Flow of aid in Haiti slowed by bottlenecks

Scattered violence includes attack on food convoy

By Paisley Dodds
Associated Press / February 3, 2010

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - A generous world has flooded Haiti with donations, but anger and desperation are mounting as the aid stacks up inside this broken country.

Bottlenecks at key transportation points and scattered violence, including an armed group’s attack on a food convoy, have slowed the distribution of food and medicine from the port, airport, and a warehouse in the Cite-Soleil slum.

US air traffic controllers have lined up 2,550 incoming flights through March 1, but some 25 flights a day aren’t taking their slots. Communication breakdowns between Haitians and their foreign counterparts are also endemic.

“Aid is bottlenecking at the Port-au-Prince airport. It’s not getting into the field,’’ said Mike O’Keefe, who runs Bayan Air Service in Fort Lauderdale.

Foreign aid workers and Haitians are fed up with waiting for help. One Haitian father paid a group of men more than $200 yesterday to retrieve his daughter’s body from his collapsed house, rather than wait for demolition crews.

“No one is in charge,’’ said Dr. Rob Maddox of Start, La., tending to dozens of patients in the capital’s sprawling general hospital. “There’s no top-down leadership. The Swiss don’t want to cooperate with us. And since the Haitian government took control of our supplies, we have to wait for things even though they’re stacked up in the warehouse. The situation is just madness.’’

Donors say the key logistical challenges are dealing with a backlog of supply flights at the airport, repairing and increasing the capacity of the city’s piers, and dealing with clogged overland routes from outlying airports and Dominican Republic. Most roads are just two lanes with many potholes.

Some are also worried that isolated routes are vulnerable to ambush. Haiti is plagued with crime, violence, and gangs.

A group of US Baptist missionaries arrested trying to leave Haiti with a busload of children they gathered from the disaster zone were being questioned yesterday by a judge.

The investigating magistrate queried the five women for several hours and will follow up with the five men today, according to Haiti’s communications minister. No lawyers were present, and the Americans have yet to be charged.

Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said the evidence will be presented to a Haitian district attorney to decide whether to file charges.

The Baptists from Idaho say they were trying to help orphans survive the earthquake. But legal experts say taking children across a border without documents or government permission can be considered child trafficking.

Mobs have stolen food and looted goods from their neighbors in the camps, prompting many to band together or stay awake at night to prevent raids.

Small groups of state employees and lawyers held protests across the city yesterday, denouncing President Rene Preval’s leadership. Prime Minister Max Bellerive defended the government’s performance before a quorum of 20 Haitian senators.

“Even the most advanced countries could not respond to this crisis,’’ he said.

Bellerive’s speech drew an angry response from senators.

“The government has not been able to even prove symbolically that it exists,’’ said Senator Endrisse Riche, noting that he heard about yesterday’s meeting from a friend and hadn’t been contacted by anyone in government since the quake.