Haiti logjams frustrate increasing aid efforts as thousands more die

By staff writers
January 15, 2010

Governmental and NGO aid coordinators are being frustrated in their efforts to assist victims of the huge Haiti earthquake by the country's lack of workable infrastructure - but say that redoubling the effort and contributions is the only response.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is monitoring developments as shipments and expert relief teams start to move out of the airport at Port au Prince and the US military co-ordinate the use of helicopters to make emergency drops.

The work of the UN in Haiti has been severely hampered by deaths among its staff and the destruction of its offices.

Incoming aid in the country's capital and through the Dominican Republic has been slowed down by blocked roads, lack of unloading space at the airport, having to work with domestic porters rather than heavy lifting experts, shortage of trucks and many other constraints.

The US military is now taking charge of air traffic control with the agreement of the authorities, and experts say that once aid begins to move on a sustainable scale, the many NGOs with a long-term presence in Haiti will be able to direct it to where it is needed most.

Thousands more people have died in the last 24 hours. Latest estimates suggest that the total number of fatalities will be between 50-100,000.

Similar levels of 'quake have been experienced in the US in the past, but the real devastation of Haiti is that it is a desperately poor country with weak physical physical structure and precious few resources.

"The problem is that we are trying to build up speed and momentum from a position of virtual stand-still," an aid coordinator told Ekklesia this morning.

Meanwhile, international agencies are keen that the public around the world remain aware of how vital it is to go on making donations and to support the relief effort through the UK Disasters Emergency Committee (http://www.dec.org.uk/) appeal and other established routes in different parts of the world.

The temporary closure of Port-au-Prince's airport yesterday threw up yet another obstacle for relief workers serving thousands of the estimated 3 million Haitians affected by Tuesday's massive earthquake.

The Christian agency, World Vision, warns that water, medical supplies and emergency shelter resources are critically low and that the closure will only delay life-saving supplies to the quake's survivors.

Dean Salisbury, a World Vision relief logistician reported: "Things are really getting bogged down and the ports in Haiti and subsequently the Dominican Republic are becoming bottlenecks. It looks like the US military will be providing security and trying to get the ports open. The problem is the roads out of both the seaport and airport are all blocked. . .nothing is moving until they get the interior roads open. Fuel at the airport is a huge problem, hence the restrictions of flight by the FAA."

World Vision had relief items stored in Haiti in preparation for hurricane season and began distributing these yesterday, but the medical supplies, blankets, tents and other supplies from its Petionville office have quickly run low. World Vision teams visited more than 10 hospitals in the Port-au-Prince area, handing out gauze, bandages, syringes, latex gloves and antibiotics. One aid worker, Dr. Lesly Michaud, said that the local hospitals are not only running low on supplies, but on medical personnel as well.

"Yesterday, we visited one hospital that normally has 10 doctors working there. That day, they had one doctor treating all of the patients," he said. A trained physician himself, Dr. Michaud spent last night providing medical treatment at one local open-air hospital, but he said the demands are overwhelming. "We are doing everything we can do right now, but there is more that needs to be done."

In the meantime, while staff have found it difficult to get phone and internet connections out of the country.

World Vision is appealing for at least US $25 million in the US to fund the response in Haiti, and says more may be necessary.

"We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of donors already," said President Rich Stearns of World Vision's United States office. "But this is a marathon, and we need people who will continue to run that race beside us."

Meanwhile, in Britain, Christian Aid says its partner organisations in Haiti, Veterimed and Koral are very experienced in emergency response work and will be working round the clock to meet the urgent humanitarian needs.

Those in the UK wishing to donate to the Christian Aid emergency appeal on on-line should go to http://www.christianaid.org.uk/haiti-appeal

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.