Guido Bertolaso, Italy's civil protection chief, said what was needed was a single international civilian co-ordinator to take charge, and for individual countries and aid agencies to stop flying their flags and posing for TV cameras and get to work.
"Unfortunately there's this need to make a 'bella figura' before the TV cameras rather than focus on what's under the debris," said Mr Bertolaso, who won praise for his handling of Italy's 2009 quake in Abruzzo.
In particular, he criticised what he called the well-meaning but ineffective US-run military operation. But the American presence and willingness to send in a floating hospital, cargo planes, troops and aid was "commendable" and necessary, Mr Bertolaso said.
"Unfortunately it's a massive presence, but it's not been used in the best way," he said yesterday.
Citing the botched US response to Hurricane Katrina, he said the Americans "tend to confuse military with what should be an emergency intervention that cannot be given over solely to the armed forces", before adding: "We're missing a leader, a co-ordination capacity that goes beyond military discipline."