Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 4, 2010

The problem in Haiti: Known, knowable, complex, or chaotic?

Filed under: Catastrophes,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 4, 2010

Late today or early tomorrow Tomas is expected in Haiti.  Whether he arrives as a strong tropical storm or a weak hurricane does not make much difference. 

An estimated 1.5 million Haitians are homeless.  Crowded tent cities set up in the aftermath of January’s earthquake are their principal shelter.  The recent cholera outbreak continues to spread.  According to the Pan American Health Organization there are over 4700 confirmed cases and 337 deaths.

At Corail-Cesselesse, 15 miles north of Port-au-Prince, at least 7000 live in a camp established on a flood plain.  According to the AP during an isolated July thunder storm, “torrents of water and high winds… collapsed 344 tents and sent 1,700 people — a quarter of the camp — fleeing for new shelters.” Many Haitian tent cities have been  established in flood plains or are at risk of landslides. 

          Haitian tent city, AP photo by Ramon Espinosa

Last week  Tomas hit St. Lucia with 21 hours of sustained rain.  A similar period of intense rain is expected to wash over the steep, eroded Haitian landscape during the next 18-to-36 hours. According to the Miami Herald, “Despite government appeals to find a safe spot to ride out Tropical Storm Tomas, many Haitians say they have no choice but to hunker down in tents and flimsy homes.”

In early October a study by Refugees International found:

Nearly ten months after the January 12 earthquake, the people of Haiti are still living in a state of emergency, with a humanitarian response that appears paralyzed. Camp inhabitants are protesting against their living conditions and threats of evictions and objecting to the arbitrarily appointed or completely absent camp managers. Gang leaders or land-owners are intimidating the displaced. Sexual, domestic, and gang violence in and around the camps is rising.

It’s about to get worse.

A catastrophe is the sudden shift in what is expected.  In the case of Haiti, a catastrophe would be good news. From the colonial period until today Haitian history can seem a slowly unwinding apocalypse interspersed with outbursts of joy.

Since the earthquake there have been several proposals for moving Haiti forward.   Below are brief reviews of three.  In part these three were chosen to reflect three angles on reality typical of  recovery thinking.

  • The problem is a matter of management.
  • The problem is a matter institutional competence.
  • The problem is a matter of long-term planning.

All three share a call for more money.

While radically reductionist, these summaries accurately suggest a worldview particular to each proposal.  Moreover as each  proposal argues the case for its worldview there is a tendency — sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit —  to perceive other worldviews as too narrow or unrealistic.


Following are three contiguous paragraphs from the executive summary of the Refugees International October report:

OHCHR’s leadership has not committed adequate resources to the protection cluster, including the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and Child Protection sub-clusters it supports. There is no full-time staff for the cluster, which is utilizing already over-committed personnel spread thin across a myriad of other duties. OHCHR has traditionally worked on long-term law reform issues in Haiti, submitting policy papers to the government and working for incremental changes — important work in Haiti, but not focused on operational protection response in an emergency environment. Additionally, being integrated into MINUSTAH, OHCHR has the disadvantage of not being perceived as neutral by many parts of Haitian civil society.

The operation of the cluster system can become more effective. Co-leadership of the Protection Cluster by OHCHR and UNHCR, using their complementary experience, would improve the situation. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has essential operational experience in responding to protection needs in emergencies, but there are only four UNHCR staff deployed in Haiti, seconded to OHCHR. This has not been sufficient to bring about increased engagement by OHCHR in operational protection work. The Protection Cluster should seek additional funding for UNHCR through the UN appeal, to enable UNHCR to expand their displacement-focused work throughout the country. UNHCR should also be given the authority to implement key protection best practices, such as setting up case management systems and Standard Operating Procedures.

The Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) cluster is key for ensuring that protection of camp residents’ rights is mainstreamed by all the agencies working in the camps, but it is led by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is not a protection-based agency. By taking on CCCM, IOM has taken on a protection role for which they are not equipped. IOM currently has only three junior protection officers, out of 700 staff, and no links with local protection officers to gain a better understanding of the cultural context and the threats facing displaced people. One agency cannot do protection work alone and more experienced protection officers need to be recruited by the various UN agencies, IOM and international NGOs in Haiti.

