Why is Haiti Still Waiting for Help?

Something is bugging me.

It seems like every time there’s a disaster in the world, help takes forever to arrive. Why?

Don’t we have people trained in what to do, and supplies ready to go for these kinds of events?

I did a quick check around with some US and Canadian contacts and the responses were pretty much in agreement:

Civilians were terrible at carrying out these kinds of operations, because they were not as well trained, and not as plentiful, as our higher-ups would have us believe.

The military, who can more often complete efforts like this more effectively, are rarely called in because of political reasons.

That made me ask: Why would the military be better?

The answer I got was that people who joined the military in this era weren’t drafted—they volunteered. They believe.

In a construction battalion, there’s no feasibility study, no planning. You need a bridge, eight hours later you have your bridge. These guys know what to do, and they believe.

That got me thinking more.

Why don’t we have an international organization with authority, staffed with volunteers who believe, trained and ready to carry out aid efforts?

Seems to me you have to do just a few immediate things well:

  • Clear air fields for landings
  • Get a protection force in there to stop looting
  • Airlift the supplies in
  • Manage distribution of the supplies
  • Make safe places for people to stay temporarily
  • Administer medical attention.

You probably weren’t aware of it, but the United Nations was quite a different animal in its brief life between birth in 1945 to a significant but now largely forgotten event in late 1961. During that era, it had only two Secretary Generals, and hadn’t been neutered. The second Secretary General was a man I admire immensely, a Swede named Dag Hammarskjold (it’s pronounced “Hammer-hweld”, though some say “Hammer-schold”).

Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, image courtesy wikipedia commons

Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, image courtesy wikipedia commons

I’ll add a little spice now by telling you he’s the only Secretary General so far to have died in office, and the only person to have received a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize. He was a sort of geopolitical genius, and an unexpected recipient of the job in 1953. And he ran the organization in a completely different manner than the soft-spoken, invisible way we’re used to experiencing today. He stuck his nose into things, got involved, and used the United Nations as a problem-solving tool rather than a hushed forum for international trash-talk. In essence, he treated the UN as if it was the over-arching international problem solving body that it had been intended to be.

In 1961, after finding out about fighting between non-combatant UN forces and African locals in a border dispute and heading to negotiate a ceasefire, Hammarskjold’s plane was downed in Zamiba under circumstances that are still under discussion. Certainly assassination is a possibility. President Kennedy said of Hammarskjold after the crash, “I realize now that in comparison to him, I am a small man. He was the greatest statesman of our century.”

Since then the UN has become a much more quiet and weaker organization, far less effective in world affairs.

Imagine a United Nations following the Dag Hammarskjold philosophy: don’t back down, find out what’s really going on, bring people to the table who believe. Imagine the UN as a truly independent, responsible and adult organization brimming with people who share core beliefs about competency, service and spirit… …How much help do you think that would bring to the world?