Home World aid groups bungled response to Haiti: journalist

World aid groups bungled response to Haiti: journalist

by admin March 30, 2010

Ignorance, competition and complex procedures were just a few impediments Montreal Gazette reporter Sue Montgomery said prevented large aid organizations from making greater contribution to relief efforts in Haiti in the weeks following the January earthquake.
After spending about two weeks in the devastated nation, Montgomery said she was not impressed with her first-hand look at how these humanitarian organizations worked on the ground following a disaster.
“They were so tied up in their red tape and their process and their policies that they didn’t go into these tent cities. They expected people to come to them,” she said. “And I said, “How are they supposed to get to you? They don’t have vehicles, if they have vehicles they don’t have gas, and if they could walk, well they don’t have limbs.'”
Montgomery spoke about her experiences in Haiti to a group of Concordia journalism students and professors last Friday. She also showed raw video taken by a Haitian right after the earthquake of corpses and people digging around bodies crushed under roofs and concrete. The video drew collective awe from the crowd, who like most Montrealers and Canadians, had not been exposed to these shocking but telling images in the mainstream media.

Montgomery arrived in Haiti about two days after the earthquake as a reporter. Quickly, however, she said she felt the need to help out, beyond writing articles.
“At one point I just had to put my notebook down and start pitching in and doing things I never thought I’d do, like delivering babies,” she said, adding that she also helped doctors suture wounds, hold IV bags, and even simply reassure people, calm them down.
But when it came to aid organizations, Montgomery said that they seemed completely disorganized and unprepared. When she confronted some of them about their difficulties, Montgomery said she was told “well it’s really chaotic and it’s very hard to organize.”

“Well it’s a disaster,” Montgomery responded. “That’s what disasters are, they’re chaotic, so your job is to get your act together so that you can communicate with each other.”
She said she felt the lack of communication between organizations was likely a result of competition amongst them for donor dollars. She also pointed to a few examples of what she felt showed the incompetence and lack of common sense of the aid organizations, mentioning that UNICEF delivered tents without any poles, and Medecins Sans Frontieres refused to share equipment with local doctors.
Montgomery also advised those who donated in Canada to demand accountability from the organizations they contributed to, to assure their money went to good use. “The Red Cross, for example, has raised $120 million in Canada,” she said, “and I didn’t see one Red Cross tent when I was down there.”
Montgomery had her own opinion on what kind of aid we should be offering the Haitian people. “What I think we should be doing is supporting the grass roots Haitian organizations that know what they need,” she said. “I mean they are Haitian, and they’ve been on the ground there for many, many years.”
It was the locals who really carried the most weight during the relief efforts anyways, according to Montgomery. “Of all the people there I thought the Haitians and the Dominicans were doing the most to try and alleviate the situation,” she said.

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