Violence, After Shocks Keep Aid From Haitians Around 12,000 U.S. military personnel are on the ground in Haiti alongside aid groups trying to dispense food and medical attention. But eruptions of violence, aftershocks and finger-pointing have bottle-necked relief efforts. NPR's Amy Walters, who is on the scene in Port-au-Prince, witnesses the struggle.
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Violence, After Shocks Keep Aid From Haitians

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Violence, After Shocks Keep Aid From Haitians

Violence, After Shocks Keep Aid From Haitians

Violence, After Shocks Keep Aid From Haitians

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Around 12,000 U.S. military personnel are on the ground in Haiti alongside aid groups trying to dispense food and medical attention. But eruptions of violence, aftershocks and finger-pointing have bottle-necked relief efforts. NPR's Amy Walters, who is on the scene in Port-au-Prince, witnesses the struggle.


This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Rebecca Roberts in Washington.

Residents in Haiti are desperate and hungry and millions are still waiting for food and medical help. Thousands of U.S. military personnel are on the ground alongside hundreds of aid groups. But eruptions of violence and earthquake aftershocks and widespread destruction and, of course, finger-pointing have slowed relief efforts.

Food, water, equipment and medical necessities are getting in but not fast enough for increasingly frustrated Haitian survivors. Today, distributing aid in Haiti.

Later in the hour, she proposed to him when they were both barely 20, creating one of Britains most famous love stories. We talk to historian Gillian Gill on the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

But first, if you want to know more about how necessities are being distributed or if youve being frustrated by the hampered aid efforts in Haiti, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is And you can join the conversation at our Web site. Go to and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

NPRs Amy Walters is in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and joins us now on the phone. Amy, I understand you woke up this morning to a pretty good-sized aftershock, a magnitude 6.1 or so. Did it do any further damage?

AMY WALTERS: Thats true, I did wake up to that this (technical difficulties) only barely, only because my colleague, Jackie Northam, actually woke me up out of bed. I dont know if its my Southern California upbringing or not. But yeah, it was quite an earthquake. When I did come out, and everybody at the hotel it seemed like was on the roof or out on the patio, out of their rooms. From what I've heard, I've talked to people working with us earlier today and went out earlier today and I've talked to our reporters who have been other places around Port-au-Prince, no one has really heard of any serious damage from this, or any injuries. A lot of people are sleeping outside already, which could contribute to that. And they are either afraid to go to their houses or they dont have any houses left to go back to.

ROBERTS: Its been eight days since the main quake, the first quake, hit. Are food and water and medical care now flowing pretty freely?

WALTERS: They are flowing. You know, I experienced - like I said, I was out earlier today and coming back to the hotel where were staying, there was quite a bit of traffic. And it was frustrating for me and our drivers. But from what I have been hearing, it's actually good news. One of the trucks that was holding us up was a big semi with a cargo crate on the back. That was actually backing into the World Vision headquarters. And another one was right across the street from Green - I'm sorry, Green Cross, I believe it is, another aid group. And of course theres much more traffic surrounding gas stations, of vehicles trying to get from place to place.

And from what I have been hearing, a lot of that traffic is due to aid actually getting out and around the city. Like I said, there is traffic and the streets are by no means fully cleared. So that there is (unintelligible) problem and the aid getting where it needs to get, plus there are security problems and other issues. I know that the U.S. teams - the U.S. groups have often had to have security going with them to certain places or basically anyplace. And thats been (technical difficulties) to come by.

And the other groups have had other problems. There has been, you know - there has been - Oxfam was telling they had the wrong switch for the water container - the wrong spout for the water containers that they were using to give water to massive quantities of people camped out at a golf course; that obviously created disturbances, disagreements. They said that everything has worked out all right in the end, but things can get a little tense.

ROBERTS: And what are you hearing from Haitians?

WALTERS: Well, it really varies. I mean, like I said, some spots are - I think it was like two days or three day - two days ago that I started seeing the first water trucks and food distribution, probably three days ago, food distribution by a U.N. truck and a water truck from the Dominican Republic. Both of the neighborhoods I went to where I saw those, they said it was the first aid they'd seen.

But today, I went to a different neighborhood, the neighborhood of (unintelligible). Its a lower middle class neighborhood. Its one of the hill neighborhoods that there are so many of surrounding Port-au-Prince, many of which Ive heard from people in the center of town arent getting the same sort of aid that the people in the center of town are getting. And that proved to be true when I was talking to basically a neighborhood leader there. He was basically organizing the neighborhood on his own with the help of his other neighbors (technical difficulties) said they hadnt seen one aid truck. They hadnt seen any medicine, they hadnt seen any food, and they hadnt seen any water.

