Media Explores Roles of Civilian and Military Responders in Haiti Relief Efforts

As the effort to provide aid to Haiti continues,  questions have emerged about whether the massive humanitarian response is being handled properly from a organizational perspective.  Should Dr. Rajiv Shah, the new USAID Administrator, and his civilian colleagues be coordinating the response?  Should the U.S. military lead the way?  Below is a sampling of opinion pieces and news stories on this issue:

  • U.S. Military Should Have Reached Haiti Sooner (CNN-Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, January 14) Regarding the airport, he said, “You need to put the right commander there who’s going to be a battle captain and keep those aircraft flowing. You come in, you drop off what you have, you put the sick and wounded on and then move out. No one is standing any time on the airfield. You can be in and out in a half hour.”
  • MFAN-related: Helping Haiti: Eight Key Points (Huffington Post-Anne Richard, January 19) American troops can protect a neighborhood or building, but aid agencies do a better job designing ways to protect women and young girls from predatory men after a crisis. Soldiers can quickly establish links to other militaries and peacekeepers, but diplomats and international relief experts are also needed. Aid agencies can work with communities and stay for the longer term. The U.S. military can fly in, set up and staff a brand new clinic while aid agencies can reinforce networks of existing clinics and help local staff. All of this is needed.
  • U.S. Military Plays High-Profile Role in Haiti Relief Effort (Newshour-Andrew Natsios & Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, January 19) [Natsios]: But the international disaster assistance system is not based on military leadership. It’s based on civilian leadership. It’s USAID, under federal law, that has that leadership role. But there are 60 of these disasters a year that AID responds to, and no one ever hears about them because they don’t get into the news. And they’re very effectively run. And most of them, the military doesn’t get involved.
  • MFAN-related: Haiti’s Tragedy and the Inevitable Controversy (Huffington Post-J. Brian Atwood, January 20) USAID has a large mission in Haiti and its personnel know the people and the structures of Haitian society. They can provide guidance and assure that our military will be seen as a benign force. In addition, organizations like CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children and UNICEF prefer to work under civilian not military direction.  The Haiti operation is an all-government response, but USAID/OFDA is appropriately in the lead. The President has designated Dr. Rajiv Shah, the USAID Administrator to coordinate the USG response and by all accounts he is doing an outstanding job.
  • White House Eager to Project Image of Competence in Relief Efforts (The New York Times, January 21) The White House has won praise for its Haiti relief efforts, which have included Mr. Obama’s pledge of $100 million in aid and the deployment of 10,000 troops to Haiti, and a promise of more. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton cut short a trip to the South Pacific and rushed home so she, too, could visit Haiti. “It’s important to give people a sense that you’re making progress,” he [John Simon] said

We encourage readers of the ModernizeAid blog to weigh in on this debate in the comments section below.

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