Aid in Haiti moves slowly, frustrates many

January 18, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Humanitarian groups, including Doctors Without Borders, claim military missions were being given priority in Haiti over the delivery of aid. They say five medical planes have been turned away since the weekend. Relief workers and earthquake survivors also expressed their frustration, during a vigil Monday night in Oakland.

"And I want to make sure, as Walter said, that our response at the federal level provides for sustained support in the recovery and rebuilding process," said Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland.

At the vigil, Lee spoke of establishing an oversight committee to make sure American relief funds for Haiti are spent properly.

The country was mired in corruption before the earthquake, but its slow response to the cries for help have many questioning the government's ability to rebuild.

"Eddynhio has been there since last Tuesday night and the area where he's in has not gotten any help. I don't know why there is no help there," says Walter Riley, an earthquake survivor.

Riley is talking about a friend of his, in Haiti, who called Monday, begging for food, water and medical supplies. His brother broke his arm when their home collapsed. Riley, his daughter, and wife were there helping the poor when the quake struck. They set up their own Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, or MASH, unit. Many victims needed surgery.

"All we had was peroxide and a bottle of alcohol," says Riley.

Pierre Labossierre and Riley are on the board of the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund in Berkeley. Labossierre says he is seeing news stories of supplies arriving, but he is still getting calls from desperate friends in need of water.

"This was tonight. This was tonight. I couldn't believe it. And these are people right there in the capital city. One of them is right across from the palace. So we are talking downtown Port-au-Prince," says Labossierre.

Based on his own experience there, Riley says the images of looting on the news are justified.

"I am amazed that people call that looting. That they call that some kind of criminal [act]. I would have taken anything I could have from a pharmacy," says Riley.

Now the relief foundation he helps run is struggling to get badly needed supplies into Haiti. He says they may have to ship them into the Dominican Republican and truck them across the border.