Monday, January 03, 2005

Its all about coordination

Has anyone else noticed that the "philanthropic story" associated with the December tsunamis disasters is that of coordination? Well, that and the story of the US government's pitiful first and second response to the tragedy. Immediately following the first reports and the first calls for aid, the questions and focus have been on how to coordinate emergency respondents - now and in the coming months and years - across so many countries and such devastation.

This interests me for several reasons. First, I think it shows that the (American) media and donor communities learned a partial lesson from recent disasters -both natural and man-made. That lesson: coordination matters and it shouldn't be assumed. I'm fairly sure the people and organizations who make up the emergency respondent groups - NGOs, multilaterals such as the UN, and national governments - knew this lesson already and have for a long time.

Second, while the stories get right to the issue of coordination and the need for it, there is also something of a tone of surprise that it doesn't exist at some miraculous, internationally-fair, and politically-immune level.

Third, with the exception of the NGOs themselves, the wonderment about coordination and the lack thereof will no doubt come as a 'predictable surprise' next time.

In short, maybe we've gotten a little smarter about the need for planning ahead across organizations, across political boundaries and cultural lines, and across disaster-types (natural, man-made, war-caused), but we're not as smart as we need to be. If we were, we would use our extraordinary capacity for logistical planning, the unparalleled reach of existing networks, the sophistication of local NGOs, and the theoretical imperative behind every government to protect and serve its people to invest in the coordination systems and options when the sun is shining so they work when the rains (or waves or quakes or fires or plagues or wars or droughts or ....whatever) inevitably come.

Emergency response organizations respond to crises. Those of us who support and depend on them (read: all of us) ought to respond in the non-crisis intervals by investing in and/or voting for the coordination systems.

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