One year after the Haiti earthquake, the disaster response/development community is in a reflective mood. And well we should be: despite a massive cash influx in the wake of the disaster, the ongoing daily struggle for existence for many Haitians does not reflect well on the international community's attention span, coordination capabilities, and ability to respond in a sustained fashion to challenging and shifting local conditions. We can and should do better.
If the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami off Indonesia in 2004 have shown us anything it is that large scale natural catastrophes are not rare. Calamities that claim tens of thousands of lives happen with regularity (about every four years on average). Many others claim a smaller number of lives but are equally devastating to local communities. The claims that these disasters are unique “100 year events”, which cannot be predicated and therefore cannot be planned for, are increasingly hollow.
When I try to wrap my head around the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for development, I usually don't get much further than "blogging" and "text messages." It was therefore enlightening to attend today's World Bank Institute Keys to Innovation Discussion Series on "Developers for Development: Using Open Source Technology in Disaster Response and Beyond." Five presenters from open source organizations introduced their projects. The relevance of those projects is painfully obvious in the aftermath of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.
Is transparency delayed, transparency denied? How about when disasters, such typhoons or earthquakes, strike? Should transparency and citizen access to information as regards the disbursement of calamity funds be considered a priority? Or should transparency temporarily take a back seat during disasters with all efforts going into emergency response?