When I was about twelve years old, my father spent a few weeks with UNIFIL in Lebanon to fix several logistics issues. Needless to say I did not have a clue what the politics was all about, but when he came back I got his shiny light blue badge with the logo of the United Nations on it, a little concentric map of the world centered on the North Pole encircled with crossed branches of an olive tree, symbolizing peace. My father, as a professional military man, did not just work for the army, a ‘soldier’ like in the games we’d play as children, but worked for the ‘Ministry of Defense’ providing protection for those in need. It gave me a view on a different way, a way of active involvement and moral just interventionism to help out the weak, wounded and suffering when others cannot help but attack each other. Boy, was I proud.
As a species, we have come a long way though during the last couple of centuries. Irrespective if I wanted to hear it or not, years later my prima donna mother in law would often tell me about the time she spent as a Red Cross nurse at the frontline during the Second World War. The talks were an outlet of the nightmares that would haunt her dreams for the rest of her life. She had taken care of the seriously disfigured, time after time acting as an accidental psychopomp for those fortunate enough to escape a future as a limbless torso often all too aware of the insane prospect of being wrapped up and sent home to their loved ones. Easier to start than to finish, as the war grew wilder, ever more had to join the escalating fighting, age dropped and young men were replaced by boys. As the balance of power shifted the Red Cross came under the protection of the Allied forces and she worked along with the British troops, taking care of the wounded, prisoners and former concentration camp detainees, travelling behind the war front as the battles finally died down. Despite friendly forewarnings and invitations to relocate she returned to our now tolerant Holland and was welcomed with dislike and disdain for having helped German and Russian boys survive their misery while not having endured the national shared suffering which peaked with the famine during the winter of 1944-1945 as food and fuel transport was brought to a standstill. Bonding rituals come in all shapes and sizes it seems. Holland had already started to vent its collective frustration with a bloody slaughterfest in Indonesia as it sought its independence. In return for her nursing she was imprisoned for nearly a year, lost her citizenship and was more or less forced to continue as a societal outcast as the rest of the social order tried recapture the remainders of its pre-war status quo. Eventhough the Dutch Red Cross has been established in 1867 already, by the time the hostilities tested the mutual ties of our humanity its role had shrunken to hollow risk-averse gesturing, offering no concrete help to those in need, protection or a voice to those helping.
The shame and guilt of self-conscious insincerity goes a long way as Jean-Paul Sartre frequently demonstrated such as with his chic but toxic "to shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, to destroy an oppressor and the man he oppresses at the same time: there remains a dead man and a free man" sought to mask and justify his own hypocritical indifference. During my early childhood we had the last years of Sartre as a popular intellectual icon, the invisible threat of “the bomb” and a general outlook on life prescribed by the Punk creed "no future". Clearly, although well-meant in the face of the emerging Cold War, something had gone wrong with the ideological rewrite of the Second World War as a crusade of pure good against pure evil, beyond my era's fascination with stylish posing the empty silence also hides the aspiring fullness of a yet unmanifested potential. Alas on one end of the spectrum this potential translated to worldwide protests in the late Sixties, radical movements such as the Red Army or cultivated ethnic conflicts such as the Yugoslav War.
Retroactive mythmaking only seems to provide a temporary and illusionary head start. For those who did not yet dig deep enough to have found out that Machiavelli’s chiefly Machiavellian “Prince” was a bitterly sarcastic satire we may want to reiterate James Hillman’s question “Who benefits from declaring the old gods dead?” followed by CG Jung’s answer in his foreword to The Secret of the Golden Flower; “The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room, or disorders the brains of politicians and journalists who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world”. Most of this hasn’t even been intentional, but as Marshall McLuhan tried to warn us about the tyranny of television, he wasn’t handing out tips to marketeers on how to use brain scanning techniques to implant advertisements into people’s long term memory. He was deeply concerned about the impact of mass media as storytelling is where nature and nurture mix and make us human. Along with music, dance and tool use, our culture fused with our biology since about 2.5 million years ago and we don’t know enough about our own myths and inner alchemy to suddenly replace these with marketing infested infotainment which has been bombarding our senses since about 1895 when Hearst and Pulitzer started sensationalizing their outrage machinery. It was called “yellow journalism” at the time, but this is what happens when penny press funding arrangements mix popularity with truthfulness. Subconscious trickery with newspapers is just a mild form of suggestibility compared to television, modern-day internet and gaming, both in method and in sheer volume. The battle for the attention span is on.
