Aid for Haiti investigation: The truth

As the search for trapped survivors is called off, the relief operation steps up. But is criticism of its pace to date justified?

By Kate Youde
Sunday 24 January 2010 01:00

Eleven days after an earthquake destroyed its capital and less than 24 hours after two people were pulled alive from the rubble, Haiti yesterday formally called off the search for survivors, allowing aid agencies to step up relief efforts.

A semblance of normality returned in Port-au-Prince as some banks and shops opened for the first time since the disaster, but an estimated three million people – about a third of the population – need food, water and shelter. And ahead of tomorrow's meeting in Montreal of states involved in the UN's mission in Haiti, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, has called for a Marshall Plan for the country, similar to the one that helped Europe after the Second World War. The Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Chris Bryant, the Europe minister, will be attending the Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels tomorrow, where Haiti will be discussed.

The disaster is estimated to have killed up to 200,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless. According to the UN, more than 500 aid agencies are working with survivors, with about 150 flights a day landing at Port-au-Prince airport. The south pier at the seaport has been repaired and is now able to receive 350 container crates a day. Aid is also arriving into Santa Domingo airport, in the neighbouring Dominican Republic, and taken overland; the US is working to improve capacity at San Isidro airport.

Agencies said yesterday that help was getting through. Nick Guttmann, head of the humanitarian division at Christian Aid, predicted "real change" over the next few days. The charity is planning to make cash distributions now the banks are open so people can buy what they need themselves. Mr Guttmann said their closure had caused fuel shortages because petrol stations were frightened to open as owners had nowhere to put their takings. Linda Doull, director of health and policy at medical relief charity Merlin, said that reopening banks would make it easier to get money into the country.

Penny Lawrence, international director at Oxfam, said the aid effort had been "quite slow" in getting started, but was now running "extremely well". But she admitted the charity was still not getting through to everybody and there were some problems coordinating aid efforts with smaller agencies. Frustration and desperation have fuelled pockets of violence and 3,500 UN peacekeepers are patrolling with Haitian police, with US military accompanying the UN in some cases. Lawrence said it was "surprising" how quiet it had been. "It's been quieter in Port-au-Prince in terms of violence than before the earthquake," she said.

The relief effort has come under criticism for the slow response. But agencies claim this is an unprecedented disaster in terms of scale and logistical problems. Aid organisations, the government and the UN in Haiti suffered damage to their offices and lost staff in the quake. Each of Oxfam's 100 staff members lost relatives. Yolette Etienne, the charity's director in Haiti, helped pull a colleague, who later died, from the rubble before returning home to find her mother dead. She buried her in the garden and was back in work at 8am the following morning.

Roger Yates, director of disasters and humanitarian response at Plan, said: "I have never seen a disaster where [there is] that perfect storm of the government being dysfunctional and the UN wiped out, and the major logistics in the capital city destroyed so completely, compounded by being an island. I am sure in retrospect all of us are going to be looking back and seeing how we could have speeded it up, but, in these circumstances, it was never going to be overnight."

Before the disaster, only 40 per cent of the population in Port-au-Prince had clean water, and airport and roads were not built to accommodate the relief effort. UN satellite imagery after the quake showed 691 obstacles between Port-au-Prince and the second city, Carrefour: 224 roads were blocked and 457 partially blocked, with landslides causing additional problems.

Given the criticism, The Independent on Sunday asked leading agencies what they aid was being distributed. Here are their responses:

World Food Programme

Delivered five million meals to more than 250,000 people. In the coming days, aims to deliver to 100,000 people a day five-day rations of high-energy biscuits, with rice, pulses, vegetable oil and salt.

British Red Cross

Nineteen emergency response units in place. Red Crescent distributed more than 1,175,000 litres of water. Six 10,000-litre bladder tanks in urban areas, and mobile water capacity reaching 200,000 people a day, increasing to 400,000. Health kits for 30,000 distributed. Red Cross providing shelter materials for 20,000 households, and plans distribution of aid kits to 60,000 families. More than 100 truckloads of meals are expected to arrive this weekend.


Helped 250,000 people since 15 January. First consignment – 10,000 tarpaulins, 4,600 water containers, 5.5 million water purification tablets, 556,000 oral rehydration sachets, 21 GPS receivers, two portable warehouses, tents, trauma kits and water tanks – given to 10,000 families. Nutrition kits, mid-upper arm circumference tapes, weighing scales, health and medical kits, essential emergency medicines and family water kits being distributed.


