The Best of Intentions: Applying Lessons Learned from Haiti Earthquake Relief to COVID-19

During a crisis, even the most well-intentioned efforts can have disastrous consequences when plans fail to meet the realities of execution. As any good military strategist will attest, no matter the degree of foresight and preparation, plans never survive first contact with the enemy. The enemy has a vote—and their vote is for uncertainty to win the day. The U. S.-Haiti Earthquake relief response in 2010 underscores how well-intentioned plans can lead to both success and failure during a crisis. Lessons learned from the Haiti crisis management response can be applied to the current COVID-19 pandemic in order to more fully understand how coordination, prioritization and planning efforts affect optimal resource allocation decisions when vulnerable populations are most at risk.

In Operation Unified Response, well-coordinated efforts between the government of Haiti (GOH), the U.S. State Department, UN, USAID and the U.S. Department of Defense resulted in the allocation of critical resources where and when they were most needed. Due to the absence of well-developed institutions in Haiti, U.S. and coalition partners were required to funnel in critical resources throughout each phase of the crisis management response. Civilian and military partners brought immediate life-saving medical treatment, food, water and shelter in the near term and facilitated vital infrastructure-rebuilding projects over the long term. Given the extant institutional deficiencies within Haiti, the overwhelming civil-military response became a critical capacity-building bridge for the nation. However, despite well-intentioned efforts to allocate critical resources, multinational partners failed to incorporate the Haitian population’s more protracted needs in their decision-making process. As such, these capacity-building efforts yielded limited results over time. Isolated from important UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and U.S. military decision-making cycles, key policy makers within the GOH were unable to create lasting beneficial reforms for the larger Haitian population.


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