He says that the neighborhood has been organized for a few (technical difficulties) prior to the earthquake, for people who get sick in the neighborhood, people who have problems, they look after each other. Thats part of the community culture. So they had some money and they had some supplies, but let me tell you, it wasnt much. He showed us a box of medical supplies and it couldnt have been more than one foot by one foot. I think it had a couple of aspirin, a couple of Band-Aids and that was about it. It really wasnt going to do the trick.

People that we saw in the neighborhood had fractures, had broken limbs. One person we saw was on an improvised stretcher. I guess they had managed to get him to the hospital, but you know, the hospital has so many people to see, they try to get people in and out as quickly as possible. He had been treated at least for the time being and they carried him back on what they were using his stretcher. What it was was actually a poolside chaise lounge - one of the ones that many people have by their pools as they like to relax on the summertime. That was their stretcher.

ROBERTS: And have you being able to get a sense of, even further afield, outside Port-au-Prince, whats happening in some of the smaller, most distant cities?

WALTERS: I have. I road, took a trip yesterday with my colleague, NPR correspondent Greg Allen out to Jacmel, which is quite a ways from Port-au-Prince, especially with the roads as they are now. What it is is (technical difficulties) south. You have to go out west, past Leogane, another of Haitis larger towns and then over the series of mountains that are pretty tall and the road's rather hairy, a lot of hairpin turns and no barriers keeping you from going to the other side. The road had been cleared for the most part. I mean, there was rocks and large boulders on the road, but the scary thing wasnt as much that but large half-moon-shaped cracks in the pavement that sunk down about three to four inches. And it just looked like a landslide waiting to happen, to be honest with you.

And the number of people that are leaving Port-au-Prince for the provinces, its just - its very scary. When we were in Jacmel, we went to the bus stop. They said that eight buses had been there already. They were expecting probably 10 more by the end of the day. And they just keep going back and forth. And Im just not entirely sure how long those roads are going to keep up. Once we were in Jacmel, the situation there was a little bit better than Port-au-Prince. They dont have as much damage. Its a little bit less, but there were some really serious problems. One of the schools that they had there - we talked to a neighbor who had a house right next to the school. Her house as well as the school was crushed. She was saying there were thousands. I have heard mixed reports, many of which are saying closer to the hundreds. But many, many students were killed in that. And, you know, there was other damage around the city.

Jacmel is an interesting place. It's actually a bit of an artistic sort of village. There's a lot of expats - sorry, expats, and it's famous for its French Colonial architecture. It's actually very reminiscent of New Orleans. But a lot of that downtown area, that really quaint and charming area downtown, was actually just turned into rubble.

One street was just bricks. You couldn't walk through it. The building had completely collapsed, and the bricks that had helped hold it up were just covering the street. It was impassable.

ROBERTS: NPR's Amy Walters, on the phone from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Stay safe, Amy. Thank you so much for joining us.

WALTERS: Thank you.

ROBERTS: We are talking about the status update of aid to Haiti, why it hasnt been faster, what some of the obstacles are to getting it where it needs to go, and we're taking your calls at 800-9898-8255. Let's hear from Katie in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Katie, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

KATIE (Caller): Hi, thank you.


KATIE: My question is: I'm - this is my first time donating. I'm a student. And I was very frustrated at, of course, the time that it took. My first question is why the United States doesn't have some kind of military operation to have for standby for disasters like this. It seems like we have a lot of other things that do standby.

I do remember for 9/11, we seemed to mobilize quite quickly after that happened to go overseas towards Afghanistan. I'm just wondering why we don't have something faster, and then also about the rumors that China was actually on the ground before we were. I don't know if they're true, but, I mean, if that's the case, why did that happen?

ROBERTS: Well, Katie, let's try to get you some answers about why things didn't happen faster. My guest is Ciro Ugarte. He's an advisor in disaster preparedness for the Pan American Health Organization. He joins us from his office here in Washington. Welcome to you, Ciro Ugarte.

Dr.�CIRO UGARTE (Advisor for Emergency Preparedness, Pan American Health Organization): Thank you, Rebecca. It's a pleasure...

ROBERTS: So when we hear...

Dr. UGARTE: ...(unintelligible).

