Benedict Mander reports
Eyewitness in HAITI January 2010
Post-earthquake chaos in Haiti
The world’s attempt to aid Haitians stumbles against extraordinary difficulties of transport and communications
Jan 21st 2010 | PORT-AU-PRINCE
Ministers urged to cancel Haiti’s debt
By Harvey Morris in New York, Benedict Mander in Caracas and Robin Kwong in Taipei
Published: January 25 2010 18:08 | Last updated: January 25 2010 18:08
Haiti’s creditors were on Monday urged to cancel its remaining foreign debt as ministers from prominent international donor countries met in Montreal to consider the first steps towards rebuilding the country.
Jean-Max Bellerive, the Haitian prime minister, told ministers, including Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, that his country would need “more and more and more in order to complete the task of reconstruction” after the earthquake.
Lawrence Cannon, Canadian foreign minister and conference host, said the aim was to establish “a clear and common vision for the early recovery and longer-term reconstruction of Haiti”, and that Monday’s meeting would be the first step.
The Paris Club of creditor countries, which includes the US, Canada, Britain and France, has already said it would speed up cancellation agreed on last July of a $215m (€152m, £133m) debt, part of about $1bn owed by Haiti.
But the government remains in debt to other lenders, including the InterAmerican Development Bank, which is owed some $440m, Venezuela and Taiwan.
The World Bank and International Monetary Fund last year approved $1.2bn of debt relief for Haiti after it suffered the impact of a cyclone and riots over high food prices led to the fall of the government.
Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president, has been at the forefront of criticism in Latin America of the central role of the US military in tackling the Haiti crisis.
Venezuela has so far sent several tons of food and supplies to Haiti, as well as 225,000 barrels of petrol and diesel, enough to generate about a month’s electricity.
However, doubt has been cast over Venezuela’s ability to cancel Haiti’s $295m debt, given the precarious state of its finances. Ecoanalitica, a Caracas-based consultancy, forecast that Venezuela’s public debt would almost double between 2007 and 2010, to $118bn, or about 44 per cent of gross domestic product.
Taiwan, which is owed $90m according to the IMF but is not attending the Montreal meeting, is Haiti’s second biggest bilateral lender.
Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s president, said last week regarding debt cancellation that he had “already asked the foreign ministry to conduct the necessary reviews to help Haiti to pass through this difficult time”.
Oxfam, the UK-based charity, urged ministers not only to cancel Haiti’s debt but also to give direct support to small businesses and farmers and to ensure aid went to poor areas.
Obstacles sever Haiti’s diaspora lifeline
By Alan Rappeport in New York, Benedict Mander in Port-au-Prince and Scheherazade Daneshkhu in Paris
Cut off from their relatives since last week’s earthquake that killed an estimated 75,000 people and displaced more than 1m, Haiti’s vast diaspora has been struggling to figure out how to help from afar while a lack of electricity, communications and security foil good intentions.
Needy in desperate wait for supplies
By Benedict Mander in Port-au-Prince
Published: January 20 2010 02:00 | Last updated: January 20 2010 02:00
"We need help," is the simple but stark message starting to appear on hundreds of hastily improvised signs across Port-au-Prince. Most are scrawled on sheets strung up across myriad alleys that criss-cross the Haitian capital.
Lying on the dirt floor of a crude shack behind one such sign is Doll Luidjy Stephenson, who after breaking his pelvis in January 12's huge earthquake, was hauled home across the city on his friend's back. He has not moved since.
"I can't get up. Please get help," begged the man in his early 30s as relatives looked on helplessly and aid flights passed overhead into the city's airport.
Mr Stephenson's neighbour, Maurice, said the community was in urgent need of water, food and medicine. Everyone was camping on the streets owing to the absence or unsoundness of their homes.
The scene is a vivid snapshot of the situation in Haiti one week after the disaster that might have killed more than 100,000 people. Help is starting to arrive in ever-increasing amounts but it is hard to find evidence of effective co-ordination.
At the judicial police station in Port-au-Prince, serving as the government's co-ordination centre, there was little sense of urgency at 8am yesterday. Only a couple of cars were parked inside and an aggressive local policeman on the gate prevented the vast majority of people from entering.
