A cousin of mine, working with international organizations trying to 'help Haiti', received frantic emails from his superiors about getting aid to St. Marc, a city about an hour and a half north of Port-au-Prince. Apparently, many people were leaving the capital to seek help there. The only hospital, already serving about 200,000 people, was completely overwhelmed. They were short on staff. They were short on supplies. They were short of breath. So he packed up supplies ranging from fresh apples to bottles of Pedialyte and a team of 15 Haitian paramedics, and we made our way to St. Marc (not an easy task considering the traffic and the state of the roads).
When we got there, it was clear that bagay la ('the thing'), as Haitians now refer to the earthquake, had not hit the city very hard. Most, if not all, buildings were intact. As we drove into the hospital, we were all shocked to see that there weren't hundreds of people waiting and that the doctors actually had time to talk to us. They had been really busy earlier, they said, but now things were under control. The Haitian Red Cross had arrived, bringing with them staff and supplies. So they sat there, our 15 paramedics who had come with ideas of being heroes, for two hours, unoccupied. They could've been helping out in other hospitals, in other places, in other camps.
Time wasted. Skills wasted. Help wasted. Because one cry for help led to too many responses, some cries went unheard. And unfortunately, this is happening in a lot of places.