The Pentagon announced on Jan. 26 that the U.S. military will begin to wind down its central role in Haitian relief efforts within the next three to six months.
This announcement definitely signals a transition in post-disaster operations, from emergency operations (immediate rescue relief) to recovery operations. The Haitian government's decision to suspend major search missions (made late last week) was another indication a phase shift is occurring in the global effort to assist the Haitian people.
There are arguably four types of aid: emergency, recovery, reconstruction and developmental. These four flavors roughly correlate to the "phases of recovery" following a disaster like Haiti's Jan. 12 earthquake. Each phase is complicated. Emergency aid gets the headlines, for it involves life and death heroics; developmental aid is the most difficult because it seeks to build a future, and this entails a debate of whose version of the future will be financed.
Since the earthquake, the world has witnessed a remarkable demonstration of U.S. transport and logistics capabilities. American military swords often double as plowshares, and a natural disaster illustrates that dual capacity. Speed saves lives in emergency response. Providing first aid and surgical services to injured survivors obviously requires swift action. Search and rescue is another mission that plays a crucial role in reducing the death toll, and in the case of Haiti several American civilian agency search-and-rescue teams deployed within 48 hours. Supplying follow-on medical assistance, food and clean water is also vital. Numerous public and private aid organizations responded quickly to meet these needs.
In large-scale disasters, bottlenecks inevitably occur. The Port au Prince airport's limited ramp space (for parking and unloading transport aircraft) hampered initial international efforts, but aircrews, flight controllers and ground personnel adapted. Impoverished Haiti, however, starts off short of runways. Enter the U.S. Navy. A Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is a mobile airfield. With their large sick bays, carriers are mobile hospitals. In Haiti, the USS Carl Vinson is serving an emergency transportation hub for helicopters moving people and supplies throughout the quake-damaged area. Large ships with onboard distillation capabilities are particularly valuable in the emergency aid phase since they can provide significant amounts of clean water for both aid personnel and victims. The U.S. has also deployed the hospital ship USNS Comfort.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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