He said the first meeting of the day was not until 10am.
"It is difficult, really difficult," said Nancy Exilos, who co-ordinates aid distribution for the World Food Programme. "We go to a site, where the first assessment is there are 100 people [in need of help]. We bring enough [supplies] for 100 people but when we arrive we find there are 2,000 people."
Alejandro Lopez-Chicheri, the WFP's regional communication director, said food distribution was increasing significantly every day, thanks mainly to the expanding US military presence.
He said that yesterday the agency hoped to reach 200,000 people, double the number it fed the previous day.
Much of this was possible due to the expansion of the US military presence - from 1,000 to 3,000 troops - on the ground.
One saving grace is that, in spite of reports of violence and outbreaks of looting, the overriding atmosphere across the capital is of patient resignation rather than a society on the brink of collapsing into anarchy.
Helping the wounded is proving as critical as reaching the hungry.
"Our priority is to treat those who are still alive and to keep them alive," said Laurent Ligozat, the global emergency response director for Médecins Sans Frontières, an aid agency.
"We're doing more and more amputations every day as more and more wounds become infected. Septicaemia is going to be a real problem," he said. "There are thousands of people in a very desperate situation and if the distribution of aid is not well organised they're going to be in even more trouble."
Communications also remain a serious handicap. "We can't communicate properly with our people here," Mr Ligozat said, adding that, unlike most crisis situations he had experienced, the procurement of resources within the country was next to impossible.
In particular, a pressing issue is the lack of petrol, which MSF is currently bringing in from Santo Domingo, the capital of neighbouring Dominican Republic.
"We lack the most basic things. We can't even get mattresses for our staff to sleep on," he said.
Joy as aid arrives on quake-hit Haitian coast
FT Caribbean correspondent Benedict Mander reports on post-earthquake aid efforts, security and governance from Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince
By Benedict Mander in Jacmel
When the US helicopter descended on the scraggy runway at Jacmel, a town on quake-ravaged Haiti’s south-west coast, hundreds of its overjoyed inhabitants thronged to the landing site.
UN appeals for $560m in Haiti aid
By Benedict Mander in Port-au-Prince
Published: January 16 2010 20:22 | Last updated: January 16 2010 20:22
|The United Nations is making an appeal for $562m to alleviate the catastrophe wreaked by the earthquake that struck Haiti on Tuesday.
The newly appointed leader of the UN mission in Port-au-Prince, Edmond Mulet, said the money was needed to relieve the impoverished population from hunger and thirst, as well as to encourage them to help clean up the wreckage.
It is hoped that this will reduce the increasing danger of outbreaks of violence, as tempers fray and frustration mounts at the hardship and chaos generated by the disaster.
“We are very happy all the international community has been helping us,” said communications minister Marie Laurence Lassegue. “But we are fighting to avoid looting and rioting.”
Already there have been various reports of looting, with outbreaks of violence as mobs snatched goods from shops destroyed by the earthquake in downtown Port-au-Prince on Saturday.
Centres are being set up across the city for the secure distribution of supplies that can be protected by troops from looters.
The government has defined its top priorities as re-establishing telecommunications; clearing the streets to enable mobility with the rescue effort; burying the bodies that have started to decompose in downtown Port-au-Prince.
A “humanitarian corridor” has been set up between Haiti and the neighbouring Dominican Republic, which has made an airport available in Barahona, near the border, to facilitate the arrival of supplies, with the airport in Port-au-Prince suffering from serious congestion.
“Things are getting better, but we need time to get into a rhythm – but each hour that goes by [without progress] is an hour wasted if lives are not saved,” said Alain Joyandet, France’s vice minister for development. He said France had decided to commit an additional €2m to funds already donated to the relief effort, including firemen, civil police, rescue workers and medical personnel.
Barack Obama, US president, enlisted the help of former US presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to lauch a national appeal to raise funds for disaster relief. Mr Obama has already committed $100m in aid.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, became the first foreign leader to visit Port-au-Prince on Saturday. She met Rene Preval, the country’s president, at the airport and gave assurances of a continuous flow of US aid.
