Benedict Mander

Benedict Mander reports

from Port-au-Prince

Eyewitness in HAITI January 2010

Post-earthquake chaos in Haiti
A massive relief effort limps into gear

The world’s attempt to aid Haitians stumbles against extraordinary difficulties of transport and communications

Jan 21st 2010 | PORT-AU-PRINCE
From The Economist print edition


IN ONE of the ramshackle tent cities that have sprouted in open spaces all across Port-au-Prince, Isa Longchamp, a dishevelled and dejected eight-year-old girl, starts to whimper. After losing her mother when the Haitian capital was devastated by the earthquake of January 12th, she is now struggling to survive. Batted aside when hundreds of desperate victims of the disaster swarmed around aid workers handing out a batch of supplies earlier in the day, she is still hungry. She depends on the charity of her new neighbours. But at least she is alive, and fairly healthy.
Her home now is a precarious lean-to made from a couple of stained, fraying sheets tied to some sticks. She shares it with what remains of her family. Not far away other earthquake survivors wail in agony in a makeshift hospital. Field surgery is performed with rudimentary equipment and morphine is scarce. Many of the injured have died because of a lack of medical supplies.
Like hundreds of thousands of other Haitians, she is patiently waiting for a relief operation that has proved agonisingly slow to get going. Officials at the World Food Programme said that a week after the earthquake, 200,000 people had received ration packs of high-nutrition biscuits. American helicopters, operating from an aircraft-carrier offshore, dropped small quantities of supplies. Canadian troops, the first of some 2,000, arrived in Jacmel, a badly affected town south-west of Port-au-Prince. But aid has so far amounted to “a drop in the ocean” of what people need, admitted Elisabeth Byrs, the spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
That is partly because of the huge scale of the disaster—a third of the population of 9m were affected and about 1m are homeless. But the main reason was that the earthquake knocked out both the institutions and the sinews of transport and communication on which aid agencies normally rely. So co-ordination—deciding who does what where—has been unusually slow and difficult. The rapid influx of well-meaning aid agencies that now throng the dusty remnants of Port-au-Prince has contributed to the confusion.
Haiti’s elected government is operating from a police station near the airport. The Cabinet meets there each day. But the structure of government has caved in just as completely as the presidential palace itself. The UN mission to Haiti was decapitated with the collapse of the hotel where it was based. Its 49 confirmed dead included Hédi Annabi, the experienced mission chief, his Brazilian deputy and the Canadian police chief. Another 300 UN personnel, including local staff and peacekeepers, are still unaccounted for.
Brazil, which has led the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti since 2004, lost 18 soldiers—the biggest loss of life for its armed forces since the second world war. The Haitian police force, which the UN has been training, lost around half its strength in Port-au-Prince, according to Ms Byrs. Some of the many NGOs already working in Haiti were also impeded by quake damage. Oxfam, a British charity, had 100 staff there. Two were killed, and their office and warehouse of supplies were both reduced to rubble. The UN has dispatched 50 civilian officials to Haiti. The Security Council called for 1,500 more police officers and 2,000 extra peacekeeping troops (Brazil quickly offered 800).
An even bigger bottleneck has been transport. American troops took charge of the airport, and quickly tripled its capacity to 100 flights a day (and to 153 flights by January 19th). France and Brazil initially complained that their flights were turned away while a landing slot was found for Hillary Clinton, the American secretary of state. Half of the ten flights that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), a French medical charity, tried to land in Port-au-Prince were diverted, and with them some 85 tonnes of medical and relief supplies. But France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the UN later praised the huge American effort, and Brazil’s foreign ministry said co-ordination had improved.
By January 19th more than 11,000 American troops, marines and sailors had arrived in Haiti (another 4,000 were on their way). They were trying to open transport links, as well as giving out some aid. They were due to open an airport at Jacmel on January 21st, and were also to use an airbase at San Isidro in the Dominican Republic. They hoped to get the port working again in “a week or two”. Meanwhile, the UN was using minor ports at Cap-Haïtien and Gonaïves. Supplies were also coming in through the Dominican Republic.
The next set of difficulties lie in getting the aid out to those who need it. The main arteries in Port-au-Prince are blocked by rubble. Landslides have severed roads to outlying towns and villages. This week petrol all but ran out. The UN has designated four sites in the capital as distribution hubs for water and food, and 18 local depots. But this network is not yet fully functioning—hence the resort to air-drops. Adding to the problems, telephones and the internet have worked only patchily if at all.
The specialised rescue teams that flooded into Haiti in record numbers managed to extract more than 120 people from the ruins. The problem was that the lack of medical supplies meant that many more among the survivors died from their injuries. This carnage gradually subsided. On January 15th Partners in Health, an American NGO which runs 12 hospitals in rural Haiti, took over the capital’s General Hospital. Foreign teams set up several field hospitals. But some medicines remained in short supply. An MSF doctor was reduced to buying a saw in a market to carry out amputations of gangrenous limbs. The USNS Comfort, a vast American hospital ship, arrived on January 20th.
In most natural disasters, points out Graham Mackay of Oxfam, by day four the aid agencies expect to have set up distribution systems for food, water and temporary shelter. After the Asian tsunami, Oxfam’s first flight left Britain with supplies within three to four days. That also happened this time. The difference was the difficulty of getting them into the hands of desperate Haitians.
It seemed, too, as if some of the lessons from other disasters that could have been applied in Haiti were being ignored. One is that dead bodies are not necessarily an immediate threat to the health of the living. A Haitian official said that some 70,000 bodies had been hastily buried in mass graves. In a society that places great store on venerating its dead, that will add to the trauma of the survivors.
Too dazed to riot
Another lesson is that survivors are generally too dazed and weak to riot. An exaggerated fear of violent disorder seemed to be another reason why aid was slow. A few hundred desperate people scavenged in the rubble in a downtown shopping street. There were reports of gang leaders who escaped when the jail collapsed resurfacing in shanty towns from which they had been flushed out by UN troops in 2006. But generally Port-au-Prince was calm. Haitians were helping each other. Many crowded onto buses to seek refuge with relatives in rural areas.
Brazil’s ambassador to Haiti, Igor Kipman, said that the UN peacekeeping force had security “perfectly under control” and did not need the help of the American troops. The Americans, too, stressed that their job was logistics. But the potential for friction with Brazil remained. Barack Obama’s administration is “trying to pull off a delicate balancing act by offering massive humanitarian relief while avoiding giving the impression that they are taking over Haiti,” says Daniel Erikson of the Inter-American Dialogue, a think-tank in Washington, DC. The build-up of troops may have caused short-term delays in aid deliveries, but will pay off if they quickly open transport routes without which nothing would reach the needy anyway. This relief operation was always going to be unusually slow and chaotic. But Haitians cannot afford for it to remain so.