It is a sad realization for the genuinely caring statesman, but transnational macro-economic issues are up against Mickey Mouse and it looks like they have lost. Watching television is the primary “leisure activity” for four out of five people with three to four hours per day. Next to sleeping and eating, watching television is the third most popular activity. After sleep, work (a bit more than half the population works) and school (one-tenth is busy educating) it is the fourth most time-consuming activity during weekdays, and beats school during weekends and holidays. If we compare this with the whole range of activities of care within and outside of the household, volunteering, performing civic obligations, participating in religious and spiritual activities, all these together take about an hour a day. McLuhan foresaw the way news would dominate the internet already in the early 1960s “unless aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence.” He saw the general outline and sensed the great dangers, but even he could not anticipate how this would coincide with high frequency trade and take over the financial world or how important life-threatening complications would continue to be pushed forward for our children’s children in an endless replay of the iterated prisoners' dilemma. In just about every modern country the political scene has transformed to a small group of public lobbyists who study every opinion poll in hope of refining their particular hotlist of bullet points with which they can score with their target electorate.
When in November 1989 the Berlin Wall finally fell it pretty much meant the end of political ideologies and gradually the political agenda started focusing on double negatives, immanent dangers against which the policies would then protect us from Al Qaeda to “the economy”. Alas this sort of pseudo ideologies resulted in both hollowing out of real issues like climate change but also in what is referred to as ‘economics imperialism’ where politicians and even business managers nowadays behave like bookkeepers. Seemingly our political status quo prefer stimulating our past, traditional economy, over our knowledge economy, causing a cross-collateralization debt spiral because they are incapable of turning an economics of scarcity into one of abundance. Specific knowledge doubles in value if you share it, contrary to traditional economics which most often splits fifty-fifty and similar to the many states of matter there’s a whole spectrum with different stages of embodiment and enactment as knowledge incarnates as productized merchandise or marketable services. It’s a gas, I guess, but it is surprising to see such lessons repeat, as e.g. film financing was considered incalculable and too risky until someone came up with the idea that it was possible to regulate the distribution of the film reel tins so that at least ownership rights could be managed. Imagine what impact this has with television, the internet, the shrinking logistics due to nanotechnology, optimized, versatile and resilient value chains and the coming era of atomically precise manufacturing, 3D-printing and programmable matter. Ok, granted, for local politicians there is a certain value in trying to preserve their place from the diminishing effect of location and eventhough universities have proven mildly successful as incubators, the ones that are were already part of an industrial cluster, but most Science Parks apparently fail in bridging academia and industry which seems to be due to knowledge transfer following the path of least action which may involve spanning large geographic distances, but also skill sets, time and experience. If there is no catalyst as medium, the local setting isn’t automatically going to self-organize to enable knowledge transfer. CERN’s Large Hadron Collider didn’t build itself.
By now it may become apparent that the Eurozone crisis is self-fulfilling conflict between vested interests and a whole range of emergent new economies which we can’t really valuate that well as they are not just situational but also strongly contextual. Maintaining a modern version of a mercantilist capitalist bulwark to contain exclusive privileges via national legislature and judiciary unfortunately isolates and eventually hollow out the local region. Rather than betting on advancements with trade secrets, patents, copyright, knowledge valuation, know-how, competencies and using smart technologies as a stage for further innovations our legal systems have been lagging so much behind that royalties on Intellectual Property are used for tax evasion, obstructing our own exit. Yet it may be clear that if we continue along the current path and provide a too limited set of technocratic and bureaucratic solutions to address the problems of our modern world, we may very likely frame and imprison ourselves in a behavioral deadlock with the prospective of creating greater disasters than what we’re trying to solve. There is a reason why we’ve ended up in a narcissistic borderline hysteric throw-away culture which serves us with emotional blackmail for charitable fundraising where our email Inbox or Facebook Wall gets blitzed with horrific images of a dog called Old Yeller and if nobody picks him up by noon the animal shelter will have to dispose of him by means of incineration… That’s a long way away from positive thinking, willful ignorance and random acts of Oprahism.
