New Alpha Unit on the Haiti catastrophe. I like Doctors Without Borders. A great organization.
Fractures. Burns. Open wounds. Amputations. These are some of the injuries and surgical necessities being dealt with in Haiti by Doctors Without Borders. They are reporting that they are now treating gunshot wounds. Understandably, violence has been on the increase in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck on January 12.
Not only has Doctors Without Borders set up hospitals in Port-au-Prince, they have paid special attention to western Haiti, location of the quake’s epicenter, where the devastation has resulted in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. People are sleeping in the streets. So far there is very little help for them.
It’s all over the news that Doctors Without Borders, which already had a presence in Haiti, has had difficulty landing some of their cargo planes carrying surgical equipment and surgical teams. Apparently there is great confusion in giving planes the necessary clearance. According to Benoit Leduc, operations manager for Haiti, there isn’t a “smooth liaison” in decision making between the United States military and the United Nations.
Doctors Without Borders has been in the middle of humanitarian crises like this one since its founding in 1971. A group of French doctors created it after the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970. The southeastern region of Nigeria had broken off to form the independent nation of Biafra.
France had been the only major country to support Biafra (France wasn’t exactly neutral in all this; it had its own interests in the conflict.) Some French doctors had volunteered with the Red Cross to work in hospitals in the region. But the volunteers found themselves under attack by the Nigerian army, and also saw abuses against civilians.
A principle dear to the Red Cross was neutrality. It did not allow itself to take sides in any hostilities or inject itself into religious, political, or ideological disputes. These doctors wanted to focus solely on the needs of victims, without being beholden to appearances of “not taking sides.”
The group, in fact, does not take sides. But as they learned long ago, unfortunately, humanitarian groups have been attacked if ruling powers perceived them to be doing so.
Of course, Haiti is a different story. The enemy here seems to be the chaos following the devastation of last week’s earthquake. Life-saving endeavors proceed in spite of it.