World Food Program On Haiti Efforts
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
As tens of thousands of Haitians settle in tent camps for the foreseeable future, relief agencies are figuring out how to deliver services to them. The U.N.'s World Food Program is the lead agency for supplying food in Haiti. Josette Sheeran is the executive director and she joins me from Port-au-Prince. Your organization says it's delivered more than four million meals to some 250,000 people. And that sounds like a lot of food, but still not enough. What's your plan for the coming weeks and months?
Ms. JOSETTE SHEERAN (Executive Director, United Nations World Food Program): Well, we're going to need to scale up in a huge way and continue to do so. We know that the breakdown in the supply chain system here is enormous. There wasn't a great infrastructure to start with, but everything has been devastated. It's like a war zone. So I've been through the city looking at distribution points, looking at pipeline points, looking at the port, looking at the airport and how things can flow in. And there's a total devastation to the supply chain. So we're worried not only about those affected by the earthquake but also as a food importing nation, the flow of food to the general population.
BRAND: You say you've been around the country looking at the supply chain. What are the major problems? Where are the weakest links?
Ms. SHEERAN: In Port-au-Prince alone I tried we drove two kilometers. It took two hours to do so today. So, as we were driving, a house collapsed right in front of us and poured rocks onto the street. None of the buildings are stable. None of the infrastructure is stable here in the city and just passing through roads can be an enormous task.
BRAND: What about airdrops?
Ms. SHEERAN: Well, you can't airdrop into a city. We've been using helicopter swing drops outside of Port-au-Prince and to some of the more remote areas. This can be very efficient and effective. And we can go right from airplane cargo directly out to these towns. But in the city we cannot bring helicopters close in. Usually you can't anyway, but especially with the instability of the buildings.
BRAND: Hundreds of thousands of Haitians are now fleeing Port-au-Prince for the countryside. Is that going to make it more difficult for you to deliver aid to them?
Ms. SHEERAN: Well, we're certainly changing our distribution patterns to try to keep up with the needs of people who are moving. Just to give you a sense of this, 90 percent of the World Food Program staff is homeless. People are sleeping on the streets and then coming in and working. We distributed to 30,000 people on the second day and those distributors were people with no home, who had lost their children and family and loved ones. And so there's a lack of shelter here. Even the World Food Program headquarters yesterday with the tremors cracked over and sustained much further damage.
BRAND: I understand that you met today with Haiti's president, Rene Preval. Did you get the sense that he is able to meet these challenges, willing to meet these challenges?
Ms. SHEERAN: Well, I met with the prime minister and the president in their morning staff meeting which was held in a courtyard because they don't have a building or a meeting room large enough to hold a meeting with all the key actors bringing in assistance here. But I will tell you that I saw very strong resolve and determination and we're discussing major food operations with them. I found them both very engaged and determined to stay ahead of the humanitarian needs there.
BRAND: There has been a lot of criticism. I'm sure you've heard over how slow and, at times, chaotic the distribution of food aid has been. Obviously the World Food Program is no stranger to working in disaster areas. Why did it seem to be so chaotic this time in Haiti?
Ms. SHEERAN: Well, just think about this. So, what happened in the earthquake is hundreds upon thousands of buildings down and roads blocked. Not only that, the food supply systems were cut off, including most of the markets and other things. I went to the market today completely buried. You have to bring food in from somewhere. It has to come in from overseas. So we've been bringing food in and that pipeline has to prime up. So I think the logistics of this have just been a nightmare. We've handed bigger numbers. In Darfur every day we need to reach up to four million people with food, for example.
But it may be our most complex in the total loan out of the supply chain system and needing to recreate that from scratch. And I will just point out I'm living in a tent. We're all living in tents. We didn't until two days ago have functional phone systems. And we're doing all of our planning under a tree because we don't have offices here. Trying to operate as best we can.
BRAND: Josette Sheeran is the executive director of the U.N.'s World Food Program. She spoke to us from Port-au-Prince in Haiti. Thank you very much.
Ms. SHEERAN: Bye-bye.
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