Until just very recently if we would see a disaster we’d be in the middle of it. Relatively quickly after nerves developed the first brains appeared when we were flatworms swimming around in the oceans some 550 million years ago. By the time the neocortex started forming we were furry little insect eating rodents escaping into the trees from a fate high on the lunch menu of dinosaurs and other larger predators until some 66 million years ago the game changed. If we make an educated guess when our species passed the mirror test and actually realize the mirror image is ourselves we’re probably some 15 to 20 million years removed from now, one million ancestors. The finer nuances of symbolic representation probably started appearing about 2 million years ago, and when television entered our living room in the 1950s we had grown accustomed to storytelling, but it is still a far cry from what we may expect of the self-actualized human being we think we are. Our mental filters aren’t really sophisticated; if we see a disaster on the news we simply shut off our emotional processing and settle in a psychopathic haze until the commercials start. Evolution did not prepare us for the 21st century. One in four people is dealing with mental illness. In our televisionized world, our brains cannot really differentiate between our own experience and that of a movie character, we have been given a lift and been taken for a ride with massive amounts of advertisements and opinion making that has entered our brain for three, four hours per day, day after day, for years on end.
In a rather charming sort of traditionalist reflux, cause and effect are mixed up, as if their cherished rationalism counterbalances lefties’ sentimentality, and the carefully fashioned wants, rights and sense of entitlement are thought to originate from political ideology instead of the marketing machinery. Once juxtaposed on a one-dimensional axis though, following an outdated notion of left brain versus right brain, emotional intelligence is considered the opposite of a reasonable amount of critical thinking. If anything, one hemisphere tends towards analytical abstraction whereas the other contextual synthesizing, the part and the whole. The distinction made is one of degree and not of kind, although along the axis of complexity certain finer arrangements can allow for a sort of meta-reflectivity which may not be present at a less stage, but emotional and rational skills form a continuum. Unfortunately for the purist this means that both whatever they are objecting to as well as their objection itself are perfectly valid truth values residing at either end of the same spectrum and their preferred ethical aesthetics are a matter of taste and personal style. Their idea of our present-day cultural poverty rests on a false dilemma, fed by the same televisionized worldview they unknowingly try to fight, relying on the same self-indulgent desires which attract some and reject others. It is sobering to realize the essentials; that we’ve all ended up in a world which has borrowed from mythical metaphors and stripped down their meaning for money, a quick smile and a hot rush of blood to the cheeks. There is something seriously wrong when findings in cognitive sciences concerning controlled suggestibility or even implanting false memories have become tools of the predators amongst the mercantilist bourgeoisie. Biosemiotics, phylogenetic archetypal placeholders or even optical illusions aren’t meant to make ‘people spending money they don't have on things they don't need’. And now, when our personal stories, our myths and rites and our heroic quests have been exchanged for prefabricated self-realization and the fake voodoo of ‘positive thinking’, we need to suddenly shift to a more ‘participatory’ society with all things bottom-up? We can’t buy meaning and purpose at the shopping mall, not even on a two-week vacation at a gold-plated holiday resort. Yet while our culture seems so much at a loss with its hollow habits and lifeless bureaucracies we are also facing several existential mega-problems with plenty of meaning to offer each and every one of us. Magnificent problems, instant karma included.
As the global population heads towards adding another four billion during the next fifty years and we may hopefully stabilize at eleven billion we’re facing a number of issues because we continue to apply old solutions to new problems. That is an addition one billion roughly every ten years. It took humans until about 1800 to reach one billion, another 125 years to reach two billion, but only 33 years to reach three billion, and 14 years to get at four billion. If globalization wasn’t on your list of problems, now it is. Sorry, there is no escape. No one here gets out alive. Although, by the time our global population peaks our technologies have advanced so much that we’ll be virtually immortal, by 3D printing cloned body parts as replacement and gluing them in place with general-purpose stem cells, but by 2060 we’ll likely be already proficient in doing up- and downloads of our consciousness into another body. The future is towards the stars, but terraforming may just take another century or so.
