Leadership in crisis, relief comes slowly
BY FRANCES ROBLES AND JACQUELINE CHARLES frobles@MiamiHerald.com
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Jasmine Pierre and 10 members of her family have been camped out in a park since Tuesday. She has not seen any food deliveries, spotted rescue workers or noticed any signs of international relief.
“Nobody is coming,” she said. “I think only God is in charge. The government should be here, any government. There is no government in the palace right now.
I don’t even really know if Haiti has a government today.”
U.S. Southern Command in Miami reported Friday afternoon that some aid was finally trickling into the ravaged city of 2 million.
But the 22-year-old’s feelings of frustration were shared by many aid workers, relief agencies and medics, who say that three full days after an earthquake devastated this nation it is still not clear who is in charge of relief efforts.
Nobody had seen any.No single federal government office building is still standing, and officials are looking for a proper headquarters from which to organize relief operations, first lady Elizabeth Préval said.Some Haitian leaders lost their lives. Others lost family or property, leaving a grief-stricken leadership awaiting an international community that Friday was still mobilizing to fill the void.“The government seems to be just waiting for help,” said Gregory Gue, a Jacmel doctor who came to Port-au-Prince to volunteer for the Red Cross and was aghast at the conditions he encountered.“People die waiting for help. I am angry. Angry, but everyone is also very sad. It is clear the government had no emergency plan.”Gue was providing aid Friday to the injured, including a woman who needed an emergency C-section to remove her dead 8-month-old fetus. He was working out of a muddy parking lot.Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, however, defended the pace of progress. “The international community reacted quite quickly in view of the circumstances and the scale of the hit,” he said.
“Everyone is still today in the streets — and that includes the government. Because three-quarters of the government buildings are destroyed, that doesn’t mean the government isn’t doing its work.”
Moreover, starting a day after the quake, Bellerive said, the remnants of the government held morning coordination meetings with U.N. representatives, foreign ambassadors and international agencies.Still, the outlook was grim from the ground.Businessman Gesner Champaigne said he has 16 trucks ready to distribute 600,000 gallons of water a day. On Thursday, the government used just four trucks.“We don’t know who is doing what. Where is the nerve center?” he said.“There is a lot of confusion.”He said the main delay was over security. It would be foolhardy for Champaigne to show up unescorted in quake-ravaged areas desperate for water.“We found out that, as far as a police force goes, it is gone,” aid
Champaigne’s sister Sophia Mortelly, who runs a foundation here. “We are going to knock on the United Nations’ door.”U.N. headquarters in the Christopher Hotel collapsed during the earthquake. The United Nations has confirmed that 37 are dead and more than 300 are still
missing, including the chief of mission.The first lady, who served as an advisor to president René Préval, acknowledged that aid distribution has been “very slow.” “We have a lot of people who have not eaten in three days,” she said. `I don’t know whether the amount of food is insufficient or there is a problem with who is handling it. This has been a major trauma, even for the ministers handling the crisis.”Many ministers lost family and their chiefs of staff, she said.“The challenge is to distribute food soon so that we do not have violence,” she said.
“The Parliament collapsed, the Justice Palace collapsed, the National Palace collapsed,” Preval said. “Those are the three symbols of state and those are all collapsed.”
As Haitian officials cope with their own devastating losses — the finance minister’s son died — aid workers say it appears nobody in the Haitian government or the international community has stepped in to take charge.Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime acknowledged the breakdown, saying that traditionally the U.N. Stabilization Force coordinated relief efforts.
“There is no leader emerging from anywhere,” said longtime aid worker Regine Alexandre. “You have that sense of statelessness. Maybe people are too weak to give a strong sense of direction.”Audry Mullings, a spokeswoman for the International Federation of the Red Cross, said emergency relief mobile units that were expected Thursday were rerouted when their plane was not allowed to land. They were expected late
Friday.“This is quite a peculiar disaster,” she said. She could not say what agency or ministry was organizing relief efforts or giving orders.
“I can tell you the Haitian Red Cross has been hard at work since the earthquake took place,” she said.