Aid for Haiti -- why is taking so long to get there?

I’ve been watching CNN; but I wish they’d report on the status of aid efforts from the U. S. and other countries. I know the seaport and the airport are damaged and there are problems getting ships and planes to Haiti, and in addition there are many people at the airport trying to get out. The roads are clogged with refugees. It just boggles my mind that in this day and age, with all our military might and technology, we can’t get a minimum of water and food to these people within two or three days. I’ve read other threads re the lack of damage in other areas (besides Port-au-Prince); okay, roads impassable? the military has vehicles that can handle all kinds of terrain; the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson got there and has umpteen helicopters. The hospital ship, Comfort, as of today (Saturday) is “on the way.” The quake happened Tuesday; isn’t the ship Comfort always supplied with medical necessities, since that is it’s purpose? I’m sure that everyone involved in aid and rescue efforts is doing their best – I’d just like to know why the aid isn’t getting to those who need it, and who, besides the U. S., is doing what. I know logistics are an issue, and controlling the crowds of the desperate victims is a challenge; but if millions and millions of dollars are being channeled in, and countries besides the U. S. are contributing, why is providing aid still an iffy situation?

The last I heard from the BBC (yesterday night) was that the US military arrived yesterday, in amphibious vehicles mainly, and are currently kicking ass.

The rest of what I’m going to say is anecdotal, because I know a heap of people working for NGOs:

When you say “in this day and age, with all our military might and technology, we can’t get a minimum of water and food to these people within two or three days”- immediate response, like within 24 hours? It rarely ever happens. And in Haiti, it’s worse than most situations. There was little infrastructure in the country to begin with, from my understanding, and in the disaster area, it’s utterly FUBAR. Yeah, maybe someone could have done airdrops, but while you may be able to drop food (which is only just becoming a problem - there is still food to go around, though it’s running out, according to the latest reports) and some fluids, you can’t airdrop water in an effective way because it’s too damn heavy.

Putting together a disaster recovery plan takes time, as does getting the manpower, supplies, and the correct equipment. Sure, maybe the US Navy could have shot a bunch of people over there within a day, but if they didn’t have the right equipment, then they would be pretty ineffective.

The airport is a problem: there is only enough resource, space and runway to land seven planes a day. There’s nothing there to unload the planes. (Though I’m sure the US military, which has assumed control of the space, will fix this.)

The seaport is a problem: the roads are covered in debris and you can’t drive vehicles on them. To clear the roads you need big-ass bulldozers. To lift buildings and move rubble you need cranes. How can you get them off the ships? And first you have to source them and get them to the ships.

Politics is a problem: one of the NGO people I know landed in the Dominican Republic yesterday because the plane couldn’t land at PaP. My roomie was just Skyping her - she and her team are now sleeping in a field (with wireless internet - how weird is that?!) on the border - because some ^&^% closed the border just as her team arrived.

Anyway, I suggest you choose a different news source if CNN isn’t coming up with the goods. There is stuff happening.

I’m currently reading “Stones into Schools”, Greg Mortenson’s second book on his efforts to open schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

He goes into great detail about the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005. There’s a lot of similarities to the current Haiti situation - horrible devastation, dirt poor populace, the whole world wanting to help. jjimm already talked about how hard it is to get supplies where they’re needed. Beyond that, distribution and just what supplies to take are a problem.

In Pakistan, once they solved the problem of how to get supplies to where they were needed, they ran into problems with distribution. A helicopter can drop off supplies to remote areas; what happened next was that everyone in the area ran to where the supplies were, and set up a shanty town. If you were healthy enough to get to Town X, you got supplies. If you were hurt or otherwise indisposed a half a mile away, well, sucks to be you.

A week later, if a helicopter dropped off more supplies 3 miles away, everyone would rush to that spot, and the same situation happened - those who got there first got the supplies. Certainly, everyone was needy, but supplies weren’t reaching all the people who needed them. It wasn’t uncommon for one village to go months without relief and another village a few miles away that was slightly easier to reach getting a fair bit of supplies.