ROBERTS: Welcome to you. When we hear the frustration from Haitians and from Americans who want to help - we're going to get into this more thoroughly after the break. But what do you say, in brief, to why things haven't moved as quickly as people wish they would?

Dr.�UGARTE: Well, Haiti is a sovereign country, and they have their authorities. And they have their own ways how to solve the problems, even though MINUSTAH, the United Nations, had more than 9,000 troops there already for peacekeeping operations, and most of the international organizations have their own teams on the field.

This disaster happened exactly at the center of the government and all the international coordination. And once this happened, even those organizations -we're talking about the president of a nation that lost its house, lost its office, and he didn't know where to sleep that very night of the earthquake, and also lost several relatives.

So, in that sense, there are three factors that unfortunately were not in place very quickly. First, the communication. All the communication was down. Nobody knew what was happening in Haiti for at least 72 hours. And up to now, there are several other cities around - that's around Port-au-Prince, outside of the capital of Haiti...

ROBERTS: I want to get more into the communications issues and the other stumbling blocks, but we need to take a quick break. More on the rescue effort in Haiti after this. I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERTS: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts, in Washington. Getting help to Haiti after the earthquake remains a challenge. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today that more than two million people are still struggling to get food, water and medical care.

We're looking at why it's been so hard to get aid in and around the country. We're talking to Ciro Ugarte. He's an advisor in disaster preparedness for the Pan American Health Organization.

You mentioned, Ciro Ugarte, there were three major things that had to be in place that took a little while to get there. One was communications. What are the other two?

Dr.�UGARTE: Including everything that has to come with transportation and to provide all the roads, airports, ports, et cetera.

The airport was down because the control tower of the airport was down. There was no power. There was no availability of, let's say, all the means that you need to get all the things that comes in the planes. Also, the roads were blocked. So, all the logistics.

And the third aspect was security. Security in Haiti is a big issue, and it was a big issue before the earthquake, and that's why the United Nations assigned that many soldiers there to help the Haitian authorities to maintain the peace in Haiti.

So those three aspects were not in place and, up to now, in several locations, are not in place yet. That's why the support of the U.S., including all the mobilization of the Marines under the request of the government of Haiti and the U.N., are going to help, or are helping, and are going to provide some of these aspects that we are talking about.

So the communications, the logistics and the security - those three aspects to provide any type of humanitarian aid.

ROBERTS: We've been hearing over the last week a lot from our listeners about -just questions about how this works and why there are certain obstacles.

This is a typical email from Afua(ph) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He says: I have seen people patiently waiting in their makeshift camps. I have seen people singing peacefully in the streets in spite of their dire situation. Meanwhile, I keep hearing concerns about security. Security, instead of just dropping supplies to people by any means necessary.

People were tear-gassed for looting. Please? What would you do in their shoes? Not help yourself to goods if the supplies are not getting through to your area? U.N. and the relief agencies should stop acting as if the Haitians are wild people who will attack their helpers. They're desperate, but I have not seen anything in the coverage to suggest they are ready to kill people coming to their rescue. Get the food, water and medicine to them by any means necessary, please.

Dr.�UGARTE: Exactly. And I agree with that, and I think that those two first aspects were not in place. One is the communications. You don't know where they are, how they are suffering and what are their needs, where are their priorities - especially, for example, for search and rescue in the urban areas. That is happening. Up to now, for example, only 120 people - even though that's only 120 people rescued, but even if that number is very low, it's a record for rescues after an earthquake.

But the thing is that those two aspects, that they - all the roads were blocked. So to open the roads was another aspect that was not in place.

ROBERTS: Well, we've also heard from a lot of people of why not airlift in supplies? Why not use helicopters if the roads are such an encumbrance? Why can't you, especially in the effort to get out of Port-au-Prince, drop supplies from the air?

Dr.�UGARTE: Yes, they did that in two occasions, at the beginning of the emergency, and the problem was the - all the population that was around, the (unintelligible) population, ran after the goods, and there was an increase in violence in those situations. So they stopped that because, well, the aid was not providing, well, let's say, calm to the population, but instead of that, fighting between each other.

ROBERTS: We also have an email from Claudine(ph), who asks: Why isn't the U.N. playing a better role in coordinating help in case of major disasters? It seems that every time aid comes at the wrong time, it's not what's needed, or it's wasted. We need a coordinating body with a well-rehearsed international chain of events that can be put in place with one phone call to a supervising U.N. agency. Every country would then call with what they have promised to offer, and it would be distributed rapidly and effectively every time. Do you have any answer for Claudine?

