Yesterday, my day started at 3 am trying to catch up with emails. At 7 am I was off to a dentist as one of my teeth gave me a problem. Waited for 30 minutes and the dentist did not show up.
Back to the office, getting a hang of the things to do during the day. We got requests to find 1 million bracelets to be used in Haiti for a food distribution. We only found half a million, but it was too late. The food distribution crew in Haiti had changed their plans already. We are now looking at paper coupons to be used for the distribution, in different colours, printed in a particular way so we could avoid forgery. Our two procurement staff went off on a hunt.
While I was on route to a meeting, 1.5 tons of food supplies, rations for our own staff, were being loaded on the plane to Haiti. An hour later, I was back to the office.
Meanwhile we got an order in for 1 million bags to hold up to 12.5 kgs. Off went the procurement staff again.
Around the same time, we received about 15 new staff. Some to strengthen our office, some on their way to Haiti.
At 11 am, I received a phone call they needed an extra finance officer in Port-au-Prince, who needed to organise the new base camp which was being erected for our staff still sleeping in make-shift tents. One of our staff volunteered, packed her bags and checked out of the hotel. The problem was that she did not receive security clearance to fly out, and I spent about one hour on the telephone trying to get the clearance in. Five minutes before we had to close the flight manifest, I got the verbal OK from our security staff in HQ who was in contact with the security staff in Haiti. Our finance officer caught the flight just in time.
Our admin staff pulled out their hair as we had about 10 people on hold to fly off to Haiti, which was beyond the allocation of hotel rooms we had, and there was a shortage of rooms in Santo Domingo.
A group of air ops officers got their clearance, though, but they could not find tents in town, so they would have to sleep on the ground on the ground, in Port-au-Prince. They still flew after a final scramble for tents.
Meanwhile suppliers were coming in to show samples of paper and bags. A selection was made while we were still on the phone trying to get hold of tables and chairs for the new office tent in Haiti.
Meanwhile, I negotiated with the hotel about the delays to get OUR new office space. Next to me, a senior staff was organising the newly arrived travel officer, and finance staff. The logistics guys received two cargo airplanes carrying relief supplies for different agencies. About 50 trucks of food left for Haiti, and we dealt with a problem of the fuel supplies at the airport. One more staff was negotiating extra storage space at the port, and another was trying to arrange a mission for an incoming staff who would help us with the tracking of the truck movements to the border.
At 16:30 I gave a briefing for new staff, and at 17:00 we had the daily staff briefing,
I went for a smoke around 19h30, surprised it was already dark outside.
One thing came in after another, and after a final briefing with a new arrival, I crashed in bed at midnight.
Today was not much better, except that I only got up at 6 am.
Just got an urgent phone call from Haiti. They need half a dozen paper cutters to cut the coupons used at the food distribution.
Off we go. Another day in the paradise of Santo Domingo. At least we had a beautiful sunrise...
It seems "the first wave emergency response" for the Haiti earthquake is over. Two weeks after the disaster, the first-responders who flew in to Haiti will slowly start to demobilize, to be replaced by new staff to stay for the next months.
At the same time, the structures of the response is now gearing for a longer term support. Teams are being reorganized, communications and facilities are being set up catering for an influx of staff and supplies, and things start to be more organised.
The main focus of our team right now is to ensure the relief supplies (for us, mainly food aid, and humanitarian cargo for other agencies) and aidworkers themselves, coming in through the Dominican Republic can go into Haiti fast.
As the office facilities in Haiti were destroyed, a new base camp and floating living quarters (a passenger ship which will anchor off Port-au-Prince) are about ready to be put in use, so our staff can move out of the make-shift tent camp. Over here, in Santo Domingo, we are setting up a supply chain (procurement and transport) to bring in food, office equipment and consumables for those accomodations and offices, so our staff has a minimum of comfort, other than a sleeping bag.
