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Haiti-type disasters require a UN rapid-response unit

In the first critical hours of a disaster, a controlling entity must keep the airport open, clear the roads, maintain order, and prepare for the arrival of help.

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It does not take anything away from the heroism, the generosity, the prayers, and the worldwide fundraising directed at Haiti to observe that the postearthquake relief efforts could have gone better. Haiti’s experience should prompt the creation of a United Nations unit ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

Two weeks after the quake, thousands were sleeping in the open until tents arrived. Hundreds of postoperative patients had no beds for recuperation, and Haitian nurses reported having to treat amputees with bare-minimum painkillers. A procession of refugees streamed out of Port-au-Prince to find food. Families left by sea in an armada of canoes and little boats to find refuge in coastal areas outside the capital.

Journalists are supposed to remain stoic as they report on such scenes, but there was no concealing the emotion of foreign reporters as they held in their arms orphaned babies with nowhere to go, as they watched a girl rescued after a week under the rubble expire hours later, or as their truck raced from crowded hospital to crowded hospital seeking a bed for an injured elderly woman.

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