Haiti, aid, and U.S. priorities

Why was aid relatively slow to arrive in Haiti following the earthquake that struck the country on Tues., Jan. 12? Well, a common explanation given in the U.S. media seemed to be that Haiti’s lack of infrastructure, coupled with the massive damage caused by the earthquake, made getting supplies into the country and then delivering those supplies very difficult.  While I believe this is a partial explanation, I came across some information buried near the end of a piece in the New York Times that suggests the reason may be more complicated.

According to the article, Haiti appears to have an airport with only one working runway. Due to an agreement with Haiti, the U.S. is now managing air traffic control at that airport. While the airport is able to accommodate about 200 flights per day, Jerry Emmanuel, air logistics officer for the UN World Food Program, explained that most of the flights had been reserved for the U.S. military to land troops/equipment, lift Americans and other foreigners to safety, and “secure” the country. Even though the World Food Program had tried to land flights of food, medicine, and water as soon as two days after the earthquake, it was not allowed to do so until Sat., Jan. 16 (four days after the earthquake), because of the priority given to U.S. military flights.

Who should be “in charge” of the relief effort and how should priorities be balanced? Should Americans and other foreigners in Haiti be entitled to help before the citizens of the country? How would all of this be viewed by those outside the United States?


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