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We need a UN Security Council Resolution on Haiti

U.N. soldiers stood guard as Haitians lined up for food handouts in a field in Port-au-Prince.  Photo: Maggie Steber for The New York Times

U.N. soldiers stood guard as Haitians lined up for food handouts in a field in Port-au-Prince. Photo: Maggie Steber for The New York Times

AS the tragedy in Haiti continues, the New York Times reports on a perennial problem in mass humanitarian crises– the lack of coordination. Ginger Thompson and Damien Cave explain:

But with Haitian officials relying so heavily on the United States, the United Nations and many different aid groups, coordination was posing a critical challenge. An airport hobbled by only one suitable 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.

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. A sign on one fallen building in Nazon, one of many hillside communities destroyed by the quake, read: “Welcome U.S. Marines. We need help. Dead Bodies Inside!”

Haitian officials said the bodies of tens of thousands of victims had already been recovered and that hundreds of thousands of people were living on the streets. A preliminary Red Cross estimate put the total number of affected people at 3.5 million.

The United Nations also confirmed the death of three of its most senior officials in the quake: the secretary general’s special representative for Haiti, Hédi Annabi; his deputy, Luiz Carlos da Costa; and the acting police commissioner for the peacekeeping force, Doug Coates of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They were meeting with eight members of a Chinese police delegation in the agency’s headquarters, the Christopher Hotel, when it collapsed on Tuesday.

Even as the United States took a leading role in aid efforts, some aid officials were describing misplaced priorities, accusing United States officials of focusing their efforts on getting their people and troops installed and lifting their citizens out. Under agreement with Haiti, the United States is now managing air traffic control at the airport, helicopters are flying relief missions from warships off the coast and 9,000 to 10,000 troops are expected to arrive by Monday to help with the relief effort.

The World Food Program finally was able to land flights of food, medicine and water on Saturday, after failing on Thursday and Friday, an official with the agency said. Those flights had been diverted so that the United States could land troops and equipment, and lift Americans and other foreigners to safety.

“There are 200 flights going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti,” said Jarry Emmanuel, the air logistics officer for the agency’s Haiti effort. “But most of those flights are for the United States military.

He added: “Their priorities are to secure the country. Ours are to feed. We have got to get those priorities in sync.”

In a notice over the weekend, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said priority would be given to search and rescue, military and humanitarian aircraft, in that order. Flights were being routed through a command center at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and pilots must tell controllers what they have on board and when they would like to arrive.

American officials said they were making substantial progress. Mrs. Clinton said the military was beginning to use a container port in Cap Haitien, in northern Haiti, which should increase the flow of aid.

The United States Agency for International Development was helping choose sites and clear roads for 14 centers for the distribution of food and water. Rajiv Shah, the agency’s administrator, said the United States had moved $48 million of food supplies from Texas since the quake and distributed 600,000 packaged meals. It has also installed three water-purification systems capable of purifying 100,000 liters a day.

Yet problems remain. American officials said that 180 tons of relief supplies had been delivered to the airport, but much was still waiting for delivery. While the military has cleared other landing sites for helicopters around the capital, they are thronged by people looking for help, making landings hazardous.

Fuel shortages were mounting. At several gas stations around Port-au-Prince, attendants or customers said that even though the stations had fuel left in their tanks, there was no electricity to work the pumps.

Some aid workers were critical of the United Nations, as well, arguing that the agency had the most on-the-ground experience in Haiti and should be directing efforts better.

But many United Nations employees were killed in the earthquake. And Stephanie Bunker, the spokeswoman for the United Nations humanitarian relief effort, said Saturday that a United Nations logistics team was trying to coordinate with other agencies, and that the peacekeeping forces were trying to clear roads.

Criticism of the United Nations “may reflect people’s frustrations with the entire effort because it is such a grueling effort,” she said. “It takes a long time for all this stuff to be cleared up and fixed.” She noted that all modes of transportation — air, road and sea — were still limited. A shortage of trucks remained a problem.

Michel Chancy, appointed by Mr. Préval to coordinate relief, said that much of the aid to Haiti was coming to a government that was itself under siege.

“The palace fell,” he said. “Ministries fell. And not only that, the homes of many ministers fell. The police were not coming to work. Relief agencies collapsed. The U.N. collapsed. It was hard to get ourselves in a place where we could help others.”

At the American Embassy in Port-au-Prince, American rescue teams continued to roll out of the gate. Most of their equipment had arrived, and at any given time, the teams were working on several different piles of rubble throughout the city.

“People need to get the message, we’re out, we’re doing stuff,” said Craig Luecke, a coordinator with the search and rescue team from Fairfax County, Va., who has been tracking American efforts in advance of Mrs. Clinton’s arrival here. “My Google Earth map is filled with American activity.”

Though the numbers are fluid, he said four American teams had helped pulled nearly two dozen survivors from the rubble. The State Department said 15 Americans were confirmed dead in the earthquake.

Some airplanes, after circling the capital’s airport, have been turning back or landing in Santo Domingo, in the neighboring Dominican Republic. Its airfield was growing ever more crowded with diverted flights.

“We’re all going crazy,” said Nan Buzard, senior director of international response and programs for the American Red Cross. “You don’t have any kind of orderly distributions of food, water, shelter, clothing. The planes are in the air, the materials are purchased. It remains a profoundly frustrating situation for everyone.”

Among the aid groups avoiding the logjam in Port-au-Prince by entering Haiti from the Dominican Republic was International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

A caravan of eight trucks from the federation was creeping toward the Haitian border on Saturday morning, carrying medical equipment and aid workers.

The group had originally planned to touch down in Haiti, but the delays at the airport forced them to divert to Santo Domingo, delaying their arrival in Haiti by about 12 hours, said Paul Conneally, a Red Cross spokesman who was traveling with the convoy.

“Every minute counts, I know that, but we cannot be on standby to land at Port-au-Prince because it may not be for two or three days,” he said. “It’s problematic to go across roads, but it’s a small price to pay.”

Mr. Préval, speaking at the airport, now the effective seat of the Haitian government, urged patience. He showed a map covered with red dots, indicating the worst-hit areas. When the earthquake struck, he said, “We in Haiti thought it was the end of the world.”

Mr. Préval said he was making food, water, medical supplies and the re-establishment of communication the priorities for his government. “We have a lot of work to do,” he said. (emphasis added)

I worry that coordination problems will continue and more human lives will be lost. Will I do not support a long talk-fest in the Security Council, it seems to me that a resolution that sets forth a framework for coordinating the Haiti relief effort could be useful. It could designate lead agencies and a chain of command. It would help facilitate communication among the IGO’s, NGO’s, and Governmental entities working in the area. And it could make clear the relationship between the aid and security components of the operation. I believe such a framework resolution could be produced in a matter of hours and would greatly assist in efforts to help the people of Haiti.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.