The earthquake in Haiti and the U.S. response to it continue to be a major concern.
A natural disaster that produces such human misery in a place already blighted by poverty and weak government presents a unique set of problems for any party wishing to help.
The first is whether to respond principally by providing relief to the people hit by the disaster itself, or to look more deeply into the problems of the country and seek to remedy them over the longer haul. Recent examples of this phenomenon include drought in the Horn of Africa and the conflict and exacerbated poverty in the Darfur region of Sudan.
What is certain and unfortunate is the looting and other violence now cropping up in Haiti. It is on display for the rest of the world to see and is now part of the overall problem of aid delivery. The people struck by the disaster are asking for help and in many ways are at the point of desperation, but so are many other poverty-stricken, needy Haitians.
In that sense, even though Americans might ask why the first act of President Barack Obama was to send in troops -- as opposed to personnel of the various American relief groups eager to offer help -- the reason is basic security. Without security and order in place, the humanitarian aid cannot be delivered. Instead, the groups offering aid are forced first to see to their own safety and protection from unruly and increasingly angry solicitors of the help they are bringing.
Whether the thousands of U.S. troops now in the region are sufficient to establish order and support the delivery of aid is not yet clear. It is also true that the United States does not have many forces available for such a mission, considering the drain on its military imposed by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
What is clear is that security must be the first priority in Haiti, to be followed by humanitarian aid, then assistance with reconstruction if it is decided that America will take on that task.