Help On Horizon As Haitians Fight To Survive
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Plans were forged Monday for a food distribution system and "humanitarian corridors" to ease the flow of aid to starving Haitians, six days after an earthquake tore through the heart of the Caribbean nation. Meanwhile, more U.S. Marines began to arrive, poised to help move aid and maintain order.
Confusion and growing concerns about security on the broken streets of the capital of Port-au-Prince have so far frustrated efforts to get relief supplies and medical care to increasingly desperate and hungry survivors.
As refugees fought for seats on buses leaving Port-au-Prince for outlying provinces, lines were also being reported Monday outside the U.S. Embassy. Hundreds of American citizens — and others claiming to be — sought paperwork to get flights out of the country.
The aid that has reached Haitians so far amounts to "a drop in the bucket," said Charles MacCormack, head of Save the Children, in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition.
"There's going to have to be a huge increase," MacCormack said.
U.S. Military Presence Grows
By Tuesday, more than 2,000 Marines are expected to arrive in Haiti, where they'll assist in relief efforts and security. They are part of an influx of 7,500 U.S. military personnel expected in Haiti early this week.
They join 1,700 U.S. troops on the ground, according to John Kirby, spokesman for the U.S. military's joint task force in Haiti.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told The Associated Press the United States remains concerned about the possibility of lawlessness and increased violence in Haiti, but is not planning an expanded policing role now. Gates said U.S. forces in Haiti are operating under rules of engagement that would allow them to defend themselves or to defend innocent Haitians or foreigners if need be.
NPR's military correspondent Tom Bowman said that of the 10,000 troops deployed to Haiti, slightly more than half will remain on military ships, supporting the operation from offshore — coordinating flight operations, moving cargo and caring for the sick and wounded. Kirby said a force of about 4,500 will be on the ground.
Bowman also said that two additional companies from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division will soon join troops already on the ground. And the Navy's USS Comfort, a hospital ship, is expected to arrive midweek.
The U.S. Southern Command reported Sunday that 30 helicopters are providing relief to survivors in Haiti, and that the Air Force has flown 29 supply missions into the country. Three Navy ships, including the aircraft carrier USS Vinson, are off the Haitian coast, and, the government says, have been dispatching helicopters and relief supplies.
Food Network Planned
A hub-based system will be set up to distribute the equivalent of 10 million ready-to-eat meals to tens of thousands of people displaced by the earthquake, the executive director of the U.N.'s World Food Program said.
Josette Sheeran said that the food program will set up four food-distribution hubs in Port-au-Prince and about 30 others across the country. She appealed to world military leaders to donate the meals as the organization moves to distribute rice, vegetable oil and lentils.
Sheeran also said her organization will use what she characterized as five "humanitarian" corridors into Haiti, by road from neighboring Dominican Republic, by air to Port-au-Prince and Barahonas, through the main port in the capital, and through a seaport at Cap Haitien.
More than $60 million has been donated by governments to the food program since the earthquake; Sheeran said the group aims to secure donations of $279 million. She also made a plea for governments across the world to help rebuild Haiti's ports and roads and to assist in security.
Search For Survivors Grows Futile
Kirby also said that the search-and-rescue teams remain in "full rescue mode" — though he acknowledged that with each passing day the mission moves closer to recovery than rescue.
Search-and-rescue volunteers from around the world were still on the job Monday, but hopes for survivors waned.
Authorities estimate the 7.0 earthquake that struck last Tuesday has killed tens of thousands of people, with untold numbers of injuries. As many as 3 million people may be in direct need of aid.
In Leogane, a city about 20 miles west of the capital and very close to the epicenter, search-and-rescue teams from Iceland and Great Britain found no survivors, NPR's Jackie Northam reported.
The teams, the first outsiders to reach a city of 160,000 that Northam reported had been largely flattened, concentrated their efforts at a school where 40 to 50 students had been when the quake hit.
About a dozen children had been pulled out by residents days ago, Northam said. But even with listening devices, cameras and a search dog, the teams of rescue workers found no sign of life.
"These were kids in there," Northam said. "The rescue teams gave it what they have — they've got kids, but they have to move on."
