Wednesday, July 1, 2015

American Red Cross and the NPR Report: Commentary on NPR program this afternoon

As I was driving this afternoon, I listened intently to the interview you had with Mrs Leslie Schaeffer from the American Red Cross. The reference for such interview was an article published by NPR/Pro-Publica related to Haiti. I re-read the report (Investigation) that NPR/Pro Publica had published on the American Red Cross. It is a report all right, but the credibility of investigative reports is questionable. It does not provide context for the disaster response by the American Red Cross or a timeline that could easily be followed by readers. Nor did it try to understand the international disaster laws, easily accessible in Internet, by which such responses are guided. According to the authors, the thesis statement has to do with the American Red Cross misusing funds in the Haiti response, probably because they lacked the background knowledge or the tempo of the response, and couldn’t explain it to their target audience.

Without discussing the value of the minutia let me reflect on some components that are missing in these reports:

1.     Did the American Red Cross have a pre-disaster agreement with the Haitian Red Cross, or a Haitian government entity to provide bilateral immediate response? The American Red Cross as partner, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, followed the guidance of said organization to plan their response.

2.     Were agreements in place with local banks for transfer of funds or mechanisms for hiring local personnel?

3.     Were the ports open to allow equipment being brought by American Red Cross to the country. Did Haiti exempt American Red Cross from paying entry tariffs? What would happen with that equipment once it was used in Haiti?

4.     When was American Red Cross given clearance to begin on-the-ground assessment? Had all the bodies been recovered and the debris removed from the public thoroughfare?

5.     Were there people either native or Haitian descendant that specialized in disaster response? If not, did the American Red Cross exercise the “Do no harm” imperative waited past the gestation period (a period usually between six month to a year) where assessments are conducted, local people are trained, work plans formulated and evaluation mechanism are in place?

I cannot answer those questions because I was not there, but the reporters, who were there, I am sure cannot answers the questions either.

It is easy to be an spectator that with the passing of time develops compassion fatigue, to develop a warped vision of reality. It is also very difficult for reporters to do in-depth investigative work without having a working knowledge of the science of disaster response, reconstruction, and development.

Paraphrasing Mrs. Schaefer, well said in the program this afternoon, the American Red Cross did what it was supposed to do, continues to do what was planned, and will remain on the ground until all the identified programmatic needs, now using trained local personnel, are no more.