LONDON (AlertNet) - Fuel shortages, damaged infrastructure and the sheer scale of the Haitian earthquake disaster are hampering a massive relief effort but aid is getting through to survivors and more is on the way, said Elisabeth Byrs, spokesperson for OCHA, the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The airport in capital Port-au-Prince is operating below capacity, the seaport cannot be used and roads are blocked with debris. Towns near to the capital that were badly hit by last Tuesday's 7.0 quake are in urgent need of medical equipment and doctors, she added in a telephone interview from Geneva.
Q: What is being done about the shortage of fuel that appears to be preventing supplies reaching those in need?
A: Fuel stocks are diminishing in the country and it is a problem but the government, the U.N., and the Americans together are addressing this issue. Yesterday we received 10,000 gallons of fuel - by road from the Dominican Republic - and more is on its way. Efforts have slowed and hampered by the logistical challenges. We're working in very difficult conditions.
Q: The airport is now being operated by the U.S. military. What is its status? Is it fully functioning?
A: The capacity of the Port-au-Prince airport is about to be increased but it is still a small airport. It's very congested, there are few parking places for the planes. Things are getting better step-by-step, thanks to American support. They are bringing their technical expertise. We are working very closely with them and with the (Haitian) government.
Q: Is the port in the capital working?
A: The seaport is not operational and needs to be fixed in the coming days. Assessments are going on. There are blocks of concrete under the water, we have to assess this to see if we can unload the ships, the three cranes (used for unloading) have been destroyed. Ships are being redirected to Cap Haitien and we are also using the port in Santo Domingo. We have a humanitarian corridor via road from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince, a humanitarian corridor via road from Jimeni (on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic) to Port-au-Prince and an air corridor as well, so step-by-step the logistical network is in place. The government of the Dominican Republic is providing all logistical support needed, two other airports are being used in the Dominican Republic in addition to the main airport - Barahona and San Isidro.
Q: What's the state of the road between Santo Domingo and Port-au-Prince?
A: The road is clear but the trip takes 18 hours. It's a big traffic jam of vehicles carrying humanitarian assistance and carrying people who want to leave Port-au-Prince. The Secretary General (Ban Ki-Moon) has appealed for people to remain calm and keep the roads clear.
Q: Aid does not appear to be getting through to survivors and many people are complaining that it is not reaching them. Why is this and what is OCHA doing about it?
A: The aid is arriving in Port-au-Prince and already civil distribution is taking place. Deliveries are ongoing but it's such a huge city. We have been constrained by some streets being impassable. It takes time to bring assistance and relief to every district of the city. At the same time, we also have to bring assistance as soon as possible to the other cities: Jacmel, Gressier, Carrefour, Petit-Goave, and Leogane, which is the worst affected together with Gressier. So the effort is double, it's inside Port-au-Prince and outside Port-au-Prince, to the west.
We are struggling to bring them aid as soon as possible, the aid they deserve and they've been expecting for days. The search and rescue teams are there, the priority is medical staff and medicine to treat the injured and save lives, some injured people might die if they don't get medical assistance. The food and water is on its way. A huge humanitarian operation is taking place, but it's true that given the challenging condition, it takes time.
Q: Given survivors are complaining about the delays in the delivery of aid, could anything have been done differently to speed things up?
A: I think given the scale of the disaster and the logistical constraints and the scale of the damage to the city, to the roads, the lack of heavy machinery and the fact the capital has been decapitated, it took time for everybody to go back to work. Now, step-by-step, the government is in charge. I think the situation is slightly improving. Don't forget that the government, civil servants, firemen, policemen, administration have been badly hit, the U.N. staff who were working in Haiti has been badly hit, the population has been badly hit. So all those parameters have to be taken into account.
A massive effort is needed for Haiti but it needs to be done in a coordinated way. We need more realism about how long it takes to get an operation of this magnitude in such an intensely complicated environment running. A feeding operation for 2 million people is the goal. We know that in every case it takes time in the beginning and more time when every structure on which we can rely has been so appallingly hit.
Q: Are there now enough relief supplies in Port-au-Prince or do more need to be flown in?
A: This is very difficult to say. Yesterday 250 tonnes of aid arrived in Port-au-Prince. The day before 180 tonnes were brought to the city. All the U.N. agencies and other agencies - we coordinate with the IFRC - all their networks and hubs are mobilised right now. This huge logistical network is step-by-step becoming operational.