Sunday, January 17, 2010

Aid Gridlock in Haiti, Being WISE, and What Should a Mother Do?

The airport in Port-au-Prince at which many of the relief (and military) planes are landing, is gridlocked, with supplies not being disseminated in a coordinated and effective manner to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. This article shows the huge frustration experienced even by the relief workers who are lacking trucks, and in many cases, even fuel, to disseminate the needed water and food. Coincidentally, this past term, I have had several meetings with the coordinator of FlexNet, Mr. Matthew Bader, who works in providing trucks for supply deliveries in humanitarian operations.

Doctors are working with primitive supplies, searching for antiseptics, alcohol, in most any form, as well as clean water, in order to do the necessary surgical procedures and to try to save lives. The medical situation is so dire -- heroic medical professionals are working in settings like Gettysburg, the Civil War battle that took place in the middle of the 19th century. Hospitals in Haiti, even pre-earthquake, were not sufficiently stocked.

There is a better picture now in terms of the coordination of relief activities, which is, nevertheless, still lacking in numerous respects. I spoke with Dr. Jose Holguin-Veras of RPI, who gave a brilliant lecture in our Speaker Series this past term on Emergency Logistics and the Response to Hurricane Katrina. He is a native of the Dominican Republic (DR), the country which shares the island with Haiti. He told me that he is now advising the Dominican Republic on logistics, since that country and its airport are a major logistics relief staging area for Haiti. He told me that, once the supplies arrive at the border with Haiti, the United Nations is taking over, because of the extraordinarily challenging situation in Haiti now in terms also of safety. I have tried to reach Dr. Denise Sumpf, who works for the UN, and who also spoke in our series and who is an expert in transportation, but I have not had success. Since several dozen UN peacekeepers in Haiti perished in the earthquake, the coordination of the relief efforts has suffered, as a consequence of the lack of command and control, early on.

My daughter, last year, at precisely this time, was packing up supplies to take to an orphanage in San Cristobal in the DR, to begin a week's community service there with her 9th grade class at the Bement School.

This orphanage is west of the Santo Domingo airport in the DR, to which many relief planes have also been landing. The supplies are then transported over roads to the Haitian border and onwards in treacherous conditions.

This year's 9th grade at Bement is to be journeying to help out in the same orphanage in less than two weeks. Last year, I had the usual concerns about allowing a child to take on this special trip. This year, there is the Haiti earthquake and its aftermath to contend with. I hear that this community service trip is still on. It signifies that one should do whatever one can and is capable of to help the less fortunate. As an educator, I have been trying to do my best in conducting research and in disseminating knowledge about logistics and transportation and the importance of networks and infrastructure to societies and economies.

I hope that more students will assume careers in humanitarian logistics. There is a very thoughtful writeup on humanitarian logistics and WISE (Women's Institute for Supply Chain Excellence), in which Ms. Melanie Miller, of Accenture's Supply Chain Management Practice, includes a quote by me. With the number of disasters, and their severity growing, we, as educators, can inspire others.