Anyway, most of today’s problems have to do with sheer scale of an oversized habitat, but also results in overlapping scopes, so it tends to spread like a viral epidemic. Life’s basic algorithms are pretty easy; “eat, sleep, shit, repeat” and “don't shit where you eat” cover most of our activities although the granularity level is arguable. If you take the challenges of a small town, large village or neighborhood unit, and then multiply it with a factor of a million it may be clear that problems irrelevant on a local scale can magnify. Every person needs a little bit of space for themselves yet also to avoid interfering to much with others, what food do we eat and what food does our food eat? If we take a very simple measure, surface, and we take the amount of biologically productive land and water on this planet we get about 12 billion hectare. If we divide that by today’s 7.2 billion fellow earthlings, we get to an individual biocapacity of about 130 by 130 meters per person. But let’s say we happen to be living in the one country that is always in the top five of all the world’s most favorable rankings and lists, the one country where democracy may actually work; Switzerland, and we look at the current individual footprint and we get at 237 by 237 meters. Switzerland has an advantage here as two-thirds of the country is covered with the Alps, so that due to the sloping effect the actual surface is larger, so it may be more realistic to assume an individual footprint of another close contender for having one of the few working democracies in the world,; The Netherlands, roughly 260 by 260 meters. Four times what the world has to offer, and by 2060 we’ll need six planets to support us all, at least if we want to retain our humanity while at it as the current rate of biodiversity loss indicates we may need twenty-seven.
The problems to face are overpopulation (conflicts, wars), overhunting, overfishing, land degradation, soil depletion, erosion, salinization, deforestation, habitat destruction and water pollution. Along with this we suffer from our own past fixes which involve unbalanced ecosystem and loss of biodiversity by introducing non-native species (including GMO), buildup of poisonous toxins and garbage, anthropogenic climate change and soon energy shortages. Many of these problems originate from a one-size-fits-all approach, where an incredible amount of scientific sophistication and corporate effort is focused on providing a singular solution. Yet, there is no single cause and no single effect, the results will not just be environmental but will also span the socio-economical spectrum. It may be that simply because of fluke winds carrying radioactive particles from Fukushima onto the Yangtze River causing certain rivers to be shut down to contain the issue but that these water shortages make certain forms of industrial agriculture collapse which in turn causes the manufacturing industry in China to shrink back, which means less Hi-tech sales in the USA which may cause a geo-financial bypass with hot money to another more attractive opportunity so that the local mortgage revival reverts, inner-city crime explodes and people spend more time indoors which increases the demand for electricity and nuclear power. “Supply and demand” just landed in the 21st century. Nice try, Mr. Smith.
With the 1972 publication of “The Limits of Growth” a sufficiently comprehensive model had been worked out so to get an idea of the width and scope of the global challenge. The 20-year and 30-year updates on the original study demonstrated its initial accuracy, so we can be more or less sure that the simulated interactions between world population, industrialization, food production, pollution and depletion of non-renewable resources is good enough as a macro-view on the challenges ahead. It would take until 1984 however for development aid to become somewhat more meaningful and useful than indirect subsidizing the own economy when international apathy concerning the Ethiopian famine had Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organize Band Aid and collected several millions with a hit single. Mid 1985 this was followed by the Live Aid event which was broadcasted by the BBC all over the world. A little less than two billion people tuned in and about 280 million dollar had been raised. It is surprising and hopeful that artists in a televisionized world have been able to set a standard for human conduct that most politicians have trouble adhering to. Yes, that is the sort of humanitarian effort I can be proud of, it’s a start but at least it’s a start.
And this slowly smoldering gratitude gets us to what is probably the only international intergovernmental organization in effect; the United Nations. As it was set up after the end of the Second World War to ensure world peace, with the prospect of overpopulation a growing luxury, it may be interesting to get an idea of the degree of ‘substance over form’. At the moment UN Peacekeeping budget is about 1.1 percent of the USA’s military budget. UN Peacebuilding is more specifically associated with particular conflicts and provides a trust fund with a target budget of some $250 million, about 3.7 percent of 1 percent of the USA’s military budget. Peacebuilding and the associated reparations are big business though, as both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been working hard on increasing their lending capacity from $100 to 200 billion to a possible 500 billion. Considering the potential leverage of private investment in public equity and private placement programs which are available for humanitarian, infrastructural and environmental works it is surprising that those options have attracted the usual horde of opportunistic charlatans trying to use and abuse a cautionary public confidence for conditional cooperation. Still, if we look at global trade of derivatives, of the 660 trillion dollar in notional outstanding only some 60 trillion is exchanged-traded via public markets, inflating the numbers to a possible 4-5 quadrillion, but the rest happens in undisclosed deals.