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
Published: January 21 2010 18:56 | Last updated: January 21 2010 18:56

Tempers flare in Port-au-Prince: until money flows open up, Haitian groups abroad are looking for other ways to assist

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.
Haiti’s economy has been heavily reliant for years on remittances, which account for a fifth of its gross domestic product. Since most of the country was devastated by the earthquake, those funds are even more critical, but the infrastructure collapse has scuppered attempts by those overseas to donate.
That pressure began, in theory, to ease on Thursday when banks began to re­open in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.
The reality is still fraught with problems. Katleen Felix, a co-ordinator for Fonkoze, a US-based microfinance agency that serves Haiti, said the country was facing a potential liquidity crisis as the central bank was unable to get cash to branches. Although about half of Fonkoze’s 42 branches were operational, she said, the central bank’s vault was sealed shut and they would soon run out of currency unless it were imported from abroad.
Louis Danes Mackendy, who had been doing manual labour at Port-au-Prince’s airport for the past three days, but has yet to be paid.
“Finding work is a problem but finding money is a bigger problem,” he said on Thursday. “If you have family abroad you’re much better off. But we have been unable to get any money from [our relatives] yet.”

Paradoxically, interest in helping has never been higher. According to Fonkoze, post-crisis remittances are triple the level they were during Haiti’s hurricane-induced natural disasters in the past decade.
There are 1m Haitians living in the US, 600,000 in the Dominican Republic, 50,000 in Canada and 40,000 in France. Haiti received $1.2bn in remittances in 2008, according to World Bank figures. Remittances were down during the past two years as a result of the economic crisis, but Manuel Orozco, a migration and remittance analyst at Inter-American Dialogue, expects them to double in 2010.
However, if the Haitian central bank cannot get money flowing through the economy, Mr Orozco said, the country could see a surge in commodity prices and inflation. Security also remains a serious obstacle, with looters and gangs threatening stability.