The US will be “here today, tomorrow and for the time ahead”, she said. ”Haiti can come back even better and stronger in the future.”
The UK, which has pledged £10m in total for the international relief effort, announcing on Saturday that £2m of that will go towards getting vital transport and communication networks moving. Funding will also go towards extra trucks, lorries and other vehicles to help distribute much-needed aid such as water, food and medical supplies.
At least 56,000 have been certified as dead, but there are fears that the number could be as great as 140,000. As many as 3m have been affected in Port-au-Prince overall.
Haiti's government moves to rundown police station
By Benedict Mander in Port-au-Prince
Published: January 17 2010 13:43 | Last updated: January 17 2010 13:43
The nerve centre of Haiti’s government is now a rundown police station by the airport on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. With all official buildings razed to the ground, this where President Rene Preval has been reduced to meeting his ministers every morning at 7am.
The police station’s concrete perimeter wall leans at a gravity-defying angle, leaving the temporary headquarters of the government looking as improvised as much of the response to the disaster that has torn the Caribbean country apart.
“All our buildings are down, it has been very difficult. It was particularly hard for the first two days, with no communications,” said Marie Laurence Lassegue, the communications minister.
The president’s palace now lies in ruins, along with Mr Preval’s own home and about a third of the city’s buildings, its sea port, as well as water and sewage systems.
“Aid is being coordinated better now,” said Ms Lassegue, who urged foreign governments to send food, water and medical equipment.
Lack of government control over this lawless and unstable country has been a hallmark of Haiti’s recent political history, but the devastating power of Tuesday’s earthquake has left the authorities weaker still. As well as the simple loss of infrastructure, many key officials are dead.
Not only the government is a husk of its former self: the United Nations peacekeeping mission has also been gravely handicapped by the loss of many of its staff after its headquarters in the Hotel Christopher was flattened.
That has meant that one of its immediate priorities has been to rescue and account for many of its own staff, on top of helping coordinate humanitarian aid.
UN officials are careful to emphasise that Mr Preval’s government remains in charge: “We are here to support the government. They are the ones leading the recovery and reconstruction effort,” said Edmond Mulet, the acting head of the UN mission who replaced Hedi Annabi, the former chief, who was confirmed dead on Saturday, along with his Brazilian deputy, Luiz Carlos da Costa.
“Even though the mission has been severely weakened [by the earthquake] we are still operational, especially on the military and security side,” said Mr Mulet, adding that UN staff were sleeping in chairs, sofas and cars.
Officials recognise that the key challenge is coordination. Despite expressions of solidarity and large donations from aid agencies and foreign governments – so much so that the heavily congested airport has been forced to turn away many planes, in particular those that failed to give advance notice of their cargo – effective organisation has remained a crippling problem.
Struggle to keep Haiti survivors alive
By Benedict Mander in Port-au-Prince
Published: January 15 2010
By Friday afternoon the once-imposing Palace of Justice in central Port-au-Prince was little more than a scavenger dump. Flattened in Tuesday’s massive earthquake, people clambered over the ruins, picking over documents, family photographs, odd shoes, an antique hat and much more.
The stench of rotting flesh rising from the rubble into the hot Caribbean air supported people’s claims that it was also a mass grave.
“There must be hundreds of people beneath us,” said one onlooker, who used a stained rag to cover his nose to alleviate the stench. “Why is no one helping them?” he asked, as an apparently lifeless body metres away suddenly convulsed.
Officials admitted that the full scale of the Haiti disaster was unknown. The Haitian Red Cross estimated the death toll to be about 50,000. Others put it at double that. Haitian officials said they had buried 40,000 and expected to bury a further 100,000. The United Nations already buried 9,000 bodies.
Conditions at the makeshift hospital in the UN compound in Port-au-Prince were indicative of the desperate struggle to help the millions of victims. The ground was packed with camp beds, with many victims screaming, others unconscious.
“It’s like a civil war, it’s a disaster. About a fifth of the people here are going to die,” said John MacDonald, a surgeon forming part of a group flown in from the University of Miami. “We’re doing the minimal, it’s just a palliative – we just don’t have enough supplies or equipment”.
