19 Mar

I normally like when it rains.

It reminds me of my early days as an aid worker in Southeast Asia.

Back then the rain was refreshing and cool. It made everything green. It made everything feel clean. The sound of rain on the roof was peaceful and relaxing. Rain meant that food will grow and that people would be able to feed their families.

The Mekong Delta can be incredibly beautiful in the rain.

As can the Caribbean.

* * *

18 March, 2010: It’s raining tonight, here in Port-au-Prince.

But tonight it’s not so beautiful. Instead it makes me feel as if the entire aid effort here is flagging.

It’s not just one or two NGOs. It’s not just the UN or the Government of Haiti.

It’s the entire aid effort.

We’re now eight weeks and four days after the earthquake and there are still people living under cardboard. And while I can understand “the system”, and I can get all of the complexity and nuance, the logistical challenges and security concerns – and those are all very real – I also can’t quite shake the feeling that we have basically let the people of Haiti down.

I can’t shake the feeling that in eight short weeks this emergency response has become mostly about coordination and minimum standards and matrixes. It has become about big grants and small grants, positioning and who’s going to be “prime” or “sub”. It has come to be about agency-to-agency partnerships. It’s about strategy and positioning and market-share. It’s worrying about the stance of this government or that, about MINUSTAH, about making it to important meetings. For goodness sake, it’s about land and the million impossible variables that go along with that…

And somehow it feels like it has all become less about actual people.

I know I keep writing this, and I’m sure you’re all sick of reading it… But I have to say it again:

People – not just one or two, but a lot of people – are wet, cold, and sleeping in the mud tonight. I feel like we’ve all let them down.

I remember Kompong Thom.

And right now it all just feels really wrong.

6 Responses to “Rain”

  1. GarPJ 19 March, 2010 at 6:24 am #

    a lot of people – around 400,000.

    Still, don’t discount the assistance going out – over 600,000 now have waterproof tarpaulins over their heads – you’ll have seen the change in the sites as the weeks pass as bedsheets are replaced by waterproof plastic, and the cluster reports that we’re reaching almost 100,000 people a week. I think its easy to forget when things become routinised, but there is massive distributions going out every single day.

    Easy to get disheartened – I come past six camps on my way to the office, and they are soggy and miserable. But most of the people in most of them have shelter (albeit crude, messy and far from ideal) over their heads.

    I still get cross at the number of tents out there. Tents cost about 5x as much per family as 2 6mx4m tarpaulins, you can’t stand up in most of them, and significant numbers have already had to be reinforce with tarps because they leak. I spent six months living in a tent in Indonesia and it was great. Because it had just me in it. When they have a family packed in, pressed against the sides, they are rubbish.

    Also important to highlight the need for fire awareness – people will be increasingly cooking inside their shelters now. We’ve done training and distributed extinguishers at the sites we manage, but we need to see more people do more of this. There was a fire at Boliman Brant this week which was rapidly extinguished, but most camps don’t have the training or the equipment and are densely packed. I’ve seen camp fires in Sri Lanka, and they burn hot and terrifyingly quickly.

    Strategy and grants sound dull and boring, but without them you get a hell of a lot of wasted effort and you hit a wall when your organisation’s of public donations run out. Don’t discount them, they are essential, and without them the real people you worry about don’t get effective help.

    On that note I’ve got to go and write another proposal. Chained to this bloody computer…

  2. Marianne 19 March, 2010 at 4:41 pm #

    I feel you and I think it is always a good sign that we still feel this.

  3. J. 20 March, 2010 at 8:40 am #

    @ GarPJ – yeah, I think you and I agree on this (and probably many other things). If you’ve read some of my previous posts on Haiti, you’ll see that this particular post is more about the emotion of the moment than the logic or the bigger picture. 600,000 people helped is a lot. That number represents a great deal of effort by many people, well-written grants, and hours of extremely unsexy but necessary coordination meetings sat through.

    But 400,000 is also a lot. And a reminder that our job is far from over.

    @ Marianne – I’m with you, here. Personal opinion: if we get to the point of not feeling this, then it’s time to change careers.

  4. farzine 23 March, 2010 at 2:22 am #

    Yes certainly, keep strong and keep feeling!! Those personal opinions are also worthwhile.

  5. MCH 24 March, 2010 at 11:45 pm #


    Don’t know if it hurts or helps the emotion of the moment, but the paved road through Kampong Thom today has done little to change the all-too-familiar picture inside the health center and a quick glance at the Phnom Penh Post tells you land is still the single most common, most futile grievance among villagers. I know it has changed, but has it improved enough for the ten years that have passed?

    Elderly farmers often praise the politicians by saying they can’t believe how far the country has come, from having nothing at all in hand in 1979 to “all of this.” I’m not saying the situation is really very similar to Haiti, but if you could ask those same farmers who had suffered so much already to wait a little longer in hope of a better way towards recovery, you wonder what they would have said.


  1. Haiti revisited « Tales From the Hood - 21 May, 2011

    […] Rain – And even now hurricane season is, once more, right around the corner… […]

Pearls of wisdom

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: