Using lessons from Haiti earthquake to improve humanitarian aid

After the devastating 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, relief workers and international aid poured into the country. But the humanitarian effort became a problem in itself due to factors such as a lack of coordination among aid organizations and the failure to involve local authorities and NGOs.

Experts are now looking at what went wrong so that future humanitarian efforts can be improved, according to an August 14, 2018 article in Harvard Politics.

Haiti is “a unique and problematic disaster,” said Michael VanRooyen, director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. He noted, for example, that ease of access to Haiti’s airport meant that “anybody with any tie to aid and any interest” could get to the country to try to help. But many of the workers were inexperienced, there were no rules, and coordinating so many people was difficult, he said.

Additionally, Ronak Patel, director of HHI’s urbanization and resilience program, pointed out that humanitarian efforts at the time of the earthquake weren’t focused on the unique problems posed by disasters in urban environments such as Port-au-Prince. He said the humanitarian mindset of the 1990s—“‘Let’s build a refugee camp in the middle of nowhere, and here’s a how-to manual’”—is out of date. He called Haiti a “big awakening” for many humanitarians.

Read the Harvard Politics article: Haiti Wasn’t Built in a Day