Monday, January 18, 2010

Three ways to get disaster recovery right

A blog that we are fast becoming big fans of is Aid Watch, which gives a very critical view of the way international aid is doled out. Aid Watch contributor Laura Freschi submitted this commentary to Forbes magazine.

Freschi draw parallels between the recovery efforts in Haiti to the Asian tsunami and the Iran earthquake of 2005. Freschi points to three items that are the biggest challenges to relief efforts. For our snippet we focus on the first one, local crisis responders.

Post-relief reports from the tsunami and from the 2005 earthquake that flattened the city of Bam in southern Iran, killing 30,000 people, emphasize the importance of local people as first responders. Locals are first responders by necessity since they are there when the disaster occurs, but their knowledge of local language and geography also makes them well-suited to the task. The majority of earthquake survivors are found by untrained local people digging through the rubble with their hands and whatever basic tools they find.

Similarly, experts recommend equipping local medical volunteers with supplies and logistical support over sending in teams of foreigners who are less familiar with the area. In Bam, expensive foreign field hospitals and medical teams arrived three days after the earthquake, but they found that people with major injuries had already been sent to hospitals in nearby provinces and treated.

The limits of this advice are being challenged in Haiti, where the public health system was weak before the earthquake, and damage to what health infrastructure existed was widespread in Port-au-Prince. Still, reports such as this one flagged Sunday in the New York Times Lede blog highlight the importance of taking full advantage of local medical personnel and facilities:

"I work for a hospital--Sacre Coeur in Milot, 75 miles North of Port au Prince. We were not damaged. We have room for 100 patients, we have over 20 Haitian doctors onsite including a medical trauma team and an orthopedic team arriving today. Helicopters can land very close to us, only ONE landed yesterday with 4 patients! People are dying in the streets AND in the hospitals in Port-au-Prince. We have a full-service hospital with two ORs and are NOT being utilized."

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