One of the major drawbacks is the rigid procedures caused by risk-aversion as in deniable culpability. Highlighting the earthquake in Haiti in early January 2010, the world’s response was admirable. As video-sharing sites like YouTube helped build up an idea of the disaster, the television cameras that followed framed the picture and help and funding immediately followed. Some 5 billion dollar has been made available by the international community. It seems however that once the television cameras disappeared again that public interest, urgency and efficiency waned. In fact, things deteriorated so much after the initial response, the following rescue and recovery lingered and cholera broke out which added greatly to the existing difficulties. Many of the funds had been pre-allocated with a certain special purpose such as permanent housing, whereas the immediate need lied with temporary housing, and this could not be freed up in time without going through all kinds of bureaucratic procedures and yearly reports to demonstrate how mind-bogglingly inefficient overall coordination has been. This is not an issue of government versus business, but it is about organized cooperation and risk management. It is of a ridiculous irony our most efficient way of organizing is focused on destruction, or at least limitation of destruction, instead of construction. Somehow we need to allow for some ambiguity as we get to grips with Joy's Law, the principle that "no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”.
Of course we can do something about these problems, but not if we continue the way we have done thus far. This is reason for many economists to sound the alarm bells that the era of unlimited growth is over and that we have to get used to eternal decline. But that only concerns the mass consumption model, the one-size-fits-all repeated over and over again, which is about as stupid as it gets. In fact, most of the problems originate from a too rigidly understanding of economies of scale. Many managers have grabbed back for advice on long term policies by reading books on military strategy, but it may not have escaped attention that not only do most plans fail in battle, but peace is much harder work than war. Besides, it creates rather warped expectations where businessmen act like George C. Scott’s version of US General Patton while most military men are more like the uncle you never had. In fact, a recent reunion with a friend from high school allowed me the pleasure of getting to know someone as close as a human gets to being a superhero.
To change the world, the question may be “how big an army do we need?” and as with many of the highlighted problems here, the actual solutions lie hidden in the difficulties themselves. So, I’m not even going into the enormous potential of using modern technology for disaster relief and development cooperation, smart materials, task swarming, smart processes and procedures, from printable miniature laboratories to vehicles which are harder than diamond, water filtration using sound bubbles, made-to-order inflatable housing, self-organizing solar power grids, non-lethal weapons and what not. Instead I’ll follow here with the wonderings of my father, ever more surprised concerning the path not taken. How big an army do we need to change the world? Well, not that many, but all are welcome. Preserving a military during peacetime feeds into a self-contradictory theatre show anyway, abusing a whole army of people more than willing to make that little world “defense” count and who have the courage to stand up and do something about what is hurting them and, in most cases, others. Here follows a simple and straightforward recipe that allows us to recapture our humanity as living conditions will get more and more unforgiving.
My personal opinion regarding disaster relief, by Dries Peters.
1 During the last few years the effect of natural disasters has grown to previously unknown proportions.
• Tsunami of 2004 Christmas which hit Indonesia and Sri Lanka
• Earthquake in Haiti early 2010.
• Earthquake and tsunami in Japan march 2011 which resulted in the Fukushima nuclear disaster
• Hurricane Katrina and Rita which flooding New Orleans in 2005
• The increasing number of floods at the US East coast
• Typhoon hitting Philippines in November 2013
2 When the initial storm is over and the area becomes partly accessible, only then is it possible to assess the damage. Via television and social media the first images arrive to share the misery. Such catastrophes actually follow a similar scenario as a post battle scene, making help predictable:
• Many deaths and injured
• Basic life support services (drinking water, food, medical care and shelter) are lost.
• Due to lack of clean water the following diseases can emerge: Malaria, Cholera and diarrhea
• People were force to flee. Family members have lost contact in the chaos. Many are traumatized.
• Infrastructure, buildings, houses, roads, airports, water supplies, energy grid and agricultural farmland have been completely destroyed.
• Fishing vessels have gotten unhinged and thrown on land.
• Remnants of cars, vehicles and other transport equipment have gotten scattered among the remains of what had once been a village or city
• Human and animal corpses remain exposed, polluting the water.
• In some cases water level takes a long time to drop, making it impossible to gauge what has been dragged along with the waters. The water surface obscures the view on what used to be the ground but it has also crossed isolating barriers, joining cesspool with bath tub and fresh water reservoirs.
• Traumatized survivors wander around, asking for the same things: clean water, food, medicine and clothing. When television cameras stop over people tend to intensify the distress about their suffering to add to the urge for help.
