Haiti, where Mañana is not an option...

Log Base in Haiti

"Mañana, por favor!", I answer when housekeeping knocks on my door. Mañana, please, I am working...

I sit, computer on my lap, on my bed reading through a backlog of emails, catching up on work done, being done, and work to do.

I just got back from two days in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It has been almost two months since I landed in Santo Domingo to coordinate the support functions for the Haiti crisis, out of the Dominican Republic. My days are full. My attention is switching from a meeting with one of the ministers, staff recruitment, debugging a cash advance problem, a meeting on limiting the overtime the drivers can do, a shipment which seems to be lost but really is not, stamping the numbering on the food coupons, staffing contracts and a security incident.

It is not the amount of work that tires me, it is the intensity in which issues come, and need to be dealt with. Not that I don't like it, but in the evening, I pass out on my bed...

After two days in Haiti, I wonder how my colleagues can deal with their work, which is a ten fold more complex than mine. They don't have a comfortable hotel room, five floors up and 1 minute away from the office. They either live in Camp Charly, the tent camp for the humanitarians, or have to shuttle to the boat anchored off shore, to spend the night. Given, the boat is more comfortable, but it takes anything between one to two hours to get there. Some of the staff pitched their tent in the back of the container park, in "Log Base", right next to the airport, where most UN agencies set up tents, tarps and office containers, making it the "humanitarian nerve center" of the operation.

The humanitarian part of Log Base is nothing but one narrow road, lined with parked vehicles, crowded with people moving around between the offices, and filled on either side with "offices".

The fortunate have a 20 foot office container, some with airconditioning, with tarps over them to avoid water sipping through the joints. The less fortunate have massive tents to work in. Meetings are held in open spaces covered with tarps, or half open shelters. Lack of working space is common with most containers cramped with four people, hardly fitting the make shift desks, filled with files and folders hardly leaving space to fit their legs inbetween.

The noise is constant, mostly from planes and helicopters taking off or landing on the airstrip a few hundred feet away. During the meetings, when the screaming noise of yet another Ilutsin taking off builds up, people just stop their sentence for thirty seconds, and then continue as if nothing happened. Like pushing the 'pause' button on a video.

Most of the containers are now properly wired up onto the generators, and have network connections to the servers and satellite links. Nothing much we can do these days anymore without connectivity, be it for emails, telephone calls, or registering all procurement or logistics transactions onto the central servers in HQ.

Luckily, during my two days, it was neither hot, nor raining, and many staff commented "this weather is as good as it gets". I can imagine the dust, humidity or mud on other days.

There is a constant flow of visitors. Army personnel, staff from the other agencies and NGOs, civilians, people from the government and local communities, people coming back from assessment missions or distribution points. It makes it hard to keep concentrated to the task at hand, as people get interrupted every other minute.

And although the spotlight of the world's cameras is no longer focused on Haiti, the humanitarian operation is still to peak. While during the first six weeks, the utmost urgent needs were being met with loads of cargo being flown in, the steady massive flow of the aid cargo coming in per ship has started. While one plane can bring in up to 100,000 kgs of aid supplies, a ship can bring in 400,000,000 kgs in one go. So the logistics and distribution challenges are only starting now.

On top of it all, the rainy season has begun, making the need of the bringing in supplies even more urgent. And we have the hurricane season just around the corner.

So, sitting back in my hotel room on this Sunday, I can not have but admiration for the staff working in Haiti. Many of them were present during the earthquake. They have lost their homes, suffered from loosing family or friends, scarred by seeing the human misery day by day.

I wish anyone criticizing the humanitarian agencies on the ground in Haiti, could spend a week there, working with them and feel what it is to be faced with the daunting tasks ahead, where "Mañana" might not be an option.

Pictures from my visit to Haiti, and random snapshot from day to day life here, can be found on Shot from the Hip.


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