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Haiti is Waiting

As we all watch the devastating news from Haiti, we’re reminded how very fragile life is for all of us but even more so for the children, women and men who live in countries already damanged by histories of occupation and IMF debt

On a White House organized call this afternoon, Tim Callaghan, senior regional adviser, Latin America and Caribbean from USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and Col. Buck Elton, Commander, Special Operations Command South Haiti repeated over and over again that all efforts were being coordinated with the UN and the Haitian government and highlighted the difficulty in managing air lifts of the massive amount of aid needed through an airport with limited capacity even before the air control tower and terminal were condemned following the earthquake.

Yet reports are now filtering out of dissatisfaction with the control of the airport by the US DOD.

Flights seeking permission to land continuously circle the airport, which is small, damaged and with 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 of those flights are for the United States military. Their priorities are to secure the country. Ours are to feed. We have got to get those priorities in sync.”

And while Nan Buzard, of the American Red Cross told the Guardian “We are all going crazy,”  Medecins Sans Frontieres appealled on their website:

Priority must be given immediately to planes carrying lifesaving equipment and medical personnel.

Despite guarantees, given by the United Nations and the US Defense Department, an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, and was  re-routed to Samana, in Dominican Republic. All material from the cargo is now being sent by truck from Samana, but this has added a 24-hour delay for the arrival of the hospital.

On the White House call, when asked about MSF flights, Col Elton said one was scheduled to land this afternoon but I have not been able to get confirmation from MSF that this actually happened and that MSF flights are getting the priority they require.

As Der Speigel noted today, flights from Homestead AFB outside Miami of aid were delayed several hours yesterday while the secret service shut down operations so that Vice President Biden could arrive to “thank the rescue workers and to pose for photos with them.”  (h/t B)

The questions are even beginning to appear in US media with Elizabeth Cohen, CNN’s medical correspondent, reporting this evening on Newsroom that an American field hospital was expected to open several days ago and still has not opened. She said that some doctors on the ground are asking why the Israelis were able to open a field hospital yesterday while the US still has not managed to deliver the same.

I asked the officials on the press call about activities outside Port au Prince after viewing the following report and the response was that efforts are being directed based on requests of the Haitian government. It’s clearly impossible from here to judge how effective that cooperation is – and whether the Haitian government has the capacity to adequately represent the interests of their citizens at the moment.

Meanwhile, the need remains extreme and donations are needed. Medecins Sans Frontieres always does amazing work and Wyclef Jean’s foundation Yele Haiti has a grassroots focus that will aim support to the people who need it most.

But along with cash donations, there’s also a need for pressure to help address the circumstances that led to the weak infrastructure that made the Haitian people so vulnerable to this week’s earthquake. One of the ways you can help is to contact your representatives and the White House insisting on debt relief for Haiti. Jubiliee USA and other NGOs are worried by suggestions that reconstruction will be tied to the same IMF debt policies as the past:

The Network also reacted with dismay to news today that the IMF is planning to offer a $100 million loan to Haiti through its Extended Credit Facility (formerly the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility).

“Haiti desperately needs money delivered quickly, but the last thing Haiti needs right now is more debt. Loans for disaster relief are totally inappropriate. The international community cannot possibly expect Haiti to pay back a loan for emergency relief in the wake of this disaster,” said Neil Watkins, Executive Director of Jubilee USA.

Jubilee USA called on the Obama administration to take three specific steps as part of its comprehensive response to the Haiti earthquake: (1) Provide massive assistance for relief and reconstruction in the form of grants, not loans; (2) Cancel the rest of Haiti’s debt; and (3) Provide Temporary Protective Status to Haitians living in the US.

Another way you can help is to participate in The HipHop Caucus public conference call planned for Tuesday night in conjunction with their Help Haiti network. You can join and rsvp for the call here.

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Siun is a proud Old Town resident who shares her home with two cats and a Great Pyrenees. She’s worked in media relations and on the net since before the www, led the development of a corporate responsibility news service, and knows what a mult box is thanks to Nico. When not swimming in the Lake, she leads a team working on sustainability tools.

Email: media dot firedoglake at gmail dot com