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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Role of Leadership in Overcoming Social Vulnerability

We should know by now that after an apocalypse is not the perfect moment for outsiders to come in and remake a country.

Approximately one year has passed since Haiti was hit with the earthquake that resulted in the largest mortality rate due to a natural disaster that the country has seen in recent decades. The article  Great Expectations  by Charles Kenny discusses how little progress we have made in helping to improve Haiti’s post-disaster conditions. Maybe, as the author claims, we are overly optimistic about how much we can really help a country in just one year, after it is hit by a disaster. Maybe we should lower our expectations. Maybe we should set smaller goals over a longer period so that we will anticipate achieving our goals in a more realistic timeframe. Maybe.

What caught my attention most in this article was the fact that Haiti has been suffering numerous problems, including poor health conditions and institutional shortcomings, which predate the earthquake. So maybe, instead of lowering our expectations of how much we can accomplish within one year of a disaster, we can find the catalyst that will help us reach our expectations quicker. I say that one catalyst we should focus more on is the pre-disaster conditions of countries at risk.    

Look at the health conditions in Haiti before the earthquake hit. According to the article, Pan American Health Organization  produced the following statistics in the year 2008:
·         Only 19% of Haiti's households had access to adequate sanitation
·         40% of Haiti's households lacked access to clean water
·         40% of Haiti's households were unable to access basic nutritional needs
·         65% of preschoolers had anemia
·         Haiti had the highest HIV burden and rates of tuberculosis infection in the Western Hemisphere
·         Cases of malaria and acute respiratory infections were pervasive, with pneumonia accounting for one out of every five child deaths
Now, after the disaster, over 150,000 people were recently hit with a cholera break which could have been avoided had Haiti been properly prepared for dealing with a disaster.

These health issues, along with many other issues that developing countries may face, should be addressed first and foremost by the country’s government. However, many feel that Haiti has “some of the lowest-quality government services in the world.”  Outside foundations have had to pick up the government’s slack and take on roles they were not prepared to take on. For example, Red Cross has to provide water and sanitation to the Metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince. If outside organizations are taking on such huge roles, what is the government doing? This is a problem that needed to be addressed long before the earthquake.

Feel free to argue against me, but from what I can see, if more focus is put on improving conditions in developing countries and preparing at-risk countries before a disaster hits, post-disaster aid will be a quicker and easier process.

- GlassFrog Blogger Sherisse


  1. I think you bring up a great point. This makes me wonder what the same stats were for Pakistan before its disaster.

    I think that when these disasters hit 3rd world countries, people fail to realize that a lot more work will be needed to rebuild than if it was to hit here in Canada, due to the many things the country's infrastructure lacks to begin with.

  2. Good point about the infrastructure. I think, if we were to search for a silver lining,that due the lack of infrastructure or poor governmental regulations like with Haiti, it may be easier to then implement a new and better system than it would be for a country with an established infrastructure. My thinking is that it's harder to change people's minds about a system that has been operating a certain way for years, than it is to introduce something new that had no previous alternative form. Think that makes sense?

  3. You make a really good point (and I like the title of the article).

    I think that the ultimate goal in preparing countries for disaster should go beyond preparedness for post-disaster aid- it should put the countries in a position where they are self-sufficient enough that aid is barely required. If you compare the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti to the 7.0 in NZ a little under a year later, the difference is pretty striking New Zeland had almost no need for outside help, and the only casualty was a heart attack death- that may or may not have been related to the quake (wiki..).

    Then again, in a place like Haiti, it seems like a quasi-impossible task to build up the infrastructure to this point, when a year later, they still have not been able to establish proper leadership. In fact, with the cholera epidemic, it seems that they are being pushed back with every step forward.

    It almost feels like (ok, really controversial point maybe) the only thing that would solve the current problems in a timely manner is a strong, charismatic leader with the ability to mobilize large numbers of people to action. Historically, this has really not worked out very well (think, Duvalier era) and corruption always seems to follow. However, it seems like someone..(anyone!) needs to basically take over and rebuild the whole infrastructure from scratch.
    As we're seeing in Egypt and elsewhere at the moment, that type of leadership would probably not lead anywhere good at the moment. However, it just seems that at the pace they're currently going, nothing will ever be accomplished in time for the (seemingly inevitable) next disaster.