Haiti: U.S. Sends Help, UN Wants Money

First, in making a comment on the United Nations and Haiti, let's note that among the scores of thousands, or possibly hundreds of thousands of people killed in Haiti by the earthquake on Tuesday were dozens of UN staff, with some 150 still unaccounted for as of Thursday. The scene is one of devastating loss of life.

All the more reason for competent handling of help for Haiti, and of the enormous ruin there. For this kind of thing, the UN record is, unfortunately, abysmal. Recall the UN response to the 2004 tsunami in Asia, in which the UN humanitarian coordinator at the time, Jan Egeland, accused countries such as the U.S. of being "stingy," and promised UN transparency in the handling of the funds that poured in by the billions. About a year later, a series of in-depth investigative reports by the Financial Times found minimal UN transparency, lots of UN stonewalling, and as far as the funds could be tracked at all, it appeared that the UN, having received a flood of relief money, was slow on the scene, and had been spending about one-third of every dollar raised on overhead. The real champions of relief were the U.S. military, and private aid groups. (UN "reform" since then has consisted of a lot of talk about reform, a lot more bureaucracy, a lot more money for the UN, and, if possible, even less transparency.)

In Haiti, the UN has been reporting that it has some personnel working on the ground, and is preparing to mobilize more. But the basic picture so far is that once again the American military is shouldering the chief burden of immediate relief. The UN's clearest activity to date has been to call for money to start pouring into the UN -- with a "flash appeal" today for $562 million.

Ban Ki-moon is now planning to visit Haiti on Sunday to show "solidarity" with the Haitian people. That might be more useful were Ban not quite so clueless. One of the latest inanities to roll from Ban's lips is that the colossal toll in Haiti shows the need to close the "technology gap" for developing nations.