• Usually the most vulnerable people have been the most heavily affected.
• Normal life has come to a standstill. All domestic, public, private, professional and commercial activities have ceased to exist.
3 Sometime after the initial disaster the following reactions typically occur:
• People tend to stick around the previous home using survival tactics to stay alive until some sort of demonstrable aid manifests.
• The “law of the jungle” becomes noticeable. As everyone tries to survive on an individual basis, the stronger overpower the weak. This is particularly evident with food droppings and distribution of food packages. Nearly without exception young men walk away with food or relief and practically no women or children get the help they need, and for which they sometimes walked days.
• Neither the needy nor the helpers seem to put any effort into cooperating and addressing problems collectively. People are thrown back on their individuality in an isolated way that did not exist before the disaster and that will not exist after it. In the meantime no leaders emerge or are appointed to deal with organizational coordination, this power vacuum appears to be a mix of traumatization but also enforced victimization due to the way help is provided. Not knowing the existing status quo help organizations tend to bypass any claims for local authority and treat everyone the same.
• Random lifesaving acts start happening.
4 National and international aid slowly picks up speed with several nonspecific initiatives:
• Ministries which send first responders and rapid response teams (e.g. medical) to the disaster site
• Charities start cooperating for joint fundraising and collect funds together
• For the rescue and recovery action in the Philippines the Dutch Ministry of Defense has been giving support by free availability of airplanes and material for transport of aid and relief.
• Individual people undertake ‘feel good’ collections for goods that are unfortunately of little immediate use in the disaster area
• Individual people undertake financial collections to send to friends and family in the disaster area.
5 Recurrent annoyances:
• Far too many organizations are led by media attention to keep the funding coming, which happens at the expense of constructive aid, in the long term of a trustworthy reputation and overall credibility,
• At places where television cameras lets the public eye zoom in, much more help is being offered than at places where the media is not present.
• Limited media attention creates a race for short-term popularity during which charitable organizations compete amongst each other to gather sufficient funding, which is in most cases not in the interest of the victims they’re supposed to help.
• Most victims know very well what they need in the short- and long term and know that they’re much better helped with solid financial arrangements for the work to do immediately following the disaster than with special purpose funds (usually mixing and conflicting donator’s interest) and goods which they did not ask for, don’t need and which, to top it off, are very often of bad quality too.
• After a short period, food aid and relief goods are resold on the local market at outrageous prices. By definition, if the “law of the jungle” dominates, it is very easy for a few strong to cooperate at the expense of the many weakened. Basic power comes from grouping and as the most vulnerable are usually split up, split off, scattered and separated, so a reasonably assured outcome is that in which existing or newly formed gangs take over local control.
• At the other end of the spectrum is risk averse bureaucracy where warehouses full of rice, grain and other sort of food were rotting away because the controlling authority refused to hand these over to anyone lacking the proper documents. In the case your house just was swallowed by a 30 feet wall of water, the chance you don’t have a passport anymore nears about 100%...
• As ‘the public’ is getting increasingly awry concerning misallocation of charity funds, those which worked together for joint fundraising and were able to stay in front of the television camera’s managed to collect so much funding that they didn’t know what to do with it. Other, often more specialized organizations however, did not collect sufficient money to provide any meaningful help now or during the recovery phase.
• Lack of overall coordination has charities fight amongst each other for funding and doing their thing instead of cooperating and doing something constructive. Even for some of the largest and most renowned organizations the local branch is likely still doing their administration manually, if they haven’t been affected by the disaster as well.
• Most organizations keep on asking donators for money, eventhough they maxed out on their target amount. It is not that they have plans to distribute the extra money towards other goals, but they don’t want to spread the conflicting message that they are not in need anymore. With the Philippine’s disaster the only organization that signaled they received enough for the help they could effectively offer was ‘Doctors Without Borders’.
• Eventhough such sad examples concerning development aid are piling up, sufficiently enough to feed a number of books and television documentaries, the associated organizations do not appear to feel urged to improve on the way they work. Beyond a little lip service to the audience for sake of impression management, most prefer to continue spending up to two-third of their income on marketing and vague fundraising events instead of actually addressing the problems and really help.
The following are suggestions on several available solutions which I like to see used to arrange aid better:
1 Rescue aid and recovery assistance is much more effective and constructive when led by a powerful authority which knows how to confront such disastrous situations, in most cases this can be military-led.