Tent Cities Emerge
Many survivors have gathered in more than 60 tent cities that have sprung up in the capital of Port-au-Prince, NPR's Greg Allen reported.
And in those encampments, where the poor and middle class huddle side-by-side, conditions are grim.
"The stench of dead bodies permeates the area from surrounding homes where they've not yet been removed," said Allen, from the Canape Vert neighborhood, where U.N. officials estimate 80 to 90 percent of the buildings were destroyed, displacing more than 50,000 people.
"Almost as bad is the smell from a median strip in the road people are using as a toilet," Allen said. "There's little food and water. It's an abominable situation that's just getting worse."
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has estimated that the Haitian government has now recovered more than 20,000 bodies.
Though a reliable toll may be weeks away, the Pan American Health Organization estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 Haitians died in the quake.
Meanwhile, international aid organizations are planning temporary settlements that could accommodate the homeless. The International Organization for Migration announced that it's working with the Haitian government and the Inter-American Development Bank to establish a temporary settlement for 100,000 just outside Port-au-Prince. The World Food Program also announced plans for a tent camp for 100,000 people, also on the outskirts of the capital.
In Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the government would allow orphans from Haiti to enter the U.S. temporarily on a case-by-case basis to receive care.
Security On The Streets
As hungry and displaced Haitians converge on damaged stores to find food and other items, police continued largely ineffective efforts to keep order.
U.S. government officials, in a Monday afternoon press call, described the security situation in Haiti as stable and said that incidents of looting or violence have not impeded search and rescue efforts or the distribution of aid.
NPR's Carrie Kahn, in Port-au-Prince, reported Monday that police spent hours chasing residents out of damaged markets, but when officers left, groups dashed back through crumbled doorways to pull out any goods they could.
At a capital city cemetery, Ogeris Oblasts told an NPR producer he saw police drop off four young men accused of looting. The police made the men lie face down, then shot them, Oblasts said.
"A crowd gathered around one of the men as he slowly bled to death," Kahn reported. "Many said he deserved to die because he was a thief."
In an interview Monday with CNN, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten compared Port-au-Prince to a scene from Japan in World War II. "It's flat," he said. "It looks like an atomic bomb went off. Streets are completely blocked."
Merten said that although the security situation in Haiti "isn't super at the best of times," people overall have been very calm after the disaster and generally orderly in waiting in lines for food and assistance.
Impatience With U.S. Management
The head of the World Food Program announced Monday that the U.S. military had agreed to give humanitarian aid flights a priority in landing, answering criticism of U.S. management of the capital's tiny, one-runway airport.
On Monday, a French government minister called on the United Nations to investigate and clarify the dominant U.S. role in Haiti.
French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet said that international aid efforts were about helping Haiti, not "occupying" it. He complained that U.S. forces last week, citing congestion at the damaged airport, turned away a Doctors Without Borders flight carrying a mobile hospital. The plane was allowed to land the following day.
The U.S. military's Kirby, responding to a question about who was in charge of efforts in Haiti, characterized it as a U.N.-led mission to which the U.S. was providing humanitarian and security support.
He also said that problems at the airport that led to flights being turned back was strictly a volume issue, and one that appears to have largely been resolved. Only three planes were turned away Sunday, he said.
"It's much more efficient than it was," he said. "It truly is really about crowding."
Aid And Obstacles
European Union nations pledged nearly $600 million Monday to help survivors and rebuilding efforts in Haiti, as the international community contemplates the largest single relief effort since the 2004 South Asian tsunami.
But money alone cannot solve all the problems, according to MacCormack of Save the Children.
MacCormack told NPR's Renee Montagne that aid agencies are doing their best in Haiti and have learned from the tsunami and a ruinous earthquake in Pakistan in 2005.
"Today, we're moving and others are moving as well as we were — if not better — than in other emergencies," he said. "The problem is a real lack of well-trained Haitians."
"In Pakistan, in Indonesia, in [Hurricane] Katrina, we were able to bring in Pakistani, Indonesian, American accountants, water specialists, logisticians who spoke the language and knew the culture," he said. "There just aren't enough of Haitian engineers and doctors and accountants and auditors."
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