Until money flows open up, Haitian communities are looking for other ways to help their stricken relatives. Brooklyn, New York, boasts the largest Haitian enclave outside Haiti, and its Bedford Haitian community centre has become a hub of activity where the carloads keep coming with cases of water, cans of beans, clothing and rice. The small store-front office usually helps residents with literacy and immigration problems but has emerged as a gathering place for people seeking to help and console worried neighbours.
“It’s just been so hard,” said Medjine Bataille, whose 50-year-old aunt was recovering from a stroke in a Port-au-Prince hospital when it collapsed and killed her. “People I don’t know become my family.”
Ms Bataille had word about her aunt from a cousin who had travelled to Haiti to bring her back to the US. He was in hospital with her when the earthquake struck but could not rescue her once the ceiling started to crumble.
Brooklyn residents said that Nostrand Avenue, the teeming stretch that runs through the heart of “little Haiti”, has seemed eerily quiet. Shopkeepers showed a quiet defiance, posting signs emblazoned with “Help Haiti” and “Worse than Katrina”, and clusters of candles that read “R.I.P.” sat along the sidewalk.
In France the Haitian community is distraught but the initial sense of helplessness has given way to frustration. “We usually help organise programmes in Haiti but, since the earthquake, we’ve been overwhelmed by calls for help and advice on how to make contact with Haiti,” said one volunteer at the Collectif Haiti de France, a Paris-based forum. “The main problem is the absence of links between Haiti and France at the moment.”
Some phone links have recently been re-established but in the days after the earthquake, most Haitians in France turned to relatives living in Canada and the US for news of their family in the former French colony.
Haitians living in France have also berated the government for its rigidity in granting residency and work permits which have made it hard for them to bring over relatives.
Moniker Desgranges, a pastor at St Christophe in the Val-d’Oise said he had many calls from anxious Haitians who had been unable to bring their children over to live with them because of immigration difficulties.
“Right now the situation in Haiti is desperate. We cannot get anything across because of the breakdown in infrastructure - there are no means of making bank transfers or anything like that. Everything is in the hands of the aid agencies yet people living just 3km from the capital are dying of hunger.”
Bernard Kouchner, foreign minister said the adoption process for French families adopting 276 Haitian children would be accelerated but at the same time warned that care was needed to avoid accusations of child kidnapping.
Back in Brooklyn, Haitians have not been idle despite being unable to communicate directly with their loved ones at home. Last Friday night more than 60 people filled Sista’s Place, a jazz café in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighbourhood, to raise $9,000 that will be used to deliver fresh water or purifying tablets to Haiti.
“We need to do something ourselves,” said Viola Plummer, a former city official who is sceptical of donating through organisations such as American Red Cross. “We need to go there and give them what we have amassed.”

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
Published: January 20 2010 19:26 | Last updated: January 21 2010 14:09

