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Haiti relief effort shows limits of technology

By sylviahammond, 21 January, 2010

Who’s leading who?

Watching the Haiti tragedy on various TV stations, often with tears in my eyes, I reach a stage where I have to switch off the television to protect my emotional wellbeing. However, even after switching off, the scenes remain in my head – and most particularly I turn over in my mind - the Questions!

Why is it – with so much at their disposal the Americans are able to deliver so little? Let’s acknowledge the enormous contribution and generosity that the American nation has demonstrated. But why are there so many complaints about non-delivery? Not even the basics for survival - water and food.

Why is it that other local impoverished nations of the south American continent can immediately make a contribution – when they are finally allowed to land? The Israelis apparently could set up a field hospital in five hours? The Dominican Republic could organise jeeps to transport urgently needed supplies. African nations, including our own, can immediately get to work and bring out trapped survivors. These are just some of the examples of successful interventions.

Is it that the Americans are trapped in the limitations of technological and bureaucratic thinking? Processes that are completely useless in an emergency of this nature – in fact worse than useless – a positive impediment to pragmatic thinking and immediacy of response.

The cell phones are down – the internet is down – the entire infrastructure of government is lost – the harbour is unusable, the roads are impassable – and the airport has major limitations.

Well, think of many parts of rural Africa, where cell phones and internet have not yet penetrated, government infrastructure is non-existent, no harbour, no airport, and roads are frequently made impassable by seasonal rain storms. But somehow people manage.

Let us consider how these questions are relevant to our education system. 16 years into our new democracy, we’ve spent so much money on education – with the best of intentions. Why have we failed to deliver to our expectations?

Last year a minor furore was created when it was suggested that maybe not all tertiary education was constructive in our present African context – that it might be too Western First World in it’s orientation – that this might present obstacles to our constructive development as a nation – to the education of our population.

Well, it occurs to me that in the lesson of the Haiti disaster – by which I do not mean the earthquake, that is a natural occurrence which has had a tragic impact on Haitians - the real disaster is the complete failure of the Americans to rapidly and pragmatically respond in a low technology manner – in a street smart manner – to the Haitians urgent needs.

Yes, they’ve told us what they’re doing – sending troops, sending superbly equipped vessels, and yes they’ve managed to run the airport. A lot of activity with minimal results on the ground. Some of the already poverty stricken areas have apparently received no aid.

I suggest that we could learn a lot from this. We don’t always need to be intimidated because we lack high tech solutions to everything – it may be to our advantage to learn how to educate and develop our population without these solutions.

This is not a criticism of the use of high technology solutions. Let’s use them if we have them, but don’t be stopped when they are not available.

Let’s consider how to make the most of what we have – including all of our cultural heritage, and most certainly let’s question our content – are we developing people at all levels who are able to effectively respond in all situations? Not just the high rise, high tech office – that’s not where the majority of our population reside – or acquire their means of survival.

Prepared by sylvia hammond for the www.skills-universe
20 January 2010

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