Sir Roger Gale
Member of Parliament for North Thanet (Margate, Herne Bay & The Villages)
Helplessness is not a condition that Members of Parliament generally either aspire or admit to. We are responsible for everything up to and including the weather and used to resolving all and any issues.
Watching the scenes of misery and utter devastation emerging from Haiti, however, it has been impossible for me not to feel a sense of massive impotence of I kind that I have seldom experienced.
Back in the mists of time, when the Russians invaded Hungary and the refugees fled we worked to provide aid, comfort and new homes for the refugees. When the Ugandan Asians evacuated in their thousands following the atrocities of Idi Amin we took them in. A huge camp was established at the old West Malling aerodrome and people came forward in their hundreds to offer help. Even after 9/11 there were actions that could be taken, things that could and had to be done. Following the Tsunami my wife and I, in company with many other local people, spent a dozen days helping to collect, pack and organise for despatch spontaneously donated items of food and clothing for the victims and since then it has been possible to assist, through KASTDA, some of the orphans left behind. Kenya and Darfur have benefitted,in the wake of drought and famine, albeit not adequately, from overseas aid backed up by the support of voluntary organisations and charity.
But here we are, as I write, with the massed might of the developed world pouring goods and aircraft and medicines into a tiny, wrecked country in the Caribbean and yet days after the earthquake that literally ripped the place apart disease is spreading, the dead still lie unburied and food and water and shelter are not reaching the people who so desperately need it.
I don't know about you but my gut and futile instinct is to try to go and get there somehow and to scrabble at the rubble with my bare hands in an endeavour to save some life and to show that we really do want to help. I want to make a gesture and I know that I cannot do so and I know that if I tried then I would just get in the way!
In fact, of course, all that most of us do at this stage is contribute to the ever-growing and generously donated fund of hard cash that we then have to be hope may be well directed and well spent and begin to assist with the reconstruction and regeneration of a country and a state and an economy that was a basket-case even before the terror struck.
Please God, by the time that you read this, much of the immediate demand will have changed. I accept, knowing just a little about this kind of relief operation, that the logistics have been horrific and that the politics have probably not helped too much either. I am sure that those brave men and women, not least from our own County services, who went out and got up at the sharp end of the rescue operation, will have suffered in spades the same sense of frustration that those of us who have been armchair observers of an unfolding tragedy have experienced. I am quite sure that the United States military commanders on the ground who have taken the awesome responsibility for delivery are both experienced and determined.
Surely some questions do have to be asked when the dust has settled. Why is it that it has been so hard to get the right people in the right numbers with the right equipment to the right places in the first, few, vital hours after the quake hit? Why was the only airport and the airspace above it clogged up for so long with stuff needed in weeks two and three but not needed in week one?
Saving the appalling death toll and consequent loss of reaction power suffered by the United Nations team actually on the ground is there really not an internationally co-ordinated external hit team ready at any moment to deal with this kind of situation?
And - it's a small thing - but why was the United Kingdom West Indies Guardship that has, for generations, attended and offered swift help following in the wake of hurricanes, pulled out from an area that is renowned for its natural catastrophes? Sure, one frigate or destroyer, and its Fleet Auxiliary support ship, might not have saved the world but the men and the experience and the discipline would have been worth a king's ransom in the first few crucial hours.
We can do one thing, though. We can not forget. When the media team has left town and the news agenda has moved on, when the last "miracle" child has been photographed crawling from the debris and the shanty-towns are up and running and food is eaten and water is flowing and those that can be helped with medicines are receiving that which, in the short-term they need, we can remember. It is going to take years for Haiti to recover from the impact of this event. The people there will need our help for a very long time to come.