A US helicopter prepares to land with supplies in Port-au-Prince

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.
With direct access by road from the capital, Port-au-Prince, made impossible by the natural disaster that shook the Caribbean island on January 12 and killed 75,000 people, according to current United Nations estimates, it was not until this Tuesday that mass supplies started to be delivered.
“God bless America!” shouted Antoine Frantz, 26, a volunteer forming part of a human chain unloading crates of food and water for Jacmel from under the grey helicopter’s whirring rotor blades. “We are a poor country, this is a great help for the Haitian people. I want to thank the American army and especially President Obama.”
With no other global institution able to project such logistical resources so fast, the 5,000 US military personnel deployed to the island – with a similar amount expected in coming weeks – have received a warm welcome virtually everywhere they have gone.
But they have had to tread carefully considering Washington’s previously aggressive interventions in the half-island nation. The US occupied Haiti from 1915-1934, threatened an invasion in 1994 to convince the then military rulers to step down and, a decade later, 1,000 marines formed the vanguard of a UN intervention force following a rebellion against the president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
This week, in a bid not to stir memories and destabilise the fragile security situation, Washington has repeatedly stressed the humanitarian nature of its mission. “We’ve been given orders to stick strictly to humanitarian assistance, and leave the security situation to the UN peacekeepers,” one soldier said. “That’s their job, not ours.”
In places such as Jacmel, from where the two-hour journey to the capital is now 12 hours and only possible in 4x4 vehicles, the US military says it has made a significant difference. “We haven’t had any problems yet,” said Major Will Klumpp, a public affairs officer. “When US troops arrive, affected Haitians have generally been glad to see us, and to know that someone is there to help.”
Both the UN and aid agencies, which in the past have criticised post-disaster military operations, corroborate this view. “These helicopters are the most valuable piece of equipment we have,” said one aid worker, James Rankin, with Builders without Borders. “Most people don’t realise that the footprint of this disaster is a thousand times bigger than 9/11. It’s like [Hurricane] Katrina all over again, when everywhere outside of New Orleans was just forgotten,” he said.
“These people can’t wait,” said Alejandro Lopez-Chicheri, the World Food Programme’s regional communications director, of the disaster victims outside the capital.
“It’s thanks to the US military that we can feed them now,” he said on the edge of the small runway in Port-au-Prince, with a backdrop of a row of C130 transport aircraft unloading supplies on one side and a constant flow of Seahawk helicopters being loaded with boxes to be flown into remote communities on the other.
Mr Lopez-Chicheri said the logistical support of the US military had enabled them to hugely boost their aid distribution, with emergency ration packs containing nutrition-rich biscuits now distributed to more than 200,000 people.
Even so, about a third of the impoverished country’s 9m population were affected by the earthquake, some 1m of whom have been left homeless.
And, despite Washington’s responsibilities elsewhere in the world, the US military is settling in for the long-haul.
“We will stay as long as the Haitian government asks us to stay,” Maj Klump said.
Such an attitude goes down well in towns such as Jacmel, where people reject provocative statements from leaders such as Hugo Chávez of Venezuela that the US is perpetrating an invasion of Haiti.
“The Haitian government can’t do anything for us: it has no money, it is not serious, it is corrupt. What we have, we got by ourselves,” said Mr Frantz on Jacmel’s runway. “I want the US government to own our territory.”

 

Battle to survive amid the grief as reality sinks in

By Benedict Mander in Port-au-Prince

Published: January 19 2010 02:00 | Last updated: January 19 2010 02:00

Somewhere under the ruins of the colonial-era Roman Catholic cathedral in Port-au-Prince is thought to lie the body of Monsignor Charles Benoit, the Haitian capital's vicar-general.

As a seven-member French rescue team walked away from the rubble yesterday, grimly shaking their heads at onlookers' inquisitive expressions, a junior priest looked lost.

"What will I do now?" he asked, with a look of emptiness on his sweatdrenched brow. "I've been abandoned."

Six days after the catastrophic earthquake hit Haiti, killing tens of thousands of people including Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, an air of despondency hung over the cathedral. Several decomposing bodies were still visible, pinned beneath the fallen stonework.

Such grim scenes bear testament to the growing feeling of resignation enveloping the battered nation as the reality of the disaster begins to sink in. It is interwoven, however, with the realisation that life must go on.

Sitting outside the cathedral yesterday, an old woman who called herself Mani was more upbeat than the dejected priest, but only because she had decided it was not worth wasting energy grieving for what could not be undone.

"Monsignor Benoit's heart is still with us. We must go on," she said with resolve. "With every passing day, we have to spend more time looking forwards."

In the main avenue that slices through Cité Soleil, a slum district not far from the cathedral, the fight for survival was becoming physical yesterday.

Hundreds of people of all ages jostled around a United Nations lorry as aid workers, guarded byBrazilian soldiers, distributed food.

The protection was necessary. As it became increasingly obvious that there would not be enough to go round, trouble flared. Only aggressive action by the armed guards managed to bring calm.

Jean Rousseau, a watching policeman, feared that sooner or later matters could run out of control if sufficient aid was not delivered. He said: "Many people have been left with nothing, and without aid they may resort to violence if they cannot feed themselves."

Natalie, a forlorn young girl who had tried to grab some of the food, was one of the unlucky ones - swatted aside by her more muscular competitors. "It's not just for me. My mother needs food and help - both her legs are broken," she said. Farther up the road, another group armed with buckets and plastic bags, crowded around a burst pipe that was gushing jets of water into the air.

In Cité Soleil, where more than half the buildings collapsed, almost every survivor has a miraculous tale to tell.

