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Posted : 2010-01-19 18:03
Updated : 2010-01-19 18:03

Korea’s Response to the Earthquake Catastrophe in Haiti


By Edward Reed

Korea’s immediate commitment of $10 million in assistance to Haiti and the response by corporations and the Korean public is impressive.

Clearly Koreans want to help, but how can they be sure that their aid will be most effective?

In an emergency of this scale and complexity, and in a relatively limited area, the most important thing is coordination among the aid providers. Korea should work closely with the United Nations and other major donors to ensure that assistance is provided in an integrated and coordinated way.

Otherwise, there could be logistical bottlenecks that delay aid arrival and duplication of efforts that leads to wasted aid. This is not the time for each country and organization to raise its own flag, but it is time to work together under central coordination.

Another important point is to plan for a long-term response by distinguishing between immediate humanitarian assistance, mid-term recovery and reconstruction and development. There is usually a rush to assist those who are in need of immediate help since we can see images of them on TV. This is good and needed.

However, there must be a commitment to stay with Haiti for the long haul. One thing Korea could do is send a recovery and development specialist from KOICA to accompany the emergency response groups. The development specialist can make an assessment of longer term reconstruction and development needs and begin coordinating on the ground with experts from the U.N. and other countries.

Korea should consider channeling the bulk of its immediate assistance through multilateral aid channels for the greatest impact at the lowest cost. The funds can support the consolidated ``flash” appeal of the U.N. or it can be allocated among several U.N. agencies with which Korea is already working, including UNICEF, WHO, WFP and the UNDP. Longer term development efforts can be led by KOICA in consultation with the Haitian government once it is able to fully function again.

The Korean public should be advised on the best way they can help. The Korean Red Cross or large international NGOs are probably the best channels for getting aid quickly to the people who need it. It will probably not be helpful for a large number of smaller NGOs to attempt to directly assist Haiti.

For delivery of emergency material assistance (food, water, medicines, building supplies, etc.) it is better to purchase these in countries neighboring Haiti rather than ship supplies from Korea. During the reconstruction and development phase, supplies should be purchased in Haiti as much as possible in order to stimulate the recovery of the economy.

In the long run, Korea can be a good development partner for Haiti. Most of the forests of Haiti have been destroyed due to lack of alternative fuels and the need for farmland. Korea can help Haiti solve this problem by drawing on its own successful experience with reforestation and agricultural development. Korea can also contribute its technology and expertise to address Haiti’s need for alternative energy sources in line with Korea’s commitment to green growth.

Haiti has its own particular culture and a very long and complex history. Nevertheless, they are a proud and resilient people ready to work hard for solutions to their problems. Outside donors, including Korea, should not do anything for Haitians that Haitians can do for themselves. They should consult with local leaders and communities and involve them fully in the relief and development efforts. In this way Korea will lay the foundations for a long-term partnership based on respect and will earn the appreciation of the Haitian people.


Edward P. Reed is the Korea Representative of The Asia Foundation. He has several decades of experience working in humanitarian assistance including in North Korea.

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