Talks were under way to turn the national football stadium into a temporary hospital.
Desperate people blocked streets with corpses in one part of Port-au-Prince, the capital, to demand relief following Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude quake that was thought to have killed up to 50,000 people and affected about one-third of the impoverished nation’s 9m population
A block away from the Palace of Justice, in the square opposite Haiti’s presidential palace, also in ruins, thousands of people left destitute by the most powerful earthquake to hit the former French colony since it was established in 1804 had erected a camp of makeshift shelters.
“Three of our family have died. We’ve lost everything, we have nothing, not even any money to buy food,” said a woman with a resigned expression on her face, cradling her baby Marie.
She explained that the people camped out across Port-au-Prince had either lost their homes, or were afraid to return to what remained should buildings collapse altogether.
Such scenes were mirrored across the city. Taller buildings were crumpled with floors lying on top of each other after the walls gave way, others were fatally cracked and leaning at oblique angles. Many more were just reduced to piles of rubble.
Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, said half the 3m population of the capital had no access to food, water, shelter or electricity. Food distribution had begun but supplies of high-energy biscuits and other food were as yet only reaching 8,000 people. “This is a drop in the bucket in the face of massive need,” he said, adding that relief workers would be feeding 1m survivors within 15 days, rising to 2m within a month.
Appealing for more emergency supplies of tents, medicines and medical personnel, Mr Ban said the UN would launch an appeal for $560m (€390m, £345m) of emergency aid to help finance the aid operation.
Latest estimates from the UN said more than $150m in cash from governments, individuals and organisations had been pledged, with a further $300m in commitments, including from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, called on the Paris Club of donor nations to accelerate the implementation of deals struck last year to cancel more than $110m of Haiti’s debts.
In addition to the refugee camps, the streets of Port-au-Prince were teeming with homeless Haitians, some apparently wondering aimlessly, others with their heads in their hands.
Still more chose to flee the city altogether to escape the chaos and pestilence, dragging suitcases, balancing large bags on their head or pushing wheelbarrows.
Mr Ban also stressed that despite the “chaotic situation”, “co-ordination has been maintained”.
David Wimhurst, the UN spokesman in Haiti, said that René Préval, the Haitian president, senior ministers, Edmond Mulet, the UN’s acting special representative to Haiti, and foreign ambassadors had set four key priorities at a meeting on Thursday.
These are re-establishing telecommunication links, burying bodies and moving refugees to more hygienic surroundings, delivering medical assistance and facilitating aid deliveries by waiving visas for aid workers.
On Friday afternoon there was little sign in much of Port-au-Prince that much aid was actually being distributed.
Many in the city were concerned that desperation was starting to set in, leaving the city increasingly dangerous.
“There is no more Haiti. It is finished,” said Jean Charles Willio, a young Haitian whose mother had lost both her legs after her home collapsed on top of her, while he was standing just outside. “Total destruction,” chimed his brother, Vladimir.
Standing outside the battered buildings of Port-au-Prince international airport, with the ceaseless roar of US military relief aircraft making conversation difficult, Steve, a UN engineer who declined to give his surname, conveyed in graphic terms the terrifying power of the Haiti earthquake.
“When the quake hit, this truck was bouncing up and down like a ping-pong ball,” he said, patting the bonnet of a chunky 4x4 all-terrain vehicle.
“When I turned to look at the shanty town [beside my house], it was gone.”
The co-ordination efforts for relief were hampered by the destruction of the headquarters of the UN’s 9,000-strong peacekeeping mission with at least 55 UN staff feared dead.
The US was leading the aid efforts. An aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, arrived off Port-au-Prince and up to 10,000 personnel were being deployed.
Robert Gates, US defence secretary, said he had no idea how long the troops would stay in theatre and how much the operation would cost.
“It looks to me like a fairly long-term undertaking for the international community and the US as part of that and as a principal player.”
Additional reporting by Andrew Jack in London, Daniel Dombey in Washington and Harvey Morris in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.
Disaster teams arrive in Haiti
By Harvey Morris in New York and Benedict Mander in Caracas