Thursday, July 8, 2010

Haiti 6 Months After -- Unblock the Roads and Fragile Networks

One year ago, our book, Fragile Networks: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Synergies in an Uncertain World, was published and was recently noted by the Library Journal to be a top selling book in technology and engineering.

6 months ago, on January 12, 2010, a huge earthquake hit Haiti and awakened the world to the wrought devastation.

I wrote regularly in this blog about the earthquake, the resulting human suffering and loss of lives, and the loss of critical infrastructure from the roads to telecommunications, plus hospitals and even schools, which only added to the suffering of the survivors. I also called for better coordination among the stakeholders and especially the humanitarian organizations for the provision of necessary supplies and decent logistics.

Today, The New York Times has an OpEd piece written by my colleagues at Georgia Tech, which is right on target, and which speaks to one of the major themes of our Fragile Networks book: that the identification of the critical network links before (and after) their degradation and even ultimate devastation is essential.

According to the OpEd piece, Haiti's External Weight, by Professors Desroches, Ergun, and Swann, 6 months after the earthquake: twenty million to 25 million cubic yards of debris fill the streets, yards, sidewalks and canals of Port-au-Prince — enough to fill five Louisiana Superdomes.

Debris is one of the most significant issues keeping Haitians from rebuilding Port-au-Prince and resuming normal lives. Much of the stuff has been left in place or simply moved to the center or the sides of roads. Some streets with especially large piles of refuse are impassable. As a result, it can take hours to travel just a few miles. Meanwhile, schools, hospitals, businesses and homes remain blocked.

Amazingly, only about 5% of the original debris has been properly disposed of and there are serious concerns about the ultimate impact of the debris on the environment, as well.

Clearly, the efficiency and performance of the transportation and logistical networks in Haiti have been severely affected and degraded without a timely debris removal. Since such networks provide the infrastructure for the movement of people and goods, how can Haiti's economy and its citizens move forward?!

In May, 2008, I had the privilege of convening a workshop: Humanitarian Logistics: Networks for Africa at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center on Lake Como. It was apparent to us then, as it is now, that with the increasing number of disasters documented globally more attention to education, to research, and to policy analysis regarding humanitarian logistics and sustainable operations is sorely needed.

Crises don't end once the media attention dissipates.