Monday, January 18, 2010

Haiti: Water and Food in Crisis

Will someone who has experience with distributing food and water in crisis areas please consider the following and tell me why it won't/doesn't work?

If there's anything we learned spending 3 days watching hundreds of Americans starve in the Convention Center area of the New Orleans Katrina aftermath, it is that Americans really have no idea of how to provide basic essentials after a disaster.

Well -- pending someone explaining to me why this won't work -- here is a way to make it work.

First year engineering students are often tasked with a competition: create an entry that will drop an egg 'N' feet to the ground without breaking the egg.

I posit that we're have and continue to waste engineering expertise on such a stupid goal. Why not change the challenge to: 'Drop water safely to the ground from 10,000 feet'?

In a widespread disaster, there are plenty of things in short supply (in order of severity): rescue, medical treatment, water, food, shelter, security, communication, transportation.

Unbeknownst to the US military (doesn't the US have any other organization to help people? Most other countries seem to be able to get these things done without toting machine guns.) there are ways to get at least some of these items to people fast. Here's what you do.

Make many different small kits:

A) Water: 5-gal cardboard "cubetainers" would be excellent for this. Fill each container only half-way to provide some crash-resistance. "Cube-tainers" stack well and the inner liner can be easily re-used to store water from other sources as/if it becomes available. If all else fails, strap a parachute on a 1-liter Desani bottle for Christ's sake.

B) "Food": Candy bars, granola bars, Lord knows the US if full of "sports bars". Pack 'em up and strap on a 'chute.

C) Shelter: Tents, battery-powered flashlights, water purification tablets, blankets.

D) Medical supplies: Basics, with instructions in 400 different languages.

E) One-way and Two-way radios: One-way to receive broadcasts such as "Sit tight, we're coming to deliver X in Y hours." A smaller number of two-way radios, hard-tuned to fixed frequencies to allow vicims to organize and radio authorities on their situations, their needs and what resources they have to contribute, if possible.

Now, the US military tries to deliver these things to ground-level in pallets and gets all wound up when starving people rush their helicopters (those damn poor people!)

The right way to do this is push this shit out the back of a C-5 at 10,000 ft. That's right, no 15 pallets of X. I'm talking 10,000 pieces each of A through E. Yes, it will land all over the place and yes, it will land in a lot of "wrong" places. But what this does accomplish is scatter people about. Scattered bits of food, water, clothing, shelter, med supplies, etc. don't get gobbled up by "greedy" people. There's no way to Bogart too much because it's all over the place. Also, it keeps rioting mosh-pits from forming at distribution points because there ain't any.

Yes, you're gonna have to make more trips to do this and yes, it's gonna be "inefficient". But you also are getting water, food, shelter and basic medicine to people *on the day of the disters* and not 2 weeks later after everyone has died from starvation waiting to fill out forms in triplicate.

So yes, the Haitians are rioting. Good on them. Lord knows we should have rioted when the US Gub took 3 days just to get a bottle of water to downtown New Orleans. In-fucking-excusible.

No comments: