x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

US leads global relief effort for Haiti

As the survivors of Haiti's catastrophic earthquake struggle in worsening conditions and the death toll is predicted to reach 200,000, three US presidents came together on Saturday to launch a fundraising effort across America. With his predecessors George W Bush and Bill Clinton at his side, President Barack Obama appealed for national unity in support of the people of Haiti.

As the survivors of Haiti's catastrophic earthquake struggle in worsening conditions, three US presidents came together on Saturday to launch a fundraising effort across America. With his two predecessors at his side, the US president appealed for national unity in support of the people of Haiti. "Flanked by two of his immediate predecessors - George W Bush and Bill Clinton - President Barack Obama announced yesterday the launch of a new fund-raising effort for Haiti and vowed a sustained US commitment to rebuilding the island nation in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake," The National reported. " 'By coming together in this way, these two leaders send an unmistakable message to the people of Haiti and to the people of the world,' Mr Obama said, speaking in the White House Rose Garden. 'In these difficult hours, America stands united. We stand united with the people of Haiti, who have shown such incredible resilience, and we will help them to recover and to rebuild.'" The BBC noted: "When US President Barack Obama announced that one of the biggest relief efforts in US history would be heading for Haiti, he highlighted the close ties between the two nations. " 'With just a few hundred miles of ocean between us and a long history that binds us together, Haitians are our neighbours in the Americas and here at home,' he said. "Hundreds of thousands of Haitians have indeed become neighbours of Americans. "Some 420,000 live in the US legally, according to census figures. Estimates of the number of Haitians in the country illegally vary wildly, from some 30,000 to 125,000. "It is a sizeable diaspora which wants to see quick and decisive action from its adopted homeland. "Desperate to see aid getting through to friends and relatives, many expatriate Haitians have welcomed President Obama's decision to send up to 10,000 troops to help rescue efforts." On his blog at The New York Times, Nicholas D Kristof noted a concern expressed by some Americans: that American generosity towards Haiti has done little to alleviate the country's troubles in the past. He pointed out, however, that US aid to its impoverished neighbour falls short of the contributions coming from many other more distant nations. "The United States contributed $2.32 per American to Haiti over the last three years for which we have data (about 80 cents a year). That's much less than other countries do, even though Haiti is in our hemisphere and has historic close ties to the US. For example, Canada contributed $12.13 per person to Haiti over three years, and Norway sent $8.44. ... Other countries that contribute more, per capita, to Haiti than the US are Luxembourg, Sweden, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Spain and Belgium. True, there are more Americans, so collectively our aid amounts to more than one-quarter of the pot in Haiti, but that's only because we're such a big country. Given the per capita sums, we have no right to be bragging about our generosity in Haiti." Meanwhile, The Guardian reported: "The Haiti earthquake death toll is predicted to reach 200,000 as relief workers struggle against looting and logistical nightmares that have delayed vital supplies of food, water and medical help. "International aid has begun to reach the capital, Port-au-Prince, four days after the quake destroyed much of the Haiti's infrastructure, from hospitals and prisons to the presidential palace itself. "The Red Cross said a convoy of trucks carrying a 'huge amount' of aid from the Dominican Republic was due to arrive in the capital this afternoon, bringing a 50-bed field hospital, surgical teams and an emergency telecommunications unit. "The supplies and medical teams had to be sent in by land because 'it's not possible to fly anything into Port-au-Prince right now', said Paul Conneally, the charity's spokesman in Dominica. 'The airport is completely congested.' "Mark Pearson of the charity ShelterBox said: 'It's utter chaos at the airport. Buildings have been completely destroyed, the hospital has been destroyed. It's a full scale emergency, there's so much destruction. " 'The priority at the moment is search and rescue and then after that emergency shelter provision, so obviously there's frustration. There's no fuel and people are hunting for water. It's difficult to put the scale of destruction into words.'" The New York Times said: "Countries around the world have responded to Haiti's call for help as never before. And they are flooding the country with supplies and relief workers that its collapsed infrastructure and nonfunctioning government are in no position to handle. "Haitian officials instead are relying on the United States and the United Nations, but coordination is posing a critical challenge, aid workers said. An airport hobbled by only one runway, a ruined port whose main pier splintered into the ocean, roads blocked by rubble, widespread fuel shortages and a lack of drivers to move the aid into the city are compounding the problems. "Across Port-au-Prince, hunger was on the rise. About 1,700 people camped on the grass in front of the prime minister's office compound in the Pétionville neighborhood, pleading for biscuits and water-purification tablets distributed by aid groups. Haitian officials said tens of thousands of victims had already been buried." Time magazine said: "An armada of US warships is steaming toward Haiti, to be joined by at least one Coast Guard cutter en route from the Pacific via the Panama Canal - and manned and unmanned aircraft. Within two hours of the quake, one of the globe's biggest warships, the carrier USS Carl Vinson, was ordered from off the Virginia coast toward Haiti, swapping its jet fighters for heavy-lift helicopters as it steamed south at top speed. Three ships, including the Vinson and the hospital ship USNS Comfort, boast state-of-the-art medical facilities that will care for injured Haitians. Thousands of troops are on their way to Haiti or already there, running the airport and clearing ports for many more to follow. Up to 10,000 troops will be in Haiti or floating just offshore by Monday. "It fell to State Department spokesman PJ Crowley to clarify a delicate point: 'We're not,' he insisted, 'taking over Haiti.' Strictly speaking, that's true: Haiti remains a sovereign country, and there are 9,000 UN peacekeepers already there, charged with maintaining security. But as death stalks those smothered beneath the rubble of pancaked buildings, and poor sanitation triggers outbreaks of dysentery and other diseases, one nation in the world has the muscle to quickly make a difference. That's why the US is racing aid to the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. If things get worse, the US - fairly or unfairly - will be blamed by many for not doing enough."

pwoodward@thenational.ae