Relief work aimed at 92,000 people is under way in seven camps, including providing water trucking, basic latrines and removing solid waste. Ninety tons of aid flown in. Plans to start cash-for-work programmes in five camps, paying people for clearing rubble and digging latrines.

Save the Children

Has warehouses in Léogâne, Jacmel and Port-au-Prince and hopes to meet needs of around 600,000 children and adults in coming weeks. Mosquito nets sourced from Thailand, tents from Pakistan, vehicles from Gibraltar and UK, shelter from Norway. Water tanks and flexible bladder tanks due for dispatch tomorrow, along with tap stands, and water treatment and testing equipment. Two mobile clinics in Léogâne treating 60 people a day. Three "child-friendly spaces" in Jacmel, with 15 planned for Port-au-Prince.


Medical equipment, including two emergency health kits with equipment and drugs for 20,000 people for three months, has arrived. Anaesthetics, antiseptics, needles, syringes, weighing scales, IV solution and surgical gloves in the kits in use at Merlin's medical unit in Delmas 33. Five kits, for 50,000 people for three months, and £100,000 worth of surgical equipment due to arrive in Port-au-Prince today. Two logisticians flying in from Gatwick tomorrow with 50 boxes of equipment and drugs for 50,000 people for three months and 70 air mattresses for hospital beds.


Delivered food and medical supplies to 22,225 people and yesterday started distribution of 93 tons of food to 50,000 people at Pétionville Club, one of the largest camps in Port-au-Prince. Started operations at damaged Catholic hospital St Francis de Sales, fixed its X-ray machine, and set up a temporary clinic in Léogâne.

Care International

A five-year $40m (£25m) reconstruction programme will reach 250,000 people. Has already assisted 16,350 people in Léogâne, Carrefour and Pétionville. Five water bladders each provide clean water for 2,600 individuals a day and 3,000 people have received water purification packets.

The Salvation Army

Deployed International Response Team, which will receive 1.3 million ready meals and 3,000 tents on specially chartered aircraft. Clinic in Port-au-Prince seen more than 250 patients a day.


Since Thursday, food distributed to 9,000 people in Mariani district of Port-au-Prince. The 32.5 tons of rice, 45 tons of sugar, 75 tons of flour, half a ton of salmon, 62.5 tons of corn and 350 five-gallon jerry cans will last recipients for two weeks. Distribution of 20,000 water purification tablets.


Sent 412 boxes (each supplying up to 10 people with a tent and life-saving equipment), 350 in use. Further 702 boxes and 100 tents flown in from Newquay, 256 boxes from Netherlands Antilles, 200 boxes from France via Dominican Republic, and 400 boxes from Miami are due for distribution.

Christian Aid

Work with local partners includes £50,000 funding for food, tents, hygiene kits, blankets, jerry cans for water and water purifiers for 3,000 people in Léogâne, 600 in Font National, and 400 in Canape Vert. Helping residents in Darbonne village to organise communal cooking system. Relief supplies worth £25,000 provided to 2,000 people in Carrefour Feuilles and clinic set up. Further £50,000 provided for medical equipment and supplies at tent hospitals.


Three hundred family kits in use in Jacmel. Each contains soap, towels, torch, batteries, candles, matches, two-litre plastic mug, small knife, nail clippers, plastic sheets, tarpaulin sheets, metal cups, plastic plates, 10-litre plastic jerry can, sanitary towels, women's underwear, toilet paper, cookies, kilo of sugar, tea and coffee, sardines, beans, water purification tablets, four toothbrushes and toothpaste. By tomorrow, 5,800 family kits will be in Haiti.

Médecins sans Frontières

Eight hundred people working in Port-au-Prince and its suburbs. Doctors in Martissant treated 1,542 people. Carrefour Hospital treating 300 people per day. Chancerelle Hospital has two operating theatres dealing with burns and obstetrics.


Flying in 180 tons of aid. Operating one of five humanitarian response depots, shared with other charities, NGOs and UN in the Emirates.

World Vision

Flown in 24 metric tons of aid, adding to stocks of emergency items already in place in preparation for hurricane season. Created a temporary supply store in border town of Jimani.


Provided shelter for up to 3,000 people at its compound. It is working closely with six local partner agencies badly affected by the quake and funding money through a country representative.

Additional reporting by Ruth Cobban and Greg Walton

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