Days and nights are still merging into one. Last night, I crashed at 8 PM, exhausted after a full day of chasing security clearances, organising the '2nd wave' of support staff for our office, meetings with suppliers, the UN coordinator here, etc... I started my work day at 3 AM. Most of my time is spent on two things: organising and debugging. The first more looking to the future, and the second concentrating on adjustments in the present.
We are running well, I am proud of the team. We are ready for the second wave of the emergency response to start. A wave which will be large than the first initial response. And longer.
Picture of our team in Santo Domingo courtesy Enrique Restrepo
Eight days ago, which seems a lifetime ago right now, we were meeting in Rome, with the operational group, briefing about the Haiti earthquake emergency. The initial response teams had already been deployed, and the reports we got from the ground gave us a clear view of the enormity of the catastrophy, and the size of the humanitarian response it would require.
During the meeting, we realized that the destruction of the infrastructure inside Haiti would not allow us to bring humanitarian aid straight into the country, neither by air or sea. I stressed the need to beef up the logistics and support capacity we had in the Dominican Republic, Haiti's neighbour. While we were discussing the possibilities, my boss bent over to me, and asked: "Would you want to run that part of the operation". And I said "Yes".
That was at 10 am. Two hours later, senior management had agreed, and I got my "marching instructions": set up the logistics and support "pipeline" in the Dominican Republic. I asked to leave on Tuesday, so I had time to define what I would need in terms of people and structure, and to prepare myself.
On the Tuesday, I flew into Santo Domingo, the capital. As I walked into the office, I saw 30 people cramped into a space, suitable for maybe 10 people. Staff was working with 6 at a table of one.
The same day, we negotiate office and accommodation space at a local hotel, and the next day, we moved. Staff kept on flying in, either to work out of our "Dominican hub" or in transit to Haiti. This evening, I checked, and we already had 67 rooms occupied in the hotel, meaning 67 people were already working in our Santo Domingo office, excluding the logistics hubs we are currently establishing in Barahona and Jimani.
Our operation is supporting the food "pipeline" into Haiti, transporting 40 trucks of food per day, soon to be increased to 60 trucks per day. We also have two passenger planes and one cargo plane which fly into Haiti twice or three times. We don't only transport food, but also ferry people and humanitarian aid into Haiti for other agencies. And it is only the beginning.
Since I landed, the operation has rapidly increased in size, and will continue to do so. Days and nights fade into one. I concentrated in organising the office structure, and creating an environment where my staff could work. We are working out of two converted conference rooms in the hotel, squatting with our laptops at conference tables with admin staff, procurement people, the air operations officers and the logistics group. As I walk around the rooms, I overhear conversations about flight and cargo bookings, people negotiating warehouse space, deals being made about jet fuel, travel bookings, offloading planes, security clearances, the purchasing of drinking water, and situation reports. It is a positive, 'we-can' atmosphere. I can see people smile, and enjoy the work the do. This is the stuff they like, the core of a humanitarian aid spirit.
And I have great staff. They know their work, I don't have to do much, other than a bit of guidance here and there, and for the rest, just be the "oil in the machinery". Each group, be it the logisticians, air ops people, procurement staff, or the travel people, all know what to do and how to do it. I see small teams working on the deployment of the helicopters, the flight schedule of the next days, the increase of our trucking capacity or simply putting together the contact list of those operating in the country. I am proud of them.
And inbetween all of it, Jayne stands up and shouts "Quiet everyone, who has bloodtype B+"? One of our staff member in Haiti dug his two children out of the rubble of what once was his house, and we evacuated them into Santo Domingo. One of the children was going into shock and the hospital lacked B+ blood. A staff member raised her hands, and she was driven to the bloodbank. Meanwhile the hotel staff started an SMS campaign to find more B+ blood and in one hour came up with a list of 8 donors. The child was saved. For now that is, he remains in critical condition.
