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Web Letter

The disaster in Haiti will require tremendous global efforts to bring life back to the country. In such a landscape of destruction, aid workers are entitled to work in a secure environment in order to focus on the job in hand. Given the chaos in the aftermath of a disaster of such magnitude, it is commonplace for looters and opportunist to take advantage of the heavy multinational presence and lack of state control to carry out their dirty work. Therefore, professional security measures become a logical necessity.

To rescue the devastated Haitian population, the US army has deployed in support of the recovery efforts by the international community, led by the United Nations. The presence of the US Army in Haiti cannot be seen as on a par with its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the latter was an occupation against the will of the international community represented by the United Nations, the former is a materialization of that will. The US Army is doing good to Haiti and its people and has to be appreciated for that.

On the other hand, the presence of non-state organizations and bodies to carry out security-related operations in Haiti for awesome sums of compensation in return is indeed a form of "Disaster Capitalism." In a time of disaster like the one in Haiti, the moral obligation is to help in return for human self-esteem and actualization rather than for wealth. Therefore, the presence of private security organizations in an impoverished country like Haiti may be welcome if only they would operate in an NGO-like mode. Charging reasonable costs to their operations and expertise would be deemed acceptable to allow for directing the bigger portion of funds towards real value for the Haitian people.

IPOA, brokering million-dollar deals under such a dire need for the international community to lend a hand to Haiti, tarnishes its image with opportunism and lack of a sense of social responsibility. It would have been smarter of IPOA to take such an opportunity to undo the negative image it acquired by its involvement in Iraq.

Private security is not a sin as long as it follows certain standards. Running operations in support of governments in Sierra Lione or in tracking down eco-criminals in Kenya and DRC in exchange for good money can be ethical business, whereas charging the same for humanitarian assistance in desperate circumstances is called "Disaster Capitalism" and "Disaster Profiteering."

Mohammed Helal

Alexandria, Egypt

Jan 25 2010 - 12:20am

Web Letter

From what I've heard from many humanitarian aid workers and journalists in Haiti, at the top of their "most-needed" lists: security, logistics and transportation.

As the US military steps in to assist in these areas, opponents of the United States are circulating nonsense equating the presence of US uniformed men and women with the "US invading Haiti." While this may be par for course from ideologues such as Hugo Chávez, it is disheartening to see this same kind of nonsensical conspiracy theorizing in The Nation--in the form of Jeremy Scahill's article "US Mercenaries Set Sights on Haiti," under the web banner "Disaster Capitalism."

Scahill's target? IPOA, a non-profit organization known for its Code of Conduct and encouraging ethics and regulation in the contingency operations industry. What as IPOA's alleged crime? Setting up a page on their website to serve as a consolidated place where NGOs, aid workers and journalists can find providers of logistics, construction, transportation and security resources. If you actually go to the website, you'll see it is far from "Orwellian"--and rather a useful catalogue of necessary items such as plastic shelter materials, water filtration devices, medical supplies, cooking kits and hygiene kits.

If I were buried under the rubble in Haiti, I would want the world's best first responders to come and find me, with the best possible logistics support and supplies. To call this "Disaster Capital" is as foolish as calling news reporting on the Haiti crisis "Disaster Pornography." However, a term that could be fairly applied to Scahill's attack on IPOA in the course of their efforts to help the relief activities in Haiti is "Disaster Muckraking."

A word to Scahill: stop with the conspiracy theories, roll up your sleeves and start supporting the most effective and meaningful means of delivering supplies and aid to those devastated in Haiti.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that in October I was elected to the IPOA board of directors--a volunteer, non-permanent position (for which I receive no compensation). I write this letter as an individual and did not consult with my fellow board members, the IPOA president or his permanent staff. I cannot speak for them or on their behalf--the views expressed here are my own.

Laura Engelbrecht

Washington , DC

Jan 22 2010 - 1:26pm