The next problem was just what supplies to bring. In Pakistan, they had donations of all sorts of high tech gear like tents and North Face Parkas and all that kind of stuff. Problem was, a high tech tent is flammable. People would attempt to cook in them, the way they cooked in their previous low-tech tents or animal hide shelters, and it would go up in flames, killing or maiming the people in them.

Mortenson also writes about coming upon women piling up hundreds of dollars worth of parkas and socks and hats and tents and setting them on fire because what they really needed was fuel to cook with, not outerwear, but nobody had thought of that.

So it’s not as easy as it seems to just get stuff, the right stuff, where it’s needed.

Along with what was pointed out upthread, ships are slow. The hospital ship USNS Comfort just left Baltimore. It’s not expected to arrive until Thursday and I’m sure they’re putting out all best possible speed to get there.

One major donation from [an unnamed organisation] in the UK after the tsunami was a container full of parkas and wooly socks.

The lack of comprehension of of the populace is also a problem with this sort of thing. Like dropping sachets peanut butter on Afghanistan. It was a wonderful thing to do, but the people who picked it up had no idea what to do with it, in the absence of people saying “yes, this is indeed highly nutritious food, albeit far from anything you’ve ever seen, and it’s intended to be put on bread etc.”

Money doesn’t buy miracles.

Let’s say there’s a box of Ramen Noodles at the airport. You need a truck to get it to Port au Prince. You also need gasoline. You also need security. And a driver. Once the noodles arrive in the capital city, are you just going to throw it out of window, or are you going to set up a distribution centre? That centre needs water, food, fuel and more security.

All this stuff takes time, but there’s really no choice.

The airport is not damaged in a way that delays flights. The control tower was destroyed but that is easily replaced by mobile units. The problem with the airport is that it has very limited ramp space and no taxiways. Airplanes have to land and then back taxi after landing and before takeoff so it slows incoming planes. Even if they could bring them in faster there isn’t much space to park a plane. There are only 5 other airports in the country and they are all small runways.

To give you an idea of why there is little rescue going on I just watched an interview with a local team that is still waiting here because there is no infrastructure to support them. The plane is loaded with nowhere to go. This is a team that specializes in rescues from collapsed buildings.

One plane we sent had to circle the airport for something like 3 hours - as people have said the infrastructure just isn’t there.

By the same token - the (badly inadequate) port was so badly damaged that there was no way for the ships to come in - so that slows things down a lot.

Now that there is military on the ground, they can help with things like roads, docks and control - but it takes a while to set that up.

Here’s a video from NBCthat gives you an idea what happens when you drop supplies into a refuge camp.

All that is true for the bulk of the distribution but they could air drop food and water in flat-packs using side streets as drop points. It’s just a matter of coordinating the drop with an advance team to block off a small strip of land. We already do air drops, they just need to adapt the process to the situation. This would alleviate the backup at the airport by making the drops directly. While it might not have a high percentage of delivery it would certainly put supplies where none exist. When it’s 80 degrees out there is no substitute for water.

Using a helicopter to drop supplies is a waste of resources. There’s no reason why a C-130 designed for air drops can’t make a pass and drop 40,000 lbs at a time. We did it in Iraq, it just needs to be modified for an urban setting.

Suppose a Haitian gets crushed, though? Acceptable risk?

This is an example of a small-pack air drop. They’re not boxes but slim packages. It wouldn’t take much to cordon off a drop zone and modify the drop to a lower altitude so the payload isn’t scattered. If they can do runway drag and goes it shouldn’t be a problem to do a 100 ft pass with the scatter method you see in the video. Nobody is getting crushed by a small packet and if by chance someone got wacked with one the joy of a drink of water is going to wash away the pain.