Meanwhile we continue to get 'shopping lists' from our people on the ground in Haiti. The need instant coffee, sun screen, water, toilet paper... I admire them. In between the trauma of having experienced the quake, they continue to operate for 18 hours a day. With a complete lack of any basic comfort. Living and working in temporary tents. I think of them, as I am sitting in my comfortable hotel room, one hour's flight away. I wish them well. They have a daunting task ahead of them. I wished they could see how dedicated we are to serve them, and their work. We, our office, is committed to keep "the pipeline" going. The virtual flow of humanitarian aid, and survival assets.
We are committed.
Colleague Roxanne wrote an excellent post about the complexity of the humanitarian operations in Haiti.
I can add this: I just got of the teleconference with our staff on the ground in Haiti. When the earthquake struck, they saw buildings collapsing all around them. Of the UN compound only one building remained half standing up. It took over a day before anyone had any overview if we accounted for all the staff, leave alone their family members, national and international staff alike.
While the enormity of the humanitarian needs was immediately clear, staff started to provide humanitarian aid, while still left with the question if their brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, aunts and nieces were ok.
Many people were buried under the rubble, many lost their houses, and our staff was no exception. Even up to today, some are still trying to find out if family members are still alive. Most lost their homes. This morning, one of our staff came with his child in his arms, a child he pulled out of the ruins of his house the night before. The child needed urgent medical care, care which was not available.
The office was evacuated, and they set up a temporary base in make-shift tents. Most of the staff still sleeps in the cars. Just as I left the office today, people were bringing me sleeping mats and mosquito nets, medical kits and first aid kits, for our own staff. Stuff which I will bring with me, when flying to the Dominican Republic tomorrow, stuff which will go onto the next plane out of Santo Domingo.
While this was still going on, food distributions, despite the logistical and security challenges and the uncertainty of their own well-being, went on. Aid was being delivered.
It is easy for us, remotely, in our comfortable chair, to judge if relief efforts are going well or not, if sufficient aid is being delivered. But it is, despite all odds, including staffs' own well being.
Their commitment deserves our respect. They surely have my respect. And I vow that the moment I hit the ground in the Dominican Republic, not only will I ensure my devotion to the delivery of aid, but I also vow I will ensure we take care of the well-being our staff.
Picture courtesy WFP/Alejandro Lopez Chicheri
Haiti: thousands of people did not survive the earthquake. Two million people will require food assistance.
Over the past days, many people from our organisation have already left to strengthen the team we had already on the ground in Haiti, and to set up the support operations in the Dominican Republic.
I don't often write about the humanitarian work I actually do, in an attempt to isolate my work from my blog. This, I can say: Tuesday morning, I am off on a plane to the Dominican Republic to help set up and manage the support operation in Haiti's neighbouring country. It will be the main food and humanitarian supply pipeline for the months to come.
I got the advanced warning on Friday morning, got confirmation in the afternoon, and received further instructions over the weekend. On Monday, I will pull in all the information I need, and Tuesday early morning I am on a plane.
Initially, I will be gone for two months, but I am not sure for how long I will stay. Two days gave me time to say goodbye to my loved ones, and to prepare myself. "Leaving on a jet plane" can not be more appropriate.
I will be posting updates as much as I can.
Picture courtesy WFP/Alejandro Lopez Chicheri
Tuesday afternoon, January 12th, the worst earthquake in 200 years - 7.0 in magnitude - struck less than ten miles from the Caribbean city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The initial quake was later followed by twelve aftershocks greater than magnitude 5.0.
Structures of all kinds were damaged or collapsed, from shantytown homes to national landmarks. It is still very early in the recovery effort, but millions are likely displaced, and thousands are feared dead as rescue teams from all over the world are now descending on Haiti to help where they are able.
If you are a humanitarian aid worker, or just generally interested in the situation in Haiti:
- You can find the latest updates via a search on Humanitarian News
- If you'd rather use an RSS feed, the same updates can be automatically delivered to you via this customized newsfeed
- If you want the updates delivered via email, use the xFruits RSS-to-mail tool. Where you need to fill in the URL, use:
It reminds me of Islamabad airport. Back in 2001, I passed security and I saw a weird reflection of the screen on the glasses of the security officer.
