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In Haiti, aid is finally getting to the people

Slowed by logistics at the airport and a weak infrastructure that makes transportation difficult, crucial food, water, and medical supplies are just now making it to many desperate Haitians.

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Members of World Food Program distribute vitamin-enriched biscuits to Haitians while United Nations soldiers control the crowd in a tent city in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday. Five days after a 7.0 earthquake, relief agencies are trickling supplies into the city. Most people have yet to receive food rations.

Mary Knox Merrill / The Christian Science Monitor

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Relief aid, which has piled up at the airport in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, is finally making its way to communities that have not received any help since last Tuesday's magnitude-7.0 earthquake left hundreds of thousands of Haitians homeless and hungry.

The desperation, and mounting tension, is clear across the city.

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At a makeshift settlement near the airport, groups of Haitians scrambled to get vitamin-enriched cookies from the World Food Program. Those outside clawed at the gate while United Nations peacekeepers guarded the area.
Slowed by logistics at the airport and a weak infrastructure that makes transportation difficult if not impossible, aid groups have complained about the slow trickle of medical and humanitarian aid that in too many cases is meaning the difference between life and death in the devastated capital.

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“The logistics are a nightmare,” says Hossam Elsharkawi, who is coordinating a Red Cross team at the general hospital in Port-au-Prince. “There is no water or food that people need.”

Help is on the way

At the hospital, where a single nurse was patrolling a field of dozens of victims over the weekend, international organizations such as International Medical Corps and the Red Cross were on the scene Sunday, wrapping broken limbs and cleaning wounds. Two Red Cross teams from Canada and Norway began setting up an emergency surgical tent and clinic.
Leaders from around the globe have made pledges of assistance to help Haiti rebuild and recover from the destruction that may have left up to 200,000 dead.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited the settlements around Port-au-Prince Sunday, calling the aftermath of the earthquake “one of the worst humanitarian crises in decades.”

European Union institutions and member states have offered more than $575.6 million in emergency and longer-term assistance, and some 2,200 Marines with heavy earth-moving equipment, medical aid, and helicopters were arriving Monday, said the US Southern Command, which aims to have 10,000 US troops in the area for the rescue operation.

With limited airspace, some groups have complained that they have been unable to land to deliver supplies. The Red Cross had to divert one shipment to the Dominican Republic Sunday, from where it had to make its way to Haiti overland, says Mr. Elsharkawi.

Tyler Foster, chief master sergeant of the US Air Force, says they have coordinated per orders of the Haitian government, which has requested that water and food get priority over medicine.

The airport, which the US military is now controlling, is full of shipments of aid being sent in from all around the world and rescue teams and doctors from the US and beyond. On Sunday, workers unloaded bottles of water and packages of milk. But the narrow streets of Port-au-Prince, many blocked off by boulders of collapsed homes and even dead bodies, stand in their way, as do security concerns.

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Anger boils over

At the food distribution point with the World Food Program, Haitians angrily yelled that they've waited for days for food. Some opened up packages of cookies they have received, and complaining that they are expired, crushed them in their hands and tossed them on the ground. One yelled at a UN officer eating a granola bar; he handed it over to the man.

“The problem is there are not enough trucks,” says Martin Diaz, a UN peacekeeper from Argentina. “And it is not just food we need to distribute, there are also rescue teams, people, and medicine.”

Groups of looters have taken to the streets for two days, with police breaking up riots with shots. Etekolo Maignan, who is living with his family in one of the largest settlements of Port-au-Prince after they lost their home, says the situation is untenable.

“It is very difficult. We have no water, and no food,” he says. “There is so much need.”

But with aid finally beginning to arrive Sunday, the mood seemed calmer in many parts of the city.

The US, which has launched a massive humanitarian effort, is also planning an airlift drop Monday with aid from a C-17, says Sergeant Foster, in a race to have supply meet the overwhelming needs here.