Italy disaster expert slams U.S. response to Haiti

25 Jan 2010 10:50:00 GMT
Source: Reuters

By Daniel Flynn ROME, Jan 25 (Reuters) – Italy’s top disaster expert has slammed the U.S. response to the Haiti earthquake, criticising its lack of organisation and the reliance on soldiers with no training in humanitarian operations. Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy’s civil protection service who received international acclaim for his handling of an Italian earthquake last April, described “a pathetic situation which could have been much better organised”. Bertolaso, who arrived in Haiti on Friday, told RAI state television that Washington had made “a show of force”, but military officers coordinating the emergency had no links with the humanitarian groups in the Caribbean island state. “We are missing a leader, a coordination capacity that goes beyond military discipline,” Bertolaso, who holds the rank of minister, said late on Sunday. “The Americans are extraordinary, but when you are facing a situation in chaos, they tend to confuse military intervention with emergency aid, which cannot be entrusted to the armed forces.” A contingent of 13,000 U.S. troops is helping relief efforts after the Jan. 12, magnitude 7 quake in Haiti, which killed up to 200,000 people and left up to 3 million hurt and homeless. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government, which has tried to foster close ties with Washington, was quick to distance itself from the remarks. “Bertolaso … has attacked American and international organisations head on. The Italian government does not share these statements,” Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters on a visit to Washington. Bertolaso won plaudits for his handling of last year’s quake in the Abruzzo region of central Italy which killed 294 people and left 40,000 homeless. However, the loss of life and scale of destruction was far smaller than in Haiti, and Italy as a wealthy nation is much better equipped to cope with disasters than impoverished Haiti. Nevertheless, 12 days after the earthquake, many people in Haiti and abroad have complained that food and aid has been slow reaching those in need. On Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — an outspoken leftist critic of U.S. intervention in Latin America — said Washington’s relief efforts had fallen short and told Obama to send vaccines instead of armed soldiers.

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