What Next For Haiti As "Recovery" Replaces Relief?
By Danny Schechter
Author of The Crime Of Our Time
As Media Coverage Fades, Urgent Issues On The Disaster Go Uncovered
UN Takes Over Aid Distribution; Admits Effort Has Been a Failure
Haiti is already fading from the headlines. The desperation of the population in what was called the "rescue" phase of the relief effort is giving way to "silver-lining" talk of recovery and rebuilding.
Even as the death count mounts, this apocalyptic disaster no longer has the ability to shock, perhaps because of media overexposure. The media well of compassion -- fueled by images of lovable orphans and live extractions of half-dead individuals from the rubble -- is running dry as a "been there, done that' feeling sets in among TV execs who sense that the audience will soon become jaded and turn away.
Perhaps that's why the story turned quickly from the dead and dying to celebrities telling Larry King how much money they are donating. Perhaps that's why the plight of sympathetic children took center-stage.
The reporters who have been there are all tired, and in some cases traumatized because of the vast needs they saw. However, most were gentle in chronicling the pathetic delivery of food and water despite the amazing outpouring of sympathy and generosity. Recently a homeless shelter in Baltimore donated $14.64.
Because of the suffering they have shown us, much of it as character-based human interest vignettes, correspondents seemed to have had little airtime for investigating what history might someday indict as an incompetent, if not criminally negligent, aid response.
For weeks, there were so many basic questions left unexplored like how much was being spent. Where it was it going, and whether it get there. We were given impressions, but little real information.
There was blame for the most powerless player in this drama, the Haitian government, which had lost most of its infrastructure, but little scrutiny of the most powerful, the lead agency, the US military which took over the airport and made security -- i.e. bringing troops and vehicles -- a more important priority than distributing food and medical supplies. On Sunday, The NY Times reported the system was changed because this approach had "failed," and at a cost of a still unknown number of lives.
"The new program " ends what officials described as the "quick and dirty' initial phase of emergency response, but it is also an admission of what Haitians were saying for days: that the system failed to reach those who needed it and was often exploited by those it did reach."
On Saturday, it was reported that the military had stopped emergency flights of badly wounded Haitians to US hospitals because questions were raised about who would pay for their care. (After protests, the fights resumed with no one taking responsibility.)
The Wall Street Journal carried a report from three New York doctors comparing the mishaps in Haiti to Katrina. There was a report that the trailer industry wanted to ship 20,000 unsafe trailers first used in Katrina relief to Haiti. According to one report, "Haitian Culture and Communications Minister Marie Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said, "I don't think we would use them. I don't think we would accept them."
It wasn't surprising to learn from the Associated Press that out of every dollar of US government aid, 33 cents went to the military and only ONE cent went to Haiti's government. Many observers contend that only Haitian leaders can provide services over the long term, but they have not been given sufficient support. Dr. Paul Farmer who runs one of the most effective Health projects there told the US Senate that communications minister Lassegue was left without a cell phone and he had to give her his.