Dr.�UGARTE: Yes, the United Nations is, well, the countries' body. It's not, as I say, independent body, and they report to the countries. And the other thing is that in the Americas, there is the Pan America Health Organization, also, that is - belongs to the countries.

In the case - I will respond in the case of the health sector. All countries, before sending their aid to Haiti, contacted the Pan American Health Organization country offices to see what are the needs in the health sector. So we said we need surgeons. We need field hospitals, but (unintelligible) with this type of medicine with this type of health personnel. We need this type of equipment and medical supplies, et cetera. And so they can provide what is needed.

Before, in any other disaster, when the country with all its will and goodwill sent its supplies, up to 80 percent of what has been sent is not useful at the time of the disaster. And it also is a burden for the emergency operations, because they cannot be used at the right time, but a population is expecting that that aid has to be distributed at the right time. But they don't have -that's another priority, because they don't need that.

For example, this - youth clothes. That's a big example on that, and also blood. So you have that, but you cannot distribute that, because you don't -you have, first, to classify everything to provide all the means to have, for example, blood and all type of blood solutions at the right time, at the right temperature and the right (unintelligible) and to provide to the right hospital, et cetera. That is not in place.

So even the field hospital were sent by the countries. They said okay, we are sending field hospitals. So they sent field hospitals from Israel, from Russia, from Spain - not from Spain - but from other countries, and most of those field hospitals are still waiting to be deployed, waiting to be operational.

So when Spain said, (unintelligible), hey, can we send a field hospital, we said, wait, because there are enough field hospitals. What we need is to provide medicines, to provide mobile centers, to provide specialists and surgeons and everything and to provide them all the supplies that they need.

Okay, what do we need, then? So we need some support to mobilize all this response. So they supported a flash appeal that the U.N. has also put on the Internet and asked the international organizations.

ROBERTS: We're talking with Ciro Ugarte. He's an advisor in disaster preparedness for the Pan American Health Organization.

We also have on the line, now, Ian Rodgers. He's an emergency response advisor with Save the Children. He's joining us from Port-au-Prince. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr.�IAN RODGERS (Emergency Response Advisor, Save the Children): Thank you very much.

ROBERTS: We just heard from Ciro Ugarte some of the issues around medical relief. What's the status of food and water distribution?

Mr.�RODGERS: Well, food and water is slowly getting out, but it's not getting out fast enough. There's this great deal of concern about that, and particularly around water and also sanitation, these makeshift camps that have formed - have not been formalized.

Therefore, proper sanitation hasn't been put in, and as you can imagine that the likelihood of the outbreak of diseases such as diarrhea is just imminent. And, of course, this is a high risk for children and children under five and can kill them in a matter of hours, particularly if they're dehydrated. So this is of great concern at this point in time.

ROBERTS: When we hear about security risks and the need for aid groups to have security detail with them when they distribute food and water, have you been seeing that?

Mr.�RODGERS: Certainly, there are some areas where this is necessary. Having said that, it is also possible to distribute without security. In smaller camps and camps which have formed where there is a clear community group, it is possible to seek - speak with the community leaders who are still there and to ensure that the community who is receiving the delivery is able to ensure the security of our personnel.

ROBERTS: And is there coordination among the aid groups?

Mr.�RODGERS: Yes, certainly. The U.N. mechanism of coordination, which is referred to as the cluster system, every sector and different area and aspect of relief is coordinated. Everybody is aware of where other people are going. You - there is a requirement, as being part of an international NGO, to report where you're delivering goods, when you're going to do it, so as to try and avoid any form of duplication.

ROBERTS: Let's take a call from Leslie in Wasilla, Alaska. Leslie, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

LESLIE (Caller): Good morning. Thanks for taking my call. You know, as much as, of course, my heart goes out to all of the suffering and heartache that these people are experiencing, I really think that so much of the criticism and the impatience of my fellow Americans - sitting in their living rooms at home, generously donating their dollars - is really emblematic of that need we have in this country for instant gratification.

And I don't think people are really understanding enough that everyone that's on the ground there is making the very best effort that they can in the face of practically insurmountable obstacles, and it's just the same need for instant gratification I see, you know, in criticisms of our current administration. You know, if it isn't done immediately, right now, this second, then it's, you know - then somebody is doing something wrong. And I just think that we need to give these people more credit for what they're doing on the ground there in the face of such complete horror that they have to witness every day.

