PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, January 18, 2010
- Millions of dollars in aid are pouring into Haiti. Another head of state visits each day. But as of yesterday, the United Nations reported that humanitarian relief is still being bottlenecked at the main airport and roads remain blocked with debris.
Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) said that one of its planes carrying essential medical supplies was not permitted to land at the airport.
"Despite guarantees, given by the United Nations and the US Defense Department, an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, and was re-routed to Samana, in Dominican Republic," the group said in a statement yesterday. "All material from the cargo is now being sent by truck from Samana, but this has added a 24-hour delay for the arrival of the hospital."
The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, is also working with Haitian authorities to set up a land corridor to bring in relief from the Dominican town of Barahona 130 kilometres away.
With the dead still being counted, and thousands missing, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has said that 100,000 deaths "would seem a minimum". The country's interior minister reported that some 50,000 bodies have already been recovered.
European Union ministers called an emergency meeting for today to determine the costs of the massive reconstruction that will needed in coming months. The United Nations has already issued an appeal for US$562 million to aid Haiti which, even before the earthquake, was the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.
That money would target the estimated three million Haitians affected for a period of six months, with half of the funds being earmarked for emergency food aid, and the rest for health, water, sanitation, nutrition, early recovery, emergency education and other key needs.
But in many parts of the devastated capital, there was little evidence of outside assistance.
In the suburb of Santo, dozens of Haitian men organised a digging and rescue operation on a pile of rubble. A huge orange Caterpillar bulldozer sat nearby, stationary. Heavy equipment from the Haitian construction company CNE is all over the city.
In the absence of any visible relief effort in the city, help came from small groups of Haitians working together. Citizens turned into aid workers and rescuers. Lone doctors roamed the streets, offering assistance.
At the crumbling national cathedral, a dozen men and women crowded around a man swinging a pickaxe to pry open the space for a dusty, near-dead looking woman to squeeze through and escape.
The night of the quake, a group of friends pulled bricks out from under a collapsed home, clearing a narrow zig-zagging path towards the sound of a child crying out beneath the rubble.
Two buildings over, Joseph Matherenne cried as he directed the faint light of his cell phone's screen over the bloody corpse of his 23-year-old brother. His body was draped over the rubble of the office where he worked as a video technician. Unlike most of the bodies in the street, there was no blanket to cover his face.
Central Port-Au-Prince resembles a war zone. Some buildings are standing, unharmed. Those that were damaged tended to collapse completely, spilling into the street on top of cars and telephone poles.
In the day following the quake, there was no widespread violence. Guns, knives and theft weren't seen on the streets, lined only with family after family carrying their belongings. They voiced their anger and frustration with sad songs that echoed throughout the night, not their fists.
"Only in the movies have I seen this," said 33-year-old Jacques Nicholas, who jumped over a wall as the house where he was playing dominoes tumbled. "When Americans send missiles to Iraq, that's what I see. When Israel do that to Gaza, that's what I see here."
Nobody knows what to expect. Some people said Haiti needs a strong international intervention - a coordinated aid effort from all the big countries. But there was no evidence on the streets of any immediate cavalry of rescue workers from the United States and other nations.
"My situation is not that bad," said Nicholas, "but overall the other people's situation is worse than mine. So it affects me. Everybody wants to help out, but we can't do nothing."
Haitians are doing only what they can. Helping each other with their hands and the few tools they can find, they lack the resources to coordinate a multi-faceted reconstruction effort.
UN agencies and humanitarian organisations on the ground are struggling to help survivors of the quake, but many are hindered by large-scale damage to their own facilities, as well as lack of heavy equipment to clear rubble.
Logistics remained the main obstacle, with damage to the main airport, impassable roads and problems at the docks continuing to bottleneck the outpouring of international relief workers and basic supplies. (Adapted from IPS)
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