The US military’s takeover of emergency operations in Haiti has triggered a diplomatic row with countries and aid agencies furious at having flights redirected.
By Rory Carroll and Daniel Nasaw
Brazil and France lodged an official protest with Washington after US military aircraft were given priority at Port-au-Prince’s congested airport, forcing many non-US flights to divert to the Dominican Republic. (Image – Port au Prince)
Brasilia warned it would not relinquish command of UN forces in Haiti, and Paris complained the airport had become a US “annexe”, exposing a brewing power struggle amid the global relief effort. The Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières also complained about diverted flights.
The row prompted Haiti’s president, René Préval, to call for calm. “This is an extremely difficult situation,” he told AP. “We must keep our cool to co-ordinate and not throw accusations at each other.”
The squabbling came amid signs that aid was reaching some of the hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need of water, food and medicine six days after a magnitude 7 earthquake levelled the capital, killing more than 100,000, according to Haitian authorities. Snip
The Haitian government has established 14 food distribution points and aid groups have opened five emergency health centres. Water-purification units – a priority to avert disease and dehydration – were arriving.
But with aftershocks jolting the ruins, bloated bodies in the street and severe shortages of water and food many survivors had had enough: an exodus trekked on foot out of the city to rural areas.
The security situation worsened, with some looters fighting with rocks and clubs for rice, clothing and other goods scavenged from debris. In places the embryonic aid machine did not even try to organise distribution. Aid workers tossed out food packets to crowds and US helicopters took off as soon as they offloaded supplies, prompting scrambles in which the fittest and strongest prevailed.
“They are not identifying the people who need the water. The sick and the old have no chance,” Estime Pierre Deny, hoping to fill a plastic container with water amid a scrum of people, told Reuters. Snip
Flights seeking permission to land continuously circle the airport, which is damaged and has only a single runway, rankling several governments and aid agencies. “There are 200 flights going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti,” Jarry Emmanuel, air logistics officer for the UN’s World Food Programme, told the New York Times. “But most flights are for the US military. Their priorities are to secure the country. Ours are to feed. We have got to get those priorities in sync.” Snip
Brazil, which saw its leadership of the UN peacekeeping mission as a calling card of its burgeoning influence, was also indignant when three flights were not allowed to land. The foreign ministry reportedly asked Hillary Clinton to grant Brazil priority over chartered flights. Nelson Jobim, the defence minister, said Brazil would not relinquish command duties and suggested it, not Washington, would continue to lead UN forces. Analysts said it was vital command issues be resolved.
The Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières complained about flights with medical staff and equipment which were redirected to the Dominican Republic. “We are all going crazy,” said Nan Buzard, of the American Red Cross.