ROBERTS: Leslie, thank you for your call. We have several emailers and callers expressing similar sentiment.

Jessica(ph) in Ann Arbor, Michigan says she's frustrated by the media coverage of the disaster in Haiti. It seems like the blame game has taken precedence over coverage of the aftermath of the quake. Aid organizations are doing the best they can. It's difficult enough to try to get aid to people in countries that had an infrastructure in place. But in Haiti, the infrastructure was in shambles prior to the earthquake, and now many roads are nearly impassable.

So, Ian Rogers, some support certainly for what you and other organizations are trying to do, of course, some of the frustration comes when you've got a little bit of a ticking clock on the difference between a rescue mission and a recovery mission.

Mr. ROGERS: Yeah. I mean, and certainly, I appreciate your last caller's comments and I think they're correct and also the person who just sent in the email. It is, I can understand, that people and - would like to see that everything is delivered immediately and all of those types of things. It's just, as somebody has mentioned, I mean, you are - we're dealing with an extremely impoverished country where the urban planning has not really occurred, so it is very, very difficult. There isn't any infrastructure.

But I think what's also different people have to understand is that this is one of - this is, certainly for me, the only disaster I have ever been in where it's been in the capital city and has significantly wiped out all of the government's services so it's very difficult for the Haitian country to even help itself. In other places such as Indonesia, you would just simply deploy and redeploy national government staff. We would redeploy our own national staff from another island who could certainly respond a lot quicker. Haiti is a centralized country. There wasn't much outside of Port-au-Prince anyway, and all of that has been destroyed.

ROBERTS: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, Ciro Ugarte, let me give you this chance to describe what has succeeded in the medical aid area. Where has help gotten where it needs to go?

Dr. UGARTE: Yes. There - fortunately, there are a lot of successful experiences story. First is that several hospitals withstand the disaster. And even though most of them suffered heavy damage, some of them were operational at the very time of the - when the earthquake happened. And the successful story goes to the Haitian themselves and to the personnel that were in there during the first 48 to 72 hours where they didn't receive any help from anybody. And they were the - are actual heroes of this emergency.

And we are focusing a lot on international aid - I work for an international organization, but I want to praise the Haitian government, the Haitian people, the Haitian physicians, the Haitian nurses and personnel that did a great job and they are doing - they are dealing with thousands of wounded and - well, all (unintelligible) risks, and, fortunately, all those receiving in some support now from international organizations. But during the first 48, 72 hours, they acted alone and they did all they can.

The other successful is - story is the coordination. Even though it is -remains a challenge, at least 70 organizations that are working in the health relief are linked between each other and trying not to compete with the others but to coordinate and to work altogether. And that is great.

In several other disasters, I've seen - everyone on different institutions but trying to compete, for example, search and rescue teams to compete for a good building to be rescued or maybe an embassy or maybe a hotel or et cetera. In this case, the coordination is kind of flowing better than (unintelligible).

ROBERTS: And, Ian Rogers, are you seeing that with food and water and shelter coordination?

Mr. ROGERS: Certainly. I mean, the coordination is trying to occur as much as possible. And that's being coordinated through the U.N. structures. Whilst right now, also, there's a need just to get out there and do the work as much as possible.

ROBERTS: We hadn't touched much on the shelter issue. A lot of people are still living outside, scared to go back into their houses, if any part of their houses are still standing. Where does that fit in to the aid? Is that considered low priority?

Mr. ROGERS: No. No. Certainly, getting people into shelter is absolutely critical. You can imagine we have been lucky so far. It hasn't really rained that much. But people are still out in the open and it's going to rain, and the rain has two different elements. So obviously, people need to be out of the rain to the side if there (unintelligible) cases of pneumonia or that kind of thing. But also, the rain is going to have a significant effect on re-shifting all of these damaged buildings.

The load that the rain will put on these buildings will mean that they'll come down further. There's a high, high chance of landslides due to the fact that the soil has cracked open, and once that water fills those cracks, it will turn around and break a lot of that kind of mud and debris away. So we are not out of the woods yet when it comes to the dangers. As you know, we received another earthquake this morning. And of course, even still, we have hurricane season coming up in six months' time. So all the work that we have to do has to consider that there are other hazards out there that the public maybe has to face.

ROBERTS: Ian Rodgers, emergency response advisor with Save the Children. He joined us from Port-au-Prince. And Ciro Ugarte, advisor in disaster preparedness for the Pan American Health Organization, joined us from Washington. Thanks to you both.

I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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