Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Another UN Fail In Haiti?

Responding to the earthquake disaster in Haiti isn’t turning out to be one of the bright spots in the recent history of the United Nations.

You might remember this story from a week and a half ago about UN peacekeepers ordering doctors to abandon a makeshift hospital, leaving behind more than two-dozen badly injured patients. Luckily for the wounded, CNN correspondent, and medical doctor, Sanjay Gupta happened to be there when the staff left – he and his film crew jumped in and cared for the patients through the night until the doctors returned the next day.

Now two more stories of pretty questionable judgment on the part of the UN have been caught on TV. On Monday a crew from Britain’s ITV network filmed an aid distribution debacle. Trucks from the UN’s Port-au-Prince warehouse arrived to distribute boxes of much needed food aid to a crowd of Haitians, some of whom hadn’t eaten in days. But no sooner had the aid distribution started than the UN Blue Helmets (their peacekeeping troops) providing security got spooked by the size of the crowd. Fearing a riot, they ordered the operation stopped and the aid packages loaded back aboard the truck, which then promptly returned to the warehouse with much of its load of aid supplies intact.

Yesterday MSNBC showed film from another attempted UN food distribution effort. Again, the peacekeepers quickly lost control of the crowd, panicked and this time used pepper spray on the hungry Haitians. At least this time they also managed to distribute one truckload of food, though a near riot erupted when a second truck (an SUV actually) approached – the crowd thought it was also carrying aid packages, though it turned out to have nothing to do with the UN effort (which also begs the question of why did the UN only send one truck in the first place?)

Again, I don’t want to be overly critical of the United Nations, it’s worth repeating that the UN headquarters in Port-au-Prince was destroyed in the earthquake and that the UN suffered its worst single-day loss of life in the building’s collapse. But these are three highly publicized instances where the UN has actually made a bad situation worse, and it is becoming clear that the UN peacekeepers in Port-au-Prince are in way over their heads. If the UN can’t get its act together in a hurry, then perhaps they should step aside and let agencies from other nations/organizations take the lead until they do.
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