screw-ups in the US and western response, and in part because of the objectively tough conditions in Haiti that blocked access and made the delivery of food, water and services difficult. But the planners should have known that.

Look at the TV coverage. "Saving Haiti" is the title CNN has given to its coverage. It shows us all the planes landing, and donations coming in and celebrity response on one hand, and then the problems/failures to actually deliver aid on the other.

Much of the coverage focuses on the upbeat - people being saved. But despite that frame, which highlights a compassionate America's response, the reality of what's happening in Haiti is only barely getting through. It's not pretty. . .

It's like Obama's plan to stop foreclosures through modifying loans. Great idea, but only a handful of homeowners have benefited. There is a yawning gap between the idea and its execution. . .

Why? One global report explained:

"United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the importance of the first 72 hours following the 12 January disaster. But already much of that crucial time has been spent attempting to assess the situation. The structures usually responsible for dealing with civilian emergencies have been unable to respond effectively due to widespread destruction of national and international power structures."

Lacking outside support, civilians have worked communally to try to save their own families. Supplies were sent but many have yet to get out of the airport. Troops have not been assigned to help deliver water or guard medical facilities. There is a fear of the wrath of a people that are pissed off at hearing about aid and money donated, and then seeing nothing trickling down into their neighborhoods.

And there is a deeper fear - a political fear. With President Aristide, the man the US considers too radical for its tastes, anxious to return, there is fear that a possible revolt against the lack of help could turn angry and political.

Hillary Clinton keeps telling the Haitians that we are their friends - but many doubt it. They know that Aristide's Lavalas party is the most popular in Haiti and wants a more profound transformation than the US wants to allow. It had been banned from taking part in scheduled elections next month, that are likely to be canceled now. Haiti's president Preval is weak and dependent on US largesse.

They also know that in the aftermath of earthquakes, like the one that rocked Manaqua, Nicaraga in the 1970s, there can be revolution. They don't want that to happen in Haiti. They also know how volatile the country is, in part because of neglect by the West over the years.

Private help is not getting through either. Western Union offices are still closed in a country that relies on foreign remittances as a lifeline. The media is finally admitting the aid mission is failing, although that's not the word used - they say the relief effort is "troubled!" Here's the headline in the NY Times: "Officials Strain to Distribute Aid to Haiti as Violence Rises." The piece continues: "A sprawling assembly of international officials and aid workers struggled to fix a troubled relief effort."

The Guardian/Observer focuses on a water delivery crisis. The article doesn't ask why armed troops were not assigned to protecting drivers:

"Hundreds of thousands of Haitians are in desperate need of drinking water because of an earthquake-damaged municipal pipeline and truck drivers either unable or unwilling to deliver their cargo.

"'Many drivers are afraid of being attacked if they go out, some drivers are still missing in the disaster and others are out there searching for missing relatives,' said Dudu Jean, a 30-year-old driver who was attacked on Friday when he drove into the capital's sprawling Cite Soleil slum."

The lack of water has become one of the greatest dangers facing Haitians in part because earthquake survivors stay outdoors all day in the heat out of fear of aftershocks and unstable buildings.

But there is something else going on.

The disaster planners have an agenda that goes beyond just saving lives. They want to use the crisis to rebuild Haiti along lines they support. (ie. support of property rights etc) So far they have not spoken about how policies backed by the United States through the Caribbean Basin Initiative were responsible for uprooting peasants from the countryside to move them to the city to be a cheap labor reserve. In that Reagan era effort, pigs were killed and imported food replaced home grown varieties to benefit US suppliers. Debt dependence grew - classic imperialist policies.

. . . Let's admit it, this disaster response is itself a disaster. And it's helping promote a new disaster to come.

. . . How did Haiti end up so economically weakened, with infrastructure, from hospitals to water systems, busted or non-existent – there are two fire stations in the entire nation – and infrastructure so frail that the nation was simply waiting for "nature" to finish it off?

Good question. One of the many we should be asking. In the meantime, we need the press to start asking tougher questions and exposing a Katrina-like response that is still losing countless lives.

A country in pain deserves relief. Not more pain.


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