October 27, 2005:
The United Nations is stung by criticism that its emergency operations center in Islamabad has done a poor job of coordinating relief in the aftermath of the Pakistani earthquake of October 8th. So the U.N. decided to do something about it, pointing out that the various groups providing aid, from the government of Pakistan on down to a myriad of NGOs, were not being particularly cooperative. It convened a conference of all parties involved in the relief effort on October 22nd. There, the U.N. relief managers met with representatives of the Pakistani government and armed forces, foreign donors, international organizations, and NGOs, and pressed them to provide better information to the center, improve communications among relief groups, share personnel and supplies, and stop worrying about their "mandates," in order to facilitate more effective delivery of assistance. This seems to have come as something of a shock to many people in the "humanitarian disaster relief" business - whether national, international, or NGO - who like to think they're above criticism. Unfortunately, most relief groups tend to focus on very narrow problems; so, for example, an NGO or government-sponsored relief agency that's "mandated" to provide pre-natal care to women in remote regions is usually unwilling to use its resources to help anyone with different problems. So that rather than providing assistance to people in need, the relief workers, by their very presence, tend to become an obstacle to delivering effective aid. The Pakistani government has backed the U.N. imitative, but only time will tell how effective the effort to improve cooperation, communications, and coordination will be.
While the relief operation is pitched as a relief operation, many of the nations involved, as well as Pakistan itself, see it as a major opportunity to strike a blow against Islamic terrorists, and one of the remaining base areas (the tribal lands of northern Pakistan.) Winning good will via effective relief efforts could hurt the terrorists badly.