Haiti

Q+A-Why is it taking so long to get aid to Haitians?

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15 Jan 2010 22:06:28 GMT

Source: Reuters

WASHINGTON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Haitians ravaged by the earthquake that devastated their capital this week begged for food, water and medical assistance as the world rushed to bring aid to survivors.

Foreign governments and aid agencies seemed to mobilize quickly to get relief supplies to victims of Tuesday's quake, but they have encountered obstacles typical after a natural disaster.

WHY IS IT TAKING SO LONG TO GET AID TO PEOPLE IN NEED?

Haiti's airport was damaged by the quake and the control tower completely knocked out, making it impossible for relief aircraft to land safely in the first hours of the disaster.

A U.S. military team has since reopened the airport, which has become congested with aircraft carrying supplies for different aid agencies and the United Nations. In addition, hundreds of people have gathered at the airport to try and get out of Haiti, making the situation more chaotic.

Some supplies destined for Haiti have had to go overland from neighboring Dominican Republic. Aid groups have reported a journey of up to 10 hours or more before they reach Haiti. Once at the border, they have had to deal with long lines of people and vehicles waiting to cross into Haiti.

Aid agencies already on the ground in Haiti, and which would have been best suited to help, also suffered losses and were unable to get word to their headquarters because telecommunications were down.

WHY CAN'T THE U.S. MILITARY JUST AIRDROP SUPPLIES?

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said dropping water and food from the air could cause riots and chaos.

There is also a danger that air-dropped parcels would get into the hands of the wrong people who would try to sell them, preventing supplies from getting to those in need.

General Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, said the airport, now under U.S. control, can handle about 90 flights a day, but he said that was not sufficient to meet the needs of the Haitian population.

IF THE FOOD IS AT THE AIRPORT, WHY ISN'T IT MOVING?

Supplies coming through the airport are held up because roads leading into the capital Port-au-Prince are impassable and strewn with rubble and scattered with decomposing bodies. Much of this has to be cleared before aid can flow. The only way to get aid to people is by helicopter.

AND WHAT ABOUT WATER? DOES THAT GET FLOWN IN?

The earthquake destroyed whatever water supply there was in much of Haiti and aid groups are having to truck or fly in clean water. In some instances, aid groups like Oxfam said they have had to fly in engineers and generators to help restore water supplies.

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE PORT?

Haiti's main port is severely damaged. Even if ships were to arrive there is no place for them to dock and unload the supplies, because cranes were knocked down, especially the single container crane. The U.S. Southern Command said the port's piers are unusable and it was sending in an underwater survey team to see what needs to be done to get them functioning again.

DO PROBLEMS LIKE THIS OFTEN OCCUR AFTER DISASTERS?

Huge logistics challenges in getting aid into countries hit by disasters is common. The biggest problem in getting aid to people in the first days of any disaster is lack of access. Roads are usually impassable, bridges are collapsed and airports closed, preventing trucks and aircraft carrying food and medical supplies from getting into the country.

In Haiti's case the breakdown in telecommunications and the sheer scale of the disaster and losses made it even more difficult to coordinate the aid and quickly assess the needs.

Aid groups, which would normally be quick off the mark to help in such a disaster, were also victims of the earthquake and have had to get personnel and supplies into the country.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Eric Beech)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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