Haiti updates

A young Indonesian on Haiti

1_778176391l Thanks to Jim Belshaw for noting that the lovely Niar (right) has posted on Haiti.

…The condition of Haiti today has been felt by the Indonesian people yesterday, when the big earth quake attack Padang city. Although the magnitude and the effect not as big as in Haiti, but the Padang disaster also rest many of serious loss life and devastating in many aspects. It is also create new assignment for the country to accomplish this problem.

The occurrence of many disaster like earth quake, tsunami, volcano, and flood is unpredictable and unknown. It is also can break down anything, and threat the state and human living. For the further, the disaster will leave new problem for the state in return the structure and normal condition.

Starting by the good understanding from the good article ‘Third World Debt and Disaster Recovery, here is explained that the country which is get the disaster will face the new problem relating to fund and money. When poor countries face natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods and fires, the cost of rebuilding becomes even more of an issue when they are already burden with debt. Often poor countries have had to suffer with many lost lives and some aid while still paying millions a week back in the form of debt repayment (globalissues.com)…

Jim also comments cogently, especially on the conspiracy theory about US imperialism. This is, in my view, not to deny past problems the US has bequeathed to Haiti, but it is to draw back from reading too much into what the US is doing there now.

The Haiti quake essentially wiped the Government out. It took hours just to gather ministers together. Communications were down. The UN, the one organisation on the ground with the capacity to provide leadership, was itself decapitated by the quake.

I can only begin to imagine the frenzied activity that must have taken place in and outside Haiti as people tried to do damage assessments, to work out how to respond. The US itself was in a difficult position. Without an official invitation from the Haitian Government, any action could be (and in fact was by some of the left) presented as invasion.

Such a simple thing, really, an official request for help. Yet without it, all the rules and protocols governing engagement were frozen.

See the BBC’s Handling a crisis on the scale of Haiti.

The IMF and Haiti

That there is a move to cancel Haiti’s debts was mentioned at South Sydney Uniting Church yesterday. Here are some sites for further information.

1. Haiti Debt Cancellation Campaign (one.org)

2. IMF Clarifies Terms of Haiti’s Loan (The Nation). A symptomatic US conservative comment: “ Just what the world needs more debtors walking away from their obligations! Seems to be the leftist way of doing business, unless it is thier money! After all eveyone knows banking and finance industry is a worldwide charity organization! — Posted by BigPasture at 01/20/2010 @ 5:23pm.” Good grief!

3. IMF Says Yes, Drop Haiti’s Debt (change.org)

4. IMF Chief Calls for ‘Marshall Plan’ for Shattered Haiti (IMF)

Twitter, Facebook and other social media and Haiti

I heard a report on BBC last night adding to the one below. Now that some cell phone communication and some internet access have been restored, the social media have enabled aid workers to target areas of particular need. It’s an amazing testimony to the potential of such things. See USHAHIDI: CITIZEN REPORTING AND THE HAITIAN RELIEF EFFORT.

In the aftermath of last week’s earthquake in Haiti, the global tech community is actively searching for ways to aid rescue and relief operations. Over the weekend, volunteers in various US cities met for CrisisCamp Haiti. One of the most interesting efforts I’ve been tracking for a while is a citizen-reporting and online mapping platform called Ushahidi. The idea is straightforward, but potentially very powerful: to harness the power of cell phone text messaging, online maps and ordinary citizens to gather and distribute information in real time, especially in the wake of conflict or natural disaster.

No surprise, then, that a global team of tech volunteers and humanitarian workers took that platform and got a Haiti page up and running quickly after last week’s devastating earthquake. "Literally, within two hours the basics of the platform were up and running," Patrick Meier told me. Patrick works with Ushahidi, and heads the International Network of Crisis Mappers.

With local cell service down and little chance of getting text messages out of Haiti, the Ushahidi team started by taking mapping information coming in from mainstream media outlets, and via Twitter (see hashtags #haiti and #haitiquake). They also created an email address where citizens could submit reports, or news of missing persons (haiti@ushahidi.com).

Finally, and most critically, they reached out to Haiti’s largest cell provider, DigiCel, to create a text message short code where citizens in Haiti could send an SMS about their location, and their needs. DigiCel allowed Ushahidi to use the short code 4636 (INFO)…

Ushahidi is now starting to see the information flow in earnest, with hundreds of messages coming in via text, Twitter, and the web.

"We’re crowdsourcing crisis information. For example, if someone says they’re in Port-au-Prince, then we’ll immediately map that, and note that this person has gone missing at that particular location. That hopefully helps responders on the ground follow up on that," Ushahidi’s Patrick Meier said.

The tech can’t work by itself. Ushahidi is currently employing "a couple of thousand volunteers, including French and Creole translators," according to Josh Nesbit. "They’re taking free form text message data, tagging it by category and location, and then feeding that back to aid groups on the ground."

Meanwhile, groups on the ground are increasingly aware of Ushahidi as a resource, and they’re working to sort out priorities for delivering aid and assistance based on the information coming in. That is no easy task, as you can imagine, given the current situation in Haiti.

By the way, here’s a bit more background on Ushahidi, which means "witness" or "testimony" in Swahili. Ushahidi was the brainchild of Kenyan bloggers and some concerned technologists…

See also Social networks and the web offer a lifeline in Haiti (15 January) and Haitians are not alone, thanks to Twitter and Facebook (25 January).

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Thoughts on Haiti

Predictably people are running Haiti through their personal ideological mincers, from Pat Robertson and pacts with the Devil on the one hand to the US Imperialism is the most EEVIL thing ever known in the universe mob on the other. I guess it is to be expected.

Haiti map from Huffington Post

Sad though. Whatever one’s views, just considering the size of the problem, dealing with a country where just about all the key bits of organisation and infrastructure are somewhere under slabs of concrete and the airport is choked and tiny makes one just boggle at the logistics involved, and the fact is the only place nearby with any hope of sorting it is the USA and the only people with the skills needed are the US military.

Imagine the outcry if the US had stayed at home!

See also Ortega Warns of US Deployment in Haiti; Frustration mounts over Haiti aid — al Jazeera; ‘Mothers were trying to shake alive their children’.

Best thing to do, aside from helping if one can, is to resist punditry on this one. Seems a bit exploitative to me to improve too much on this far from shining hour to score political points.

  • Reminder: Do visit Dispatches from a fragile island.
  • Haiti earthquake horror: 100,000 feared dead

    I am sure we are all just stunned by this story, which naturally leads the online version of today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

    The print version looks a little different.

    It's all a matter of priorities...

    Not making too much of this, but it is typical isn’t it?

    Mind you the cricket/India story is a disturbing reminder that fanatics — and racists — can be found everywhere.