“Haiti – in terms of coordination – was a debacle,” said Frederick Burkle, senior fellow with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and a visiting scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health. Burkle, who is also a senior public policy scholar at the Wilson Center, said that after the 2010 earthquake, “the large majority of people who showed up were under the age of 30 and this was their first disaster event.”
As a result, “best practices did not necessarily occur,” Burkle said. “Ninety-five percent of the work is probably done by 45 of the major NGOs,” but, he said, the number of “mom-and-pop shows” and other small NGOs in “The Republic of NGOs” is in the thousands.
Non-healthcare providers ended up providing services that they were not trained to provide – even amputations, Burkle said. “We certainly relish the humanitarian spirit of those who show up, but we have to have some coordination to ensure that best practices occur and that it goes in the right direction.”
“The professionalization blueprint really calls for courses, curriculum, and best practice standards,” said Burkle. The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative is working with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, World Health Organization, and others to provide these resources.
“There’s a movement afoot within the humanitarian community itself to finally professionalize the humanitarian profession,” Burkle said, spurred on, in part, by the poorly coordinated responses to events like the Haiti earthquake.