If only the right number of staff with the required skills would be assigned to the appropriate priorities much more progress would be possible.

Institutional Competence

Since March the National Security Division of the Rand Corporation has developed a report entitled, Building a More Resilient Haitian State.  Here are three paragraphs from its introductory summary.

Prior to the earthquake, the government of Haiti broadly articulated its strategy for pursuing development and improving governance in its Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (GPRSP) of 2007. Building on that paper, a general strategy for reforming Haiti’s economy was approved at an April 2009 donors’ conference in Washington, D.C. After the 2010 earthquake, the government prepared its Action Plan for National Recovery and Development of Haiti, which it presented at a donors’ conference held in New York in March 2010.
These documents provide a vision for Haiti’s reconstruction and development and identify funding needs. However, they do not provide a comprehensive, critical examination of preexisting plans in all sectors that takes into account the need to put state-building at the forefront of efforts to ignite progress(Palin’s emphasis). They often fail to set realistic goals and priorities; these failures risk squandering resources and,  more importantly,  the opportunity to set right deeply embedded problems.
The purpose of this report is to fill this gap by appraising past and current plans to improve public-service provision in Haiti and, drawing on these appraisals, providing recommendations to improve those plans. The report focuses on setting priorities for the next few years and suggesting measures that might produce palpable improvements in the provision of public services during this time frame. The report is designed to be useful to the government of Haiti as it develops detailed plans for policy and institutional reforms and to the international donor community as it determines how to support the government’s efforts.

Long-term Planning

The official approach is set out in the reports obliquely critiqued above by the Rand study. The following is taken from pages 8 and 9 of the Action Plan.

… the Government has drawn up a framework for reconstruction, based on the various proposals received, that will focus on four main areas:

1. Territorial rebuilding, including identifying, planning and managing new development centres,stimulating local development, rebuilding affected areas, implementing economic infrastructure required for growth (roads, energy and communication), and managing land tenure, in order to protect property and facilitate the advancement of large projects.

2. Economic rebuilding, which, along with developing key sectors, will aim to modernise the various components of the agricultural sector, providing an export potential in terms of fruits and tubers, livestock farming and fishing, in the interests of food security; develop the professional construction sector with laws and regulations relating to earthquake-resistant and hurricane-resistant materials and implementation and control structures; promote manufacturing industries; and organise the development of tourism.

3. Social rebuilding to prioritise a system of education guaranteeing access to education for all children, offering vocational and university education to meet the demands of economic modernisation, and a health system ensuring minimum coverage throughout the country and social protection for the most vulnerable workers.

4. Institutional rebuilding that will immediately focus on making state institutions operational again by prioritising the most essential functions; redefining our legal and regulatory framework to better adapt it to our requirements; implementing a structure that will have the power to manage reconstruction; and establishing a culture of transparency and accountability that deters corruption in our country.

This ideal, to be reached within 20, years calls for the mobilisation of all efforts and all resources to “make a qualitative change”, the theme of the National Strategy for Growth and Poverty Reduction in November 2007. This strategy remains an important reference point in setting objectives.

In reading each of these carefully considered and constructive reports I am struck by how they track the Cynefin Framework.   The  Refugee International report seems very confident of what is known and, as a result, what can be fixed and how.   The Rand study aims  to analyze a complicated situation and apply systems thinking. As is often the case with politically oriented proposals, the Action Plan is probing, sensing, and responding to a self-consciously complex situation. 

None of these approaches seem prepared to acknowledge that we may be engaged in a truly chaotic situation where the most promising approach is act, sense, respond.

(For a bit more on the place of  the Cynefin framework in homeland security please see Shape Patterns, Not Programs from the Homeland Security Affairs Journal and Believe in the Model: Mishandle the Emergency from the Journal of Emergency Management and Homeland Security)

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Comment by Claire B. Rubin

November 4, 2010 @ 10:39 am

Great job on this issue, Phil. I will be adding a link to this posting on my blog today.

Hope this post gets read by those ready to take action.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 4, 2010 @ 10:41 am

A brilliant post highlighting this “domestic” disaster. Unfortunately while the cited reports appear to be correct in their analysis and conclusions, like the US itself corrupt governance and corrupt economics including environmental destruction is at the very heart of Haiti’s problems. Unfortuantely since the Revolution policies of both FRANCE and the US has supported the corrupt governance through their foreign relations with Haiti and foreign policies. It could be argued cognently that what the US and FRANCE desire is not a self-sustaining Haiti but a dependent Haiti with numerous sweat shops operating under US and FRENCH tax advantages.