2 Associated members provide equipment, personnel and other goods available immediately and on short-term basis. Special support units, the Coast Guard and US Public Health Service exemplify such expertise.
3 A primary focus is providing organization and coordination:
• Uninjured men will be required to clear up debris and sort this according to reusability.
• Rotating groups will be assembled to collect and contain cadavers and corpses. Possibly bury them.
• Groups will be put together to build up the most important supporting infrastructure, such as emergency hospitals, canteens and places for sleeping and washing.
• People with a medical background will be used in providing medical care (which is often not so due to potential liability issues).
• Groups will be put together to gather food and drink and get several food supply chains going.
4 Participating organizations (governmental, non-governmental and commercial) must ensure sufficient and immediately accessible buffer stock of relief goods to survive at least the first 7 x 24 hours. For example: tents, blankets, food (plus cooking gear and others means for food preparation, cutlery, plates, dishes, cups, mugs), clean water for drinking and cleaning, medicine and bandages. This list will obviously be extended and adjusted based on experience.
5 Defense organizations must be set up to respond anywhere in the world, immediate (within 2 x 24 hours) allocation and deployment of troops and equipment to the disaster areas. Including:
• Water purification installations. Reusable modular containers to isolate, sanitize and store water.
• Emergency power systems.
• Medical and nursing units plus a transportable emergency hospital (Defense and Red Cross).
• Engineer units for emergency repairs and infrastructural restoration (e.g. with mini construction kits, multipurpose fabrication tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, computerized machine tools)
• Mobile kitchen trailers and containerized kitchen units, suitable for meals to 1,000 people.
• Inflatable rubber boats and rafts for light transport (air transportable).
• Nonstop air-support by at least one Chinook capable of moving 11,000 kilogram in underslung
The how and why of these solution proposals, further explained:
1 Why aid should be led by a central organization:
• Despite all good intentions of those providing help goods and service any overall coordination is ad hoc and informal. This may be obvious in immediate disaster situations, but the lack of cooperation leads to bizarre expenditure such as hundreds of millions of Dutch developmental aid going to build schools in Afghanistan without any funds left for teachers. Another half billion dollar wasted on unfinished training for policemen to support the new Afghan government. Or a cabinet enforced purchasing by the Dutch military of several Joint Strike Fighters for $5.5 billion despite the fact there is too little budget to actually deploy them. Even worse, there is no need or even demand, while on the other hand the demand for helicopter use exceeds existing capacity several times over.
• So a centralized effort allows for well-tuned coordinated cooperation. This will greatly help efficiency as in most cases priorities are not coordinated; each organization sets their own priorities and tries to find a problem to apply their solution to. Also, no coordination exists concerning the type and delivery of support and aid which not only leads of redundancies clogging up the logistics but also international muscle show between what could be powerful allies.
• A powerful organizational unit (trained in a military structure) divided into sections (e.g. Infrastructure, Transportation, Medical, Nutrition, Housing and Shelter, etcetera ) directed by a section head as a crisis manager, consisting of various representatives from various support organizations such as Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Civil Protection.
o This organization is primarily meant to deal with the results of natural disasters.
o Medical assistance to war victims and refugees are not amongst its principal goals due to the possible conflicts of interests, although knowhow and expertise can and shall be made available.
• The organization should have a mandate to instruct several participating organizations without too much bureaucratic or political overhead
• The organization should stay in an alert state of readiness by conducting a script-based exercise at least every quarter, along with disaster simulation for training, monitoring and continuous improvement. Similar to the military practice of national or international simulation exercises.
o Military computerized simulations can be adapted for such disaster exercises.
oToday’s gaming platforms allow for any organization to perform part exercises, although military experience shows such exercises are only done when support exist on very high level.
• Funding will partly exist in the form of a financial contribution to the organization’s general expenses
• Funding will partly exist as national duty to maintain supplies and support infrastructure.
2 This organization will coordinate accessible equipment, personnel and other goods at member states.
• The representatives of such a centralized organization maintain an inventory of minimally required relief, assuming several worst case scenarios. Experiences in stock management of associated organizations such as The Red Cross should be included.
o Member states will have to be assigned and allocated a share based on type and number
o Distribution of these goods will have to be based on financial strength of the country but there may be danger zones overlapping increasing local susceptibility given the sort of natural disaster which makes first-responder proximity a criterion for shared operation and maintenance
o Participating countries are responsible for the maintenance, storage, logistics and immediate transport to the disaster area after having been assigned the task. Furthermore, available quantities must be maintained and replenished within a fixed period after issue.