This makes me think about the recent thread on a proposed airship design. Even if such things could never be operated for profit, maybe they would be worth having for shipping relief to third-world disaster zones. Carry hundreds of tons of supplies anywhere and set down wherever there’s a large enough flat space. Or a completely self-contained mobile field hospital.

I read an interview with the shipping company that routinely ships from Miami to Haiti, they have the weekly run. They are stuck-can’t move any of the many shipping containers of supplies they have ready. Their staff is either Haitian or know lots of people there. They are inimately familiar with the facilities and needs. They know the Gov’t people. They can’t move. The only pier large enough to handle a shipping container and the only cranes that can handle heavy cargo were destroyed. The other ports in Haiti are functional but can’t support large cargo. No cranes, no roads, no piers (large enough that is). So the problem is the country was on the ragged edge of disaster before the earthquake hit. Then it got much worse.

“It wouldn’t take much to cordon off a drop zone”
and there is the problem. No one on the ground is available to do that.
it would take more than two volunteers with a roll of caution tape.

Exactly. The area is in turmoil and nothing is easy. The people are just a displaced mob.

The US Navy has units specifically missioned for beach invasions a la Normandy, Okinawa, etc., but seeing as there hasn’t been an Atlantic Wall in 65 years they’ve been good at finding other ways to justify existence. Humanitarian aid/disaster relief is the biggest one, since these guys are specialists at moving people/goods/whatever from the ship to the shore and back quickly.

“Seaport? We don’t need no stinkin’ seaport.”

Here’s a picture of a Landing Craft, Utility looking at the USS WASP. That big gaping hole in the ship is the well deck, which is where all the little boats float in and out of.

Here is what the Hudson River looks like from inside the well deck (open, unflooded) a couple years ago. Flooded, it looks like this. Those LCUs can hold a lot of cargo and look like this.

LCUs are very dependable and can carry a lot of cargo, but for this type of situation you want LCACs. Landing Craft, Air Cushion (LCAC) are more-or-less hovercraft. The advantage they have over LCUs is they’re faster and can reach 70% of the world’s beaches, and they don’t stop once they hit the beach, but can keep going until they reach wherever it is they’re going. That versatility makes the LCAC very useful in disaster zones like Haiti, New Orleans after Katrina (or the Gulf Coast after Ike as well), and the 2004 tsunami relief effort.

And they look like this. In choppy waters being in one will probably make you hurl. They move kind of like this out of the ship and hit land like this. Once it’s done onloading or offloading, the skirt there inflates up real quick and back out to the water it goes.

And then after the initial landings you have guys whose job it is is to guide the follow-ups and try to keep the beach party somewhat organized. Because you can’t take the rest of the island or get supplies to the needy if everything’s a freaking mess on the beach. These guys are called Beachmasters.

And then once you have the beach secure and are able to break out, you will have Seabees. They’ll do things like build a pier from scratch and unload ships to really speed up that aid flow, as well as pitch camp, set up an aid station and provide security. But if you have a need for all of those things plus a road repaired or a runway built TODAY, they can do that too.

So in Haiti, where there is no (or barely any) infrastructure like an airport or seaport or dock or decent road system, there’s going to be a combination of all of these guys (and gals too) headed that way.

You take a helicopter with 4 marines in it who scope out a landing zone and they they radio in the coordinates of an already airborne c-130. The coordinates are plugged in and they make a GPS approach with a 100 foot flyover. Done. They could drop 40,000 lbs of material all day long in different locations around the city.

What you see on TV are people grouped in tent cities. The city has a tremendous amount of dead space in it starting with the surrounding suburbs. They could pick virtually any deserted street and do this. The small-pack air drops are not packages that are going to kill anybody and when there is a situation where there is no water or food for days at time the situation is deadly. It’s not that it can’t be done because we did it in Iraq. We already have a demonstrated system in place that works. It just needs to be adapted to the situation which is something the military is good at. People are dying from a lack of supplies so it’s not an academic discussion that something bad might happen. Something bad IS happening.