Published on 13 Jan 2010 Sections

Aid ‘piled up’ as Haiti stays hungry

UN officials insist emergency relief is now starting to get through in quake hit Haiti, but Channel 4 News Producer Hannah Storm says many aid supplies remain piled up at the airport.

I am sitting a couple of hundred metres away from the runway of Port au Prince airport and I am frustrated. I wonder if I am allowed to say that as a journalist. But, having been in Haiti for the past few days, I realise normal rules no longer apply.

We’ve just returned from a makeshift hospital less than a mile from here. Run by Dominicans, guarded by Peruvian UN soldiers, it is surrounded by desperate Haitians, who don’t understand Spanish and are hungry, injured and frustrated.

Behind the gates of this former industrial park, people are still dying. There are few supplies, few surgeons, no operating rooms. People are treated on clumsy wooden tables and sleep beneath trees. We see a body bag, containing another of Haiti’s countless earthquake victims. Many more have critical injuries, internal bleeding and massive fractures. They need urgent help.

They lie on the floor, on blankets in the dirt, as helicopters and planes come in to land at the airport. So close, but yet so far.

A week after the earthquake, aid is still not reaching them.

I have previously spent some time working at Oxfam, but I am no expert on the complicated process of delivering aid and certainly not in a country where conditions are as challenging as they are here now. I am relying on what I can see, hear, smell and feel.

Airport bustle
So back to the airport where just to my right on the tarmac outside the terminal building, I can see a long row of vast American transporter planes.

The noise of trucks reversing, helicopters landing and plane engines running. Dozens of men and women wearing US military fatigues sit or walk around. Tents block out the sun from families waiting to travel, some are definitely American citizens, others Canadian. I see some who look Haitian.

Other pale brown tents look like field hospitals. Behind me there is soap powder, nappies, food and water wrapped in plastic. I have been watching President Obama’s historical aid effort pile up on the tarmac. It’s not going anywhere. Nor it appears are the supplies coming from aid agencies from across the world.

There’s been little sign of that government, already weak, now further weakened. It doesn’t seem like anyone is actually in charge here.

Hospital frustration
However, someone is at least in charge at the makeshift hospital across the road.

Alphonse Edward says they have treated two to three thousand people here since the earthquake. As he shows us a body bag, telling us five people are still dying every day, a helicopter flies overhead and the irony of the aid being so close but so far away is laid bare.

Mr Edward is angry. He is Haitian American and feels let down. “We can see the helicopters land, they have two army field hospitals right there,” he says.

He has however received a promise from the Jamaican government and the University of Miami who run hospitals in Port-au-Prince to evacuate some of his most critical patients. But they are still arriving.

The latest to be brought in is a 23-year-old woman, who has just been rescued from a city hospital, almost a week after the disaster. She is severely dehydrated, seriously ill and covered in dust, but still alive. Her sister, incredulous, thanks God and says it is a miracle.

She is not the only one that thinks that. A young mother sits nursing a tiny baby on her knee. Amidst the wails and whimpering the little girl is asleep. I ask when she was born. “Yesterday,” the mother says. “Outside on the ground”.

She tells me her name is Christela (pictured above). Our translator smiles, telling me it means “Christ is here”. In this stoically religious country, it’s a potent name for a painful time.

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