I glanced over his back and sure enough, the guy was looking at a screen full of moving snow particles, with a rolling picture, just like a badly tuned TV screen. No view of the xray'd material, though.
And that was at the height of the worldwide airport security increase after 9/11.
Picture via Fail Blog
We have 540 RSS subscriptions, and hover around 15,000 visitors a month, an increase of about 3,000 per month compared to the same time last year.
Thank you all for coming back and check on this blog.
If you monitor aid-related articles, just like I do on Humanitarian News, it is so easy to pull out the crap.
And I tell you, there is a lot of crap and make-believe in the aid world.
The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats and have raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to a "Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588 when threatened by the Spanish Armada.
The Scots raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's Get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.
The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide". The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France 's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.
It's not only the French who are on a heightened level of alert. Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."
The Germans also increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbor" and "Lose".
Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual, and the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.
The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish Navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish Navy.
Americans meanwhile and as usual are carrying out pre-emptive strikes, on all of their allies, just in case.
And in the southern hemisphere...
New Zealand has also raised its security levels - from "baaa" to "BAAAA!". Due to continuing defense cutbacks (the Air Force being a squadron of spotty teenagers flying paper aeroplanes and the Navy some toy boats in the Prime Minister's bath), New Zealand only has one more level of escalation, which is "I Hope Australia Will Come and Rescue Us".
Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No Worries" to "She'll be right, mate". Three more escalation levels remain: "Crikey!', "I Think We'll Need to Cancel the Barbie this Weekend" and "The Barbie is Cancelled". So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level.
Via The Gathering Storm and my Friend E.
Illustration courtesy Candide's Notebooks
With all the cold, snow and post-Xmas/NewYear traumas out there, I think it is up to us, bloggers, to put the spank back in the world ;-)
So get out of your chair and onto your stick, eberiebodie, and join Frostie, the 20-year-old Cockatoo, in good company from the Blues Brothers.
Shake it babeeeh!
See the top line: "This page is in Danish"...
"Google Wave" confuses "Google Translate"
I would be perfectly OK to sit still, in a room, for days, weeks, probably months in a row. No matter the lack of a TV, radio, Internet. I am perfectly OK to just be by myself, in isolation. And sometimes isolated, I am. At times, in my apartment in Rome, for days I don't see anyone, don't speak to anyone, and hardly leave "my cave".
Then, when I finally come out, it is like the whole world is anew. As if every little thing is just born out of nothing. I can stand still looking at a pine tree, catching details of its branches I have never noticed before. Impressions from the outside world then come rushing in, at an exhilarating pace, and a breathtaking intensity, for me to soak it all in. It is a rush then, after days in my cave, to see get all of the smells and sights coming in, queued up, registered and processed.
The same goes for travelling. There are times, I feel so tired, just eager for one thing: to let it all go, and lay in the sofa, doing nothing. And then, comes the time, like today, where after one month in Belgium, I need to move on. Initially, I drag my feet. Don't want to move turf. Hate good-byes. Hate to move. Why should I? "I am perfectly fine here, lea'me alone"
I close the zippers of my bags, check the tickets and walk into an airport. But from that moment on, my heart goes beating faster. I look around me, with new eyes. I see people, I see their moods, I see all small things of the ambiance around me. I enjoy the feeling of being pushed back in a seat of an airplane as it lifts off a runway.
I write this at Brussels Airport. I am off again to Rome, after 4 weeks at home with the girls. I don't know when I will see them next. Maybe in a month, maybe in two. I dread to leave them. But I know when I will get out of Fiumicino airport, I will inhale the air, and my heart will beat faster. Knowing new things lay ahead.
Life is an adventure for the eternal traveller.
PS: and you wonder what that picture is? Wonder no more. It is a closeup of a picture taken with my iPhone. A closeup from a piece of coral someone gave us on an isolated beach in Tortola, BVI.
They should have told me. I have more or less given up on that stuff.
Picture courtesy Very Weird News. Discovered via The Weird Bit
Two weeks ago, readers sent in nominations for the "2009 Humanity's Shame List", a Top-10 highlighting the last year's events we, humanity as a whole, should be ashamed of.
