Thursday, January 06, 2005

UN and Tsunami Relief

There's all sorts of information coming to light that provides examples of how the UN continues to value process over results, even when faced with one of the world's largest and worste natural disasters. If it wasn't so pathetic it would be comical. The Diplomad and The Belmont Club have been on the story, and now the National Business Review (via Instapundit) has written a devastating piece on the UN's near-uselessness using much of The Diplomad's reporting as a source.

As and example, on January 3 (Day 9 of the tsunami crisis), the Diplomad posted this
WFP (World Food Program) has "arrived" in the capital with an "assessment and coordination team." The following is no joke; no Diplomad attempt to be funny or clever: The team has spent the day and will likely spend a few more setting up their "coordination and opcenter" at a local five-star hotel. And their number one concern, even before phones, fax and copy machines? Arranging for the hotel to provide 24hr catering service. USAID folks already are cracking jokes about "The UN Sheraton." Meanwhile, our military and civilians, working with the super Aussies, continue to keep the C-130 air bridge of supplies flowing and the choppers flying, and keep on saving lives -- and without 24hr catering services from any five-star hotel . . . . The contrast grows more stark every minute.
Also, it seems the UN may be aware of the fact that they are in danger of taking a serious PR hit in the region and around the world. Again, as detailed by the Diplomad
A colleague came back from a meeting held by the local UN representative yesterday and reported that the UN rep had said that while it was a good thing that the Australians and Americans were running the air ops into tsunami-wrecked Aceh, for cultural and political reasons, those Australians and Americans really "should go blue." In other words, they should switch into UN uniforms and give up their national ones.

Now you all know that The Diplomad is not a cynical or suspicious being, but there is something funny going on here . . . what could it be? Could it be a genuine concern for local "cultural and political sensitivities" that would be offended by the presence of Aussies and Yanks in their own military uniforms saving thousands of lives? Maybe . . . or, might it not be an odd coincidence that just after the infamous Mr. Anan (see prior posts) says the UN will be setting up air traffic control in Aceh, the UN wants to show that it has an ATC system operating? What better way than to continue in the UN tradition of taking credit for others' work?
Finally, it was the Diplomad that was the source a much-talked about Dutch Report, specifically this excerpt
The US military has arrived and is clearly establishing its presence everywhere in Banda Aceh. They completely have taken over the military hospital, which was a mess until yesterday but is now completely up and running. They brought big stocks of medicines, materials for the operation room, teams of doctors, water and food. Most of the patients who were lying in the hospital untreated for a week have undergone medical treatment by the US teams by this afternoon. US military have unloaded lots of heavy vehicles and organize the logistics with Indonesian military near the airport. A big camp is being set up at a major square in the town. Huge generators are ready to provide electricity. US helicopters fly to places which haven't been reached for the whole week and drop food. The impression it makes on the people is also highly positive; finally something happens in the city of Banda Aceh and finally it seems some people are in control and are doing something. No talking but action. European countries are until now invisible on the ground. IOM staff (note: this is a USAID-funded organization) is very busy briefing the incoming Americans and Australians about the situation.

The US, Australia, Singapore and the Indonesian military have started a 'Coalition Co-ordination Centre' in Medan to organize all the incoming and outgoing military flights with aid. A sub-centre is established in Banda Aceh."
I think the point has been made on who reacted quickly and effectively. The Belmont Club has also compiled an interesting comparison of the actions of the UN compared to other International Aid Organizations, such as the Red Cross.
Forgetting for a moment any ideological views toward the United Nations the reader may have, what is striking is how slow off the mark the UN was, even in comparison to smaller nongovernment organizations. Consider the difference in the OODA loop of the UN and the US military, which is widely parodied in movies as being hidebound and inflexible. The Abraham Lincoln arrived in Hong Kong on December 22, 2004 for replenishment. The tsunami devastated the Bay of Bengal region on the morning of December 26; on December 28 the Lincoln received orders to leave Hong Kong for the disaster area. It prepared to sail, with all that implies for a major formation yet by January 1st, the Lincoln was off the coast of Sumatra. Leaving aside the resource differences that allowed the Navy to move major assets vast distances in 72 hours, it had taken less than 48 hours for the US to come up with an implementable plan, obtain approval from national command authority and execute, in essence, no slower than the Red Cross, only bigger. In contrast, the UN is much bigger than the Red Cross, but its OODA cycle seemed much slower.
Enough said.

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