On Thursday, Haiti’s Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime announced that tent villages were being constructed outside of Port-au-Prince to house 400,000 people made homeless by last week’s devastating earthquake. The first wave of 100,000 is due to be transferred to these villages, each with the capacity to house 10,000 people, near the northern down of Croix Des Bouquets as soon as possible.
The announcement came amid signs that the situation in Haiti is slowly improving. Also on Thursday, Riccardo Conti, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ delegation to Haiti, cited the increasing availability of clean water and the greater evidence of aid agencies presence throughout Port-au-Prince as encouraging indicators of progress. In addition, banks have now reopened, giving Haitians access to cash for the first time since the quake hit, and the sea port has been repaired sufficiently to begin receiving limited amounts of aid.
Despite these encouraging signs, there is still an enormous amount left to be done. Medical care is still woefully insufficient, with Doctors Without Borders stating that there were ten to twelve day backlogs at some medical sites. As a result, many patients’ wounds are becoming infected, with some already dying of sepsis. Many if not most of Haiti’s earthquake survivors still lack access to shelter and other basic services. In another grim indicator of the scale of the catastrophe, the United Nations announced that 61 of its staff had been killed, making the organisation's death toll associated with the Haiti earthquake the highest in the UN’s history.
The openSecurity verdict: The news that progress of any kind is being made in Haiti is undoubtedly welcome. In particular, the re-opening of Port-au-Prince’s seaport should have a major impact on alleviating the logistical chaos that has so far hindered the aid effort so badly. Despite these improvements, the geopolitics of the Haiti relief effort is never far below the surface.
The visibility of the US military presence has received considerable criticism, already detailed in previous security briefings. Several commentators have taken a different tack and placed the US’ contribution in a global context. Firstly, US aid to Haiti as a percentage of GDP is very low, ranking behind New Zealand, Greece and Guyana. Secondly, when compared with sums distributed to allies in military aid, the resources the US has made available to Haiti seem pitiful indeed. Compared with $3 billion annually given to Israel, and $1.9 billion to Hosni Mubarak’s brutal regime in Egypt, it strikes several analysts that somewhat more than the $100 million earmarked so far could be sent to Haiti.
It is not just the US that is attracting speculation regarding underlying strategic motives for its aid contributions. The Haiti earthquake has apparently become the latest arena where China and Taiwan compete for legitimacy. Haiti is one of the few countries in the world to recognise Taiwan diplomatically. Analysts have highlighted this fact in explaining China’s apparent determination to exceed Taiwan’s $5 million aid contribution in shipping medical supplies, tents and clothing worth $2 million to the stricken island, in addition to its existing pledge of $4.4 million.
The use of financial incentives to attract the diplomatic endorsement of aid-dependent countries is a long-standing tactic in the PRC’s sixty year contest of legitimacy with the Republic of China in Taiwan. Although some sources have opposed this interpretation, citing the ‘diplomatic truce’ that has come into effect since the election of the China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou as Taiwanese President in 2008, the fact that Taiwan has ruled out working jointly with China in relief efforts lends it greater credence.
With an estimated 50,000 people dead and millions homeless, the concerns of the great powers seem to still lie primarily in strategic posturing and geopolitical calculation. This is not an encouraging sign; neither for the expeditious reconstruction of Haiti, nor for the international response to disasters in the future.
Afghanistan President suggests Taliban peace plan
Speaking on Thursday, Afghan President Harmid Karzai outlined a scheme of financial incentives to lure ‘moderate’ insurgents away from the Taliban. Combined with a plan to resettle such rehabilitated militants, the proposal is designed to reintegrate former insurgents into mainstream society thus strengthening the Afghan state, while simultaneously depleting the Taliban’s military capabilities.
Saying that the Afghan people must have peace at any price, Karzai stated that he expected the support of the US and the UK for his proposal at a conference on Afghanistan due to be held in London next week. Japan is also apparently willing to co-finance the plan. Karzai emphasised that members of Al Qaeda or other terrorist organisations would be excluded from this arrangement. Anyone without such affiliations who was willing to support Afghanistan’s constitution would be eligible.
United States and European Union ‘stand together’ on Iran nuclear programme
At a US state department press conference held on Thursday, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton said that America and Europe were resolute in dissuading Iran from continuing its uranium enrichment programme. Saying that Iran had a ‘clear choice’ between isolation and ‘living up to its international obligations’, Secretary Clinton stated that ‘it is important to send [the] message to the Iranian leadership, that the world will act, and the world will act together.’ For Europe’s part Ashton, noting the lack of progress in six years of dialogue with Iran, affirmed that ‘we stand together with the United States.’
The press conference follows events on Wednesday, when Tehran rejected a proposed compromise on the enrichment issue, by which it would send the majority of its low-enriched uranium stocks to France and Russia for reprocessing into nuclear fuel suitable for civilian use. Such an arrangement would be enough to allay the concerns of major powers such as the US and the UK that Iran’s nuclear programme is intended for military purposes. Instead, Tehran proposed a simultaneous exchange of its own uranium for fuel, a condition that is incompatible with international demands that at least 70% of Iran’s uranium leaves the country before reprocessed material is transported in return.
Tensions were heightened further after the press conference when, on Friday, the A-Sharq al-Awsat daily paper reported that Syria and Hezbollah had gone on high alert in anticipation of an Israeli attack on Lebanon. The London-based newspaper said that Hezbollah has been alarmed by recent IDF reinforcements to the Israel – Lebanon border, and quoted Hezbollah deputy general secretary Naeem Kassem as saying that the group’s armed wing had prepared plans to retaliate. Syria has begun to mobilise reserve troops, including nationals residing in Lebanon.