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Haiti earthquake damage: Will 'clusters' make aid efforts better this time?

The lack of coordination, duplication of effort and mismanagement of resources that often plagues relief efforts will be avoided this time, according to Michael Delaney, director of humanitarian assistance for Oxfam America.

By Matthew ClarkStaff writer / January 13, 2010

People sit at a park a day after the destructive earthquake in downtown Port-au-Prince, Wednesday.

Gregory Bull / AP

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When aid organizations flock to a disaster zone in the wake of a tragedy like the 7.0 earthquake that rocked Haiti last night, relief efforts are often plagued by a lack of coordination, duplication of effort and mismanagement of resources.

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But, this time, much of that will be avoided, according to Michael Delaney, director of humanitarian assistance for Oxfam America, which has more than 200 staff members on the ground

"In the past few years, [the United Nations] has tried to organize relief efforts in all the countries we work in. They've set up what they call 'clusters,'" Mr. Delaney told csmonitor.com's Pat Murphy today. "The idea is to divide up responsibilities, avoid duplication, look for ways to organize efficiently according to standards that uphold people's dignity."

What this means is that big aid groups have already been assigned an area of focus in disaster preparation workshops over recent years. In Haiti, Oxfam will be in the water and sanitation cluster. Other groups might belong to a medical, or a shelter, cluster, for example.

Of course, coordination in chaotic situations is still difficult, and not every aid group has been part of the planning.

"It doesn't always work," admits Delaney. "Sometimes there are a lot more organizations out there... that don't even know about this cluster system."

Listen to the whole interview here.

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