• In emergency situations the crisis manager will take action on what country will deliver what where when and how. Depending on the situation and need for adaptive logistics intermediate collection points may be designated, this may be a ‘must’ e.g. in the case of a series of tropical storms.
• Staff must be trained in their respective expertise and supplemented with medical training. This is based on basic first aid for emergency treatment along with hygiene and tropical aspects. These skills should be kept fresh and exercise regularly.
• Staff should be prepared to be sent out to disaster areas within x number of hours depending on priority of impact and urgency their and their group’s competences.
• Staff should be equipped to be fully self-supporting for a minimum of five days, with food and medical equipment for their own use.
3 Officials at the disaster areas will have to organize and coordinate the following:
• The population is traumatized, horrors overloaded the empathic circuitry, their existing worldview is shattered and most of what they will try to do will be for themselves or their immediate family.
• Everyone benefits however from collectively engaged life-saving activities. As the existing social order is gone, someone has to take the lead. Bottom-up self-organization does not take over in such chaotic situations so if no authoritive figure steps forward, someone will be appointed.
4 Examples of available tasks, resources and equipment which can be used for humanitarian aid. Regardless of nationality, Defense Units are not only prepared for a war task, but their knowledge and equipment and way of organizing are an excellent fit for humanitarian purposes. Some widely used and available resources and equipment are described below:
• Water purification installations can deal with very large amounts of dirty, polluted, contaminated and salt water and turn it into drinking water. The disadvantage is that it is built into a 20 feet container which makes it potentially difficult to transport and to install considering environmental conditions. Initially, water will have to be supplied in bottles, jerry cans and small filtration hand pumps.
• Emergency power facilities. From rugged batteries, waste incinerator to solar paint and micro nuclear reactors, the army has it and can probably wirelessly transport it too.
5 Medical units with a transportable emergency hospital. For example, the Dutch army has a mobile emergency hospital consisting of several 20 feet containers which can be built up within a few days, with the primary disadvantage that it is difficult to transport but also centralizes logistics, so it has to work in conjunction with lightweight decentralized telemedicine units. Doctors Without Borders has an inflatable emergency hospital, which has recently been used in the Philippines. The whole set consists of five inflatable tents can house up to 45 beds. Aim is to provide local specialist care for the coming 6 months.
6 Combat Engineering units are trained to restore or build up medium large infrastructures as well as making emergency repairs. They can repair and build roads, buildings, bridges, vehicles, boats, electricity grids and water supplies. With the right tools they can build solutions while inventing them.
7 Mobile canteens and field kitchens are suitable for meals up to 1,000 people and can serve simple meals with the timespan of a few hours; with a rotating schedule several thousand people can be helped.
• First order priority with the population is drinking water and food.
• Military food rations can deal with immediate and distant need.
• Food distribution allows for shared services, e.g. vaccination, quick medical checks, identification
• Food trucks may need a similar update as emergency hospitals have gone through. Older kitchen units still work on diesel or oil. Due to the dependence on energy sources for heat it may help setting up food zones as mesh nets with merry-go-round catering.
8 Advanced Light Transport is of vital importance in a situation where the basic surface is gone.
• Use rough-terrain light transport equipment, rubber boats, rubber rafts. Hovercraft-type air-cushion vehicles are ideal for quick transport. Floating docks, pontoon bridges, inflatable, modular, anchored.
• All these transportation means should be air transportable so they can be flown in and used at once.
• Agile mobility is a must in the initial phases, only later when some of the infrastructure has been restored will conditions allow for heavier equipment to be used such as bulldozers, cranes, trucks.
9 Air and maritime support will be vital for transport and logistics as in most cases the entire infrastructure of roads, bridges and buildings will be wiped out.
• Transport helicopters, such as the Chinook, are particularly suitable because they have no need for an airport or runway for landing, but only an area the size of half a football field. Space inside such helicopter is very large and carrying capacity under it is sufficient to carry shipping containers.
• Navy supply ships and landing crafts are great as these are designed to shore at beach and so can more easily deal with extreme conditions while providing a stepping stone for on-site aid.
10 Let’s go do it.