I pulled all suggestions into a poll and for one week, readers could vote on this post. A total of 299 votes were cast before the deadline of Dec 31st midnight.
So without further delay, here are
Palestine: the Gaza blockade, implemented by Israel and Egypt and endorsed by most governments, collectively punishes 1.5 million refugees by inhibiting education, reconstruction, health and nutrition to allow the people to break out of a vicious circle of abuse. Hamas is cruelly and strategically using the Gaza situation to its political advantage. Israel used the highest grade weaponry to indiscriminately kill civilians, target aid organisations and schools.
World hunger: We allowed a record of 1 billion people to go hungry, while the world is producing sufficient food.
3rd & 4th place are shared between the US and DRC:
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): The international community ignored the widespread violence against civilians, mostly women and children. Meanwhile the largest UN Peacekeeping force in the world was unable to make a significant difference in the world's biggest human catastrophy.
US: Continued their short sighted armed interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, plunging any country they touch, into chaos. Further mixing humanitarian and military causes, continues to put the lives of aidworkers at stake.
Copenhagen: Where the world's political leaders failed to come up with a significant agreement to protect the environment.
6th and 7th place: shared between Sudan and the international community: (how ironic)
Sudan: The international community failed to execute the international arrest warrant for the Sudanese President, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. Non-action allowed the Darfur genocide to continue, tolerated the expulsion of a dozen NGOs on allegations of spying. Meanwhile Khartoum arms fractions in South Sudan, preparing for a new war.
The international community: for being schizophrenic at the cost of human suffering in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, DRC, Myanmar and so on, and so on.
GMO seed and food market manipulation: Monsanto and Cargill further monopolized the seed market, using the US government to introduce GMO food and seeds into developing countries. Shame on Monsanto for single-handedly causing the autumn corn harvest in South Africa to fail.
9th, 10th and 11th place: ex aequo Somalia, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan
Somalia: The international community failed to stop the politicization of the civil war, with the US through its proxy Ethiopia, and some Arab states through their proxy Eritrea who did nothing but put oil on the fire. Meanwhile the donor community failed to provide sufficient aid to sustain the feeding centers and refugee camps.
Zimbabwe: The international community failed to pressure Zimbabwe's government to provide sufficient social security, social safety nets and proper social welfare to its citizens, turning what once was the breadbasket of Sub-saharan Africa, into a well of hunger and human suffering.
Afghanistan: The international community and the UN underestimated the level of corruption during the elections, trying to cover it up while supporting Karzai, ignoring all reports of large scale fraud.
Here are the results, sorted by number of votes:
|Palestine (Gaza blockade, Israeli attacks, Hamas politics)||35|
|World Hunger (over 1 billion hunger)||22|
|Democratic Republic of Congo (violence against civilians)||21|
|USA (wars in Iraq, Afghanistan)||21|
|Copenhagen Climate Summit (summit failure)||19|
|Sudan (violence against civilians, Darfur and South Sudan wars)||16|
|The international community (non-action)||16|
|GMO seed and food market manipulation||14|
|Afghanistan (corruption, failed elections)||13|
|Somalia (civil war)||13|
|Zimbabwe (failing social system)||13|
|Sri Lanka (civil war, crimes against humanity)||10|
|Pakistan (war in Swat, suicide attacks)||10|
|China (bypassing arms embargoes)||9|
|Iran (post-election violence)||9|
|LRA (violence against civilians)||9|
|Aid Agencies (failure of accountability)||9|
|Neocolonialism (land hogging in Africa)||8|
|Ethiopia (famine, civil war)||7|
|North Korea (civil rights)||6|
|Guinee (violence against civilians)||5|
|ASEAN (human rights)||3|
|Belgium (failure to cater for homeless)||2|
Let's hope that 2010 will mean a fresh start for a better year. A year we, humanity as a whole can be proud of.
I know, I will be an optimist until the day I die...