Friday, January 15, 2010

Continuing Coverage of the Haiti Relief Efforts

The damage is widespread and efforts to provide relief are underway despite the serious obstacles that start with just how exactly all the material and equipment is going to get into Haiti.
Military and aid groups began to encounter huge obstacles getting relief into the country, less than two days after the earthquake killed an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 people. U.S. military specialists reestablished communications at the Port-au-Prince airport, but a lack of fuel and a crammed tarmac prompted the Haitian government to halt incoming flights. While one airport runway was usable, air-traffic control was limited, able to handle only four aircraft at a time, logistics companies said.
The quake also damaged Haiti's main port in Port-au-Prince. The port has "collapsed and is not operational," said Maersk Line's Mary Ann Kotlarich.
The disarray at the port stands to be a major obstacle to the relief effort, as the U.S. Navy and other ships carrying supplies have nowhere to dock. Numerous maritime companies are trying to devise stop-gap solutions, but nothing is in place yet.
Some reports indicate that thousands of Haitians have been buried in a mass grave, and many thousands more remain buried in the rubble. The situation is grim, and those responding to the crisis are facing an extremely difficult situation where the national government is basically non-existent; the Haitian national police is missing in action even as the Port au Prince police are trying to round up the remains of those killed and dropping them off at the overburdened morgue. One of the priorities will be to assist local authorities in accepting, identifying, and treating the remains of those killed, which disaster mortuary teams from the US are preparing to do. Many states are engaged in their own relief efforts, including  Texas.

Moreover, it's going to be up to the NGOs and various countries, particularly the US, to get basic services up and running. That means that the US Marines and US Army soldiers are going to be doing quite a bit of the heavy lifting and coordinating with other countries that are preparing to send assistance.

Among their top priorities will be to get the port infrastructure to a point where they can accept shipping with the necessary equipment and relief supplies in sufficient quantities.

Donations continue pouring in from all over, and one of the easiest ways to donate is to text messages on mobile phones to any number of charities, including the American Red Cross:

Haitians are already complaining about the lack of aid workers to assist in the relief efforts.
While UN trucks patrol the streets handing out emergency biscuits and water-purification tablets, many residents complain that government and international relief workers seem unevenly dispersed.
“It seems that they are hiding,” says Paul Cormier, who runs an orphanage.
Assistance is pouring in from all over the world, but the distribution of aid and movement of aid workers, doctors, and rescue workers, have been stymied so far by the complete lack of infrastructure left in the wake of Tuesday's earthquake. Cellphone networks are still down, crippling crucial communication, and many roads are blocked by rubble or people left homeless.
"It's easy to wholesale [relief materials] to the ports," former Secretary of State Colin Powell told CNN, "but how do you retail it out?"
It takes a virtual military operation to provide the kind of relief effort necessary, and that kind of manpower takes time to get on location even in the best of circumstances. Haiti's infrastructure and government capabilities were woeful to begin with, which means that aid workers will essentially be starting from scratch to provide everything necessary to those affected. For now, many Haitians are having to rely on each other to get through this most trying time.

Catholic Charities has donated $5 million towards the relief efforts. New York National Guard is prepared to fly relief efforts.

Those charities will likely direct funds to medical supplies and relief to provide basic sanitation and basic medications to prevent the spread of diseases that result from lack of sanitation, including cholera and diaharea.  In fact, the health situation was so precarious before the quake, that experts expect to see a surge in cases of measles and other preventable diseases because of a low rate of vaccination:
“The health system has been eliminated, water and sanitation entirely knocked out,” Kirsch said in an interview today. “The chance of them recovering even to the low level that they were before is almost zero.”
No Basic Care
Half of the children in Haiti are unvaccinated and just 40 percent of the population had access to basic health care before the crisis, according to the Geneva-based WHO.
The USS Carl Vinson is now on station off the coast of Haiti. It will provide humanitarian relief by shipping supplies by helicopter, and it will also help provide air traffic control functions. The USS Bataan amphibious assault carrier and her task force (USS Carter Hall and USS Fort McHenry) are on the way, and can provide helicopter support as well as utilize Landing Craft Air Cushions (LCAC) to ferry in heavy equipment to clear debris. Also, the USS Gunston Hall was diverted after the 7.0 magnitude quake from a planned mission to the African coast. The Bataan carries 3,200 Marines and will be critical to providing security and stability to relief efforts.

George Clooney is likely to host a telethon to raise money for Haiti relief efforts, which would air on MTV on January 22. The details are still being worked out.

Here's an ongoing and developing list of nations providing assistance. There remains a paucity of countries from the Middle East that are providing aid. Besides Israel, only Iran, the UAE, and Turkey are providing any kind of assistance as of today. Lebanon promises that it would provide aid and called on its expat community to donate.

Here's a bit of good news. It looks like the weather will continue to hold out for the next few days as there are no indications of rain in the forecasts. So, while temps will get up into the 90s for the next week, rain isn't going to be a problem. That reduces the concern about certain diseases spreading, but it also means that efforts to collect and bury the remains of those killed is paramount.

President Obama has ordered up to 10,000 troops be sent to Haiti to provide aid in the relief efforts.
The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, said a hospital ship and more helicopters would be sent in the coming days, and 9-10,000 troops would be in or off Haiti by Monday.
The US Air Force has reopened the airport, bringing in the necessary equipment to get relief flights going, but there was some frustration that they weren't called upon sooner to prevent a logjam forcing the airport's closure at a critical juncture.
By daybreak, a 115-person Air Force team, which flew in five C-17 cargo planes of communications and air-traffic management equipment overnight, had undone most of the logjam. A hodgepodge group of fewer than a dozen planes were still lined up along the airport's concourse.
A steady stream of flights arrived and departed without difficulty even during the pre-dawn hours, the first time the airport was able to accept nighttime flights since the quake.
Despite the progress, members of the Air Force team – the 621st Contingency Response Wing, one of two Air Force units specifically designed to open distressed airstrips – expressed frustration that they had not been sent earlier to manage the flow of aid into the airport, saying Thursday's flight freeze may have been avoided.
"We would have liked to have been there a little bit sooner to unclog the airfield," said Col. Brian O'Connor, the wing's commander. "It makes me cringe, it's so disorderly."

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