Your questions on Haiti answered

January 25, 2010
Photo by Niall Carson/PA Wire

There’s a lot of information circulating around concerning the earthquake. With so many voices chiming in, we’ve complied a couple of questions to answer, and hopefully clarify, what’s really happening on the ground in Haiti and why.

Why did it take so long to get the aid flowing?

The sheer devastation of the earthquake was one of the main reasons for this. The airport traffic control towers collapsed. The port was destroyed. Roads were full of rubble and fuel stations were destroyed. People who would normally deal with an emergency were themselves affected, with loss of life, family members and homes. Under such difficult circumstances, it is unsurprising that the aid effort needed time to get going.

However, there is a lot happening now. 330,000 people have now received food rations. Yesterday, over 100,000 people got clean water. Concern has delivered water and aid in the slums of St Martin. Our aid effort increases daily.

Are agencies working together?

Coordination is improving by the day. There are now daily UN coordination meetings where the agencies are mapping out the city, clarifying who is doing what, to ovoid overlap. It can still be chaotic, but the coordination structures are in place and things are getting better.

Why don’t you drop aid from helicopters?

Airdrops should always be a matter of last resort. Unless the distribution on the ground is well managed, the danger of riots is great. In this instance, the most vulnerable people are unable to access much-needed supplies. Airdrops are also far more costly than other methods, ultimately meaning fewer people served.

Is it dangerous for aid workers?

There is widespread chaos, but that shouldn’t be confused with a breakdown in security. I saw lots of water and food distributions happening across the city yesterday and today, and people were lining up in an orderly manner. Our teams are out everyday and overall it has been relatively calm.

But we are not underestimating the potential security problems. People will only wait so long and we need to get more aid in as soon as possible.

Some say the US should take over. What do you think?

We would say the UN presence on the ground is well-established and respected. They have to lead, and work closely with the US and all others. The US is providing huge logistical, transport and humanitarian relief supplies.

Others have said the US is delaying humanitarian relief (only 50% of planes landing are allocated to humanitarian supplies). Yes, there are delays. Ultimately, flying in humanitarian aid is not tenable in the long term as it is too expensive. The answer is to open the ports; you can ship in much larger quantities. I hear it will take 10 days to get the ports functioning. They need to be opened faster.