Alex, a young man, said he was on the fourth floor of a school. "I was stunned almost immediately," he said. "A while later I woke up on the side of the street. I don't think anyone on the floors below me survived."

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
Published: January 12 2010 23:06 | Last updated: January 14 2010 13:04

Traumatised Haitians slept in parks and streets, fearing aftershocks from the catastrophic earthquake that flattened homes and government buildings and buried countless people.
There were no signs yet of organised operations to rescue those trapped in debris or remove bodies. Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, said on Thursday that the administration stood ready with other international partners to help rebuild the country after a calamity that had affected 3m people and would cause “tens of thousands of casualties”.
The first disaster relief teams arrived in Haiti on Wednesday as the country’s president said a huge earthquake that struck his impoverished Caribbean island state had overwhelmed its fragile medical infrastructure.
As eyewitnesses reported bodies being piled in the shattered streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince, Jean-Max Bellrive, prime minister, told CNN that “well over” 100,000 might have been killed.
The United Nations, which lost an unknown number of peacekeepers and other staff in the earthquake, said it could give no accurate estimate of overall casualties. John Holmes, UN chief humanitarian co-ordinator, said the disaster affected about one in three of Haiti’s 9m population.
 woman sits among rubble in Port-au-Prince
A woman sits among rubble in Port-au-Prince after the worst earthquake in 200 years

Desperate Haitians were attempting to gain access to a UN base for medical and other assistance, Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, told the General Assembly.
A Chinese relief team was the first to fly into the city’s damaged airport on Wednesday, with two US teams due to join them later in the day to help with rescue efforts after Haiti’s worst earthquake in 200 years.
René Préval, Haiti’s president, described the scene in the capital as “unimaginable”. “Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed,” he told the Miami Herald. “There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them.”
The 7.0 magnitude quake and several large aftershocks also destroyed the UN peacekeeping headquarters at the Christopher Hotel. Between 50 and 100 people were inside the building when it collapsed. Troops from the 3,000-strong Brazilian-led UN force in the capital were combing the rubble of the hotel for survivors.
Mr Préval, appealing for urgent medical aid, told CNN that Haiti did not have the medical capacity to provide hospital beds for the victims. US state department officials said there was still no reliable estimate of casualties but noted that the situation was “very severe”.
Reuters television footage from Port-au-Prince showed scenes of chaos with people sobbing and appearing dazed amid the rubble.
A large number of people from the UN mission remain unaccounted for. At least 10 Brazilians and three Jordanians died. Hedi Annabi, the UN mission chief in Haiti, who had been holding a meeting with a Chinese police delegation at the headquarters, was among those missing, as were his deputy, Luiz Carlos da Costa, and the eight visiting Chinese.
ap of HaitiPresident Préval said he had not slept since the earthquake. Other people slept in the streets because they were afraid to sleep in their homes, he added.
Robert Gates, US defence secretary, cancelled his trip to Asia to focus on the crisis. Earlier in the day, Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, announced she would be returning to Washington from Hawaii, the first stop on a planned nine-day Asia tour. “We are facing a disaster of unknown magnitude,” she told Reuters.
Mr Ban on Wednesday spoke with Bill Clinton, the former US president who is his special representative to Haiti, on co-ordinating the international response.
“We are facing a major humanitarian emergency,” Mr Ban said. The quake had a “devastating impact” on Port-au-Prince but the rest of the country was largely unaffected, he said.
Alain Le Roy, head of UN peacekeeping, said international forces in Haiti would help to maintain law and order by securing the port, airport and principal buildings.
The UN immediately released $10m (£6.1m, €6.8m) of its emergency disaster fund to start the recovery operation. Edmond Mulet, Mr Le Roy’s deputy, was due to travel to Haiti last night. Rescue workers on the ground described a city plunged into darkness overnight, hindering the initial relief efforts that were also affected by destruction of the city’s medical infrastructure. A French official told the AFP news agency that about 200 people were missing in the collapsed Hotel Montana, which is popular with tourists.
The international community quickly rallied round Haiti, which, as the poorest country in the western hemisphere, is heavily dependent on foreign aid. The Inter-American Development Bank said it would provide $200,000 in immediate aid, while the World Bank, Médecins Sans Frontières, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Oxfam all pledged help.
Barack Obama, the US president, pledged immediate aid, with the US Coast Guard sending cutters and aircraft to offer humanitarian assistance.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.