Efforts boosted, but thousands wait unaided

Relief deliveries given priority at Haiti airport

A Massachusetts disaster medical team set up a mobile hospital in Port-au-Prince as hundreds of people waited for medical treatment. A Massachusetts disaster medical team set up a mobile hospital in Port-au-Prince as hundreds of people waited for medical treatment. (Dina Rudick/ Globe Staff)
By Alfred de Montesquiou and Mike Melia
Associated Press / January 19, 2010

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The staggering scope of Haiti’s nightmare came into sharper focus yesterday as authorities estimated 200,000 dead and 1.5 million homeless in the heart of this luckless land, where injured survivors still died in the streets, doctors pleaded for help, and looters slashed at one another in the rubble.

The world pledged more money, food, medicine, and police. Some 2,000 US Marines steamed into nearby waters. And ex-president Bill Clinton, a special UN envoy, flew in to offer support.

But hour by hour the unmet needs of hundreds of thousands grew. “Have we been abandoned? Where is the food?’’ shouted one man, Jean Michel Jeantet, in a downtown street.

The UN World Food Program said it expected to boost operations from feeding 67,000 people on Sunday to 97,000 yesterday. But it needs 100 million prepared meals over the next 30 days, and it appealed for more government donations.

“I know that aid cannot come soon enough,’’ UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in New York after returning from Haiti. He urged officials to “unplug the bottlenecks.’’

Ban asked for 1,500 more UN police and 2,000 more peacekeepers to join the 9,000 or so UN security personnel in Haiti. The Security Council was expected to approve the reinforcements tomorrow.

In one step to reassure frustrated aid groups, the US military agreed to give aid deliveries priority over military flights at the now-US-run airport here, the WFP announced in Rome. The Americans’ handling of civilian flights had angered some humanitarian officials.

The US Air Force itself resorted to an air drop of aid. A C-17 parachuted pallets of food and water into an area outside Port-au-Prince secured by US forces. The Americans have been reluctant to use air drops for fear of drawing unruly crowds

Sunday’s looting and violence raged into yesterday, as hundreds clambered over the broken walls of shops to grab anything they could, including toothpaste, now valuable for lining nostrils against the stench of Port-au-Prince’s dead. Police fired into the air as young men fought each other over rum and beer with broken bottles and machetes.

Hard-pressed medical teams sometimes had to take time away from quake victims to deal with gunshot wounds, said Loris de Filippi of Doctors Without Borders. In the Montrissant neighborhood, Red Cross doctors, saying they “cannot cope,’’ worked in shipping containers and lost 50 patients over two days, said international Red Cross spokesman Simon Schorno.

The latest casualty report, from the European Commission citing Haitian government figures, doubled previous estimates of the dead from the magnitude-7.0 quake, to approximately 200,000, with about 70,000 bodies recovered and trucked off to mass graves.

If the death toll projection is accurate, it would make Haiti’s catastrophe almost as deadly as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed about 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

European Commission analysts estimate 250,000 people were injured and 1.5 million were made homeless. Masses are living under plastic sheets in makeshift camps and in dust-covered automobiles, or had taken to the road seeking out relatives in the safer countryside.

European nations have pledged more than a half-billion dollars for the relief effort, on top of at least $100 million promised by the United States.

An impoverished nation, Haiti will need years or decades of expanded aid to rebuild. For the moment, however, front-line relief workers want simply to get food and water to the hungry and thirsty.

The delays aren’t “so much about food supplies as logistics,’’ said Brian Feagans, a spokesman for the aid group CARE. The priorities are clearing roads, ensuring security at UN food distribution points, getting this city’s seaport working again, and bringing in more trucks and helicopters, WFP executive director Josette Sheeran said in Rome.

The UN humanitarian chief, John Holmes, said in New York that not all 15 UN food distribution points were up and running yet. “That’s a question of people, trucks, fuel, but the aid is scaling up very rapidly,’’ he said.

Evidence of the shortfall could be found at a makeshift camp of 50,000 displaced people spread over a hillside golf course overlooking the city. Leaders there said the US 82d Airborne Division had been able to deliver food to only half of the people. American forces were to be reinforced by 2,000 Marines arriving off Haiti’s shores aboard three amphibious landing ships.

Getting clean water into people’s hands was still a dire concern. “People can survive a few days without food but we must try to avoid major outbreaks of waterborne disease,’’ Feagans said.

Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, who accompanied him to Haiti, pitched in. They helped unload cases of bottled water from their plane to a UN truck.

Some aid groups and foreign officials have blamed the US military for slowing down aid deliveries, saying the American units that took charge of the small Port-au-Prince airport gave priority to US military flights.

Doctors Without Borders said yesterday its specialists were 48 hours behind on performing surgery for critically injured patients because three cargo planes loaded with supplies were denied clearance and forced to land almost 200 miles away in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

France’s cooperation minister, Alain Joyandet, also complained yesterday, saying the UN must “clarify’’ the dominant US role here, suggesting the Americans were “occupying’’ Haiti.

The WFP’s Sheeran said things would change. She announced an agreement with the United States so that “we now have the coordination mechanism to prioritize the humanitarian flights coming in.’’

At the airport, a US military spokesman said the parking ramp designed for 16 large aircraft at times was holding 40. “That’s why there was gridlock,’’ said Navy Commander Chris Lounderman. He said about 100 flights a day were now landing.

There remained a “huge demand for lifesaving surgery for those who suffered terrible injuries,’’ Doctors Without Borders reported.

Across the city, countless abandoned bodies had been picked up by government crews, but residents still dragged others to crossroads, hoping municipal garbage trucks or aid groups would deal with them.