I predicted heavy social disorder before the one year mark and still predicting the same. Always remember that US policy is to drown Haitians fleeing the abyss and making citizens of the largely White Cubans who have fled since the Castro takeover in 1959. Note that under American cultural standards newly minted Senator Marco Rubio is white and still no US Senators that are black or percieved as black. Ignoring Haiti by the Obama Administration will become as Rwanda is and was to to the Clinton Administration. And by the way almost 3 million residents or citizens of the US have some Haitian heritage, born with it or acquired. I wonder how that block voted if it was eligble to vote in Tuesday’s election?

Pingback by Haiti — not recovered yet, but facing Hurricane Tomas « Recovery Diva

November 4, 2010 @ 10:45 am

[…] the excellent posting today by Phil Palin on Homeland Security Watch re the situation in Haiti. Very sad and inexecusable state of affairs regarding the international […]

Comment by Art Botterell

November 4, 2010 @ 11:46 am

Excellent analysis, Phil.

One reason for reluctance to accept the chaotic interpretation is that it’s subversive to the claims of authority by designated (and sometimes self-designated) experts. Which is really just a restatement of Lee Clarke’s argument in “Mission Improbable” and also another way of describing the difference between the predict/prevent paradigm and the prepare/respond “act, sense, correct” approach.

Or, to put it in terms of software engineering, it’s the difference between a traditional linear “waterfall” design process and a more modern iterative/spiral approach. The traditional approach hangs entirely on the claim that the initial assessment of requirements is precisely accurate. And Clarke suggests that in emergency planning that assertion of foreknowledge is often the real political point.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 4, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

Based on open sources less than 25% of all donations to NGO’s earkmarked for Haiti made to Haiti or to end users.

Comment by Mark Chubb

November 4, 2010 @ 10:18 pm

A 10-minute video reviewing Jeremy Rifkin’s take on how we can become a more empathic civilization … It puts what we know and how we can apply it to chaotic situations in a unique perspective.

Comment by Haiti: Now!

November 5, 2010 @ 5:34 am

Phil, thank you from those of us whose professional focus is specifically in addressing prerequisite infrastructure rebuild – waste water and water purification development projects and a housing and multi-level PWC building design and manufacture by locals of permanent and practical, eco-friendly, earthquake resistant with rainwater retention and solar package included, much the same work we engage in substantial pan-African project development and bringing our valued skill sets and proven technologies to India shortly.

As a Vancouver based entity in collaboration with other Canadian and US entities readied since 12th January and one of the first to respond, we today are praying and thinking of the nearly one billion fellow souls globally who in this 21st century still have little or no access to a clean glass of water and….

….today we are praying for the children, women and men in Haiti who since 12th January are still living in tents and are once again being jeopardized as Tomas dumps nearly 15 inches of rain in some localities, never mind tropical winds buffeting tents.

Frustrated…we are and yes, we are truly concerned as we concur with the esteemed William Cumming’s valued expectation when he expects “heavy social disorder” — obviously such is very realistic, yet maybe Tomas will once again prompt attention and action by those whose compassion enjoins those globally not to turn its cheek towards the Haitian, but getting involved and helping those of us either with presence there making every effort to assist or to invite those of us who are professionally prepared for such emergency response, ready and able to address infrastructure requirements and offer affordable housing giving dignity to the good people of Haiti!

We all pray that the wailing pleas of help heard from the Haitian Mothers will finally be addressed with expediency. This is not about America and Canada only helping, but everyone helping and NOW as the heavy rains and tropical winds batter those already so abused, once again, all should lend assistance!

God Bless the people of Haiti.

Christopher Tingus
Senior PWC Global Associate/Partner
Director PWC Haiti/ReBuild Ops

*Phil, Thank you from all in Haiti who appreciate your attention to a worsening scenario which requires immediate attention!

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 5, 2010 @ 7:50 am

Starting to be preliminary evidence that UN brought cholera to Haiti through its troops and sanitary practices.

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