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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing Examines Aid To Haiti, Rebuilding; Senators Introduce Legislation

At a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on Thursday and in a “separate teleconference by relief organizations,” officials said international aid to Haiti has been delayed by the “island nation’s inept government, a lack of coordination by aid organizations and the legacy of past U.S. policy failures,” McClatchy/Miami Herald reports.

At the hearing, Paul Farmer, the U.N. deputy special envoy to Haiti pointed to disconnect between relief efforts and the country’s ability to take in the aid, according to McClatchy.  Farmer also said, “Where we are creating 4,000 jobs in cleaning rubble, we must create 40,000 jobs.” He added, “We must hasten our efforts to get tents, tarpaulins and latrines or composting toilets to Haiti.” If the poor sanitation situation continues, cholera and other diseases could spread, according to Farmer, the news service reports (Sahoo, 1/29).

“Asked by the panel’s chairman Senator John Kerry how much of the city needed rebuilding, Farmer replied: ‘The majority of it. Seventy-five percent,’” Agence France-Presse writes (1/28). Farmer also noted U.S. policies that he said had weakened Haiti’s government. “Over the past two decades, U.S. aid policies have seesawed between embargoes and efforts to bypass governments, including elected ones not to Washington’s taste,” he said. “Farmer said the U.N. is considering ‘some direct budgetary grants to get the government back on feet,”’ McClatchy/Miami Herald writes.

“Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., also blamed previous Haitian governments for the present crisis. ‘The failures and corruption of past Haitian governments contributed greatly to the stress felt by the Haitian people before the earthquake, and the limitations of the current government constrain the prospects for recovery,’ Lugar said,” according to the news service (1/29).

At the hearing, both Republican and Democratic Senators “made clear … that piecemeal, ‘willy-nilly’ (to quote Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.) reconstruction efforts won’t be enough to rebuild – and in many ways, build from scratch – the island nation,” according to the National Journal. Foreign Relations “committee members seem eager to take the reins to make sure Haiti’s reboot is done right. … ‘I don’t know how you get this done with any semblance of normality in terms of the approach,’ said … Kerry … ‘This has to be a kind of … D-Day invasion’” (Herbert, 1/28).

To help the country rebuild, Farmer said funds should be committed and disbursed into a “recovery” fund that the Inter-American Development Bank or a similar organization could oversee, AFP reports. “‘Such an account could be managed … with partners such as the U.N. and, of course, Haitian leadership … to design and implement recovery plans coordinated at central and local levels,’ he said, adding that the effort also would include the United States and other leading nations” (1/28).

Also Thursday, “Chris Dodd, a Democrat who is chairman of the Senate banking committee, and … Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee,” introduced legislation that aims “to write off Haiti’s foreign debt, increase trade and create an infrastructure fund to help the quake-hit country rebuild quicker,” Reuters reports.

“The Dodd-Lugar bill also calls for an infrastructure fund for Haiti that would invest in rebuilding roads, water, sanitation and power grids. Additionally, it said aid to the government should be provided through grant handouts rather than loans that would add to the country’s debt burden,” the news service writes (1/28).

Dodd said, “The United States and the international community have already contributed tremendously to short-term relief efforts in Haiti, but it’s critical that we commit to Haiti’s long-term recovery as well,” according to a second AFP article. Lugar said that “sustained international participation in Haiti is vital for its recovery” (1/28).

“As the only member of Congress who has lived in Haiti and speaks the Creole language, Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) is understandably worried about the country’s future in the wake of the disastrous Jan. 12 earthquake,” The Hill writes in an article examining Oberstar’s thoughts on the U.S. role in Haiti’s reconstruction (Eisele, 1/28).

U.N. and U.S. aid officials said “urgent” operations in Haiti are slowing down, Bloomberg reports. “International efforts are shifting toward helping sustain Haitians, including the estimated 800,000 residents of the capital Port-au-Prince left homeless by the Jan. 12 quake. About 250,000 people have already left the city for the countryside, and locally grown food is beginning to arrive in the capital, said David Wimhurst, a U.N. peacekeeping mission spokesman,” the news service writes. The article also looks at the delivery of aid, water and sanitation and the challenges facing children who were orphaned in the quake (Green/Varner, 1/28).

NPR’s “Morning Edition” looks at the move to deal with longer-term needs. “Some banks and stores are re-opening, people are searching for jobs, and once again, there’s food for sale in some markets. And the medical needs are beginning to move on from dealing with broken bones and amputations to more long-term issues” (Silberner, 1/29). The Associated Press/New York Times published an overview of the situation on the ground (1/28).

News Outlets Report On Aid Delivery Progress, Challenges

The delivery of aid in Haiti continued to be slow and Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, who leads the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, said, “We’re still not up to meeting the needs of the Haitian people as far as the amount of supplies that are there. And so, there have been some instances, isolated, where we’ve been out to give distribution to citizens, there hasn’t always been enough food,” CNN reports.

“We haven’t anticipated the demand, I guess, at each site as we’ve gone out because the Haitians have – have migrated around, if you will, from distribution site to distribution site, so we’re finding pockets that we haven’t been able to get in to,” Fraser said. He also noted that “the relief efforts improve every day” (1/28).

In a second CNN article, Fraser discussed plans for temporary 3,000- to 5,000-bed hospital on land in Haiti because Haitians receiving care on the USNS Comfort are requiring treatment for longer than anticipated. “The effort that we have ongoing right now for the discharge is looking to put together a facility where we have the ability to recover those patients – and be able to provide them with that recovery space and time that they need,” Fraser said.

According to CNN, “He said the initial effort would be to make a temporary facility on land the Haitian government has identified, with the facility consisting of tents and cots and whatever other resources can be scrounged together” (Mount, 1/29).

The Wall Street Journal looks at the delivery of food aid and examines why it has been difficult to get the aid to reach earthquake survivors. “It’s not typical for so much to go wrong on a major operation like this – in fact, on Thursday, the Army successfully delivered the cargo, in the largest single-day food distribution here. But a diary of Wednesday’s journey reads like an anthology of the obstacles stifling efforts to deliver aid since an earthquake turned the Haitian capital to rubble two weeks ago,” the newspaper writes (Rhoads, 1/29).

“With aid still only trickling in despite a vast international relief effort launched after the January 12 quake, hundreds of thousands of homeless people in tent camps are not only short of food but also at risk from rising crime,” AFP reports in an article looking at the risk of violence and rape in Haiti.

Mario Andresol, the national police chief, said that because Port-au-Prince has an electricity shortage, “bandits are taking advantage to harass and rape women and young girls under the tents.” Anthony Banbury, the deputy head of the U.N. mission in Haiti, said sometimes violence erupted while survivors waited for aid. “While the influx of aid was vital after the quake, which killed around 170,000 people, ‘at the same it can be a source of insecurity because it attracts big crowds and there can be disorder around food distribution,’” he said (Montet, 1/28).

Medical Supplies, Prosthetics Shortage; Child Trafficking

“Basic medical supplies such as antibiotics and painkillers are running dangerously low at some hospitals and clinics in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and in the countryside, alarming doctors who are struggling to keep up with demand,” the Canadian Press reports. Elisabeth Byrs, of the U.N.’s humanitarian co-ordination office, said this adds to concerns about a potential public health crisis because of the unsanitary living conditions and a limited supply of water. The article includes quotes from other aid and medical officials (Fox, 1/29).

MSNBC examines the number of amputations and the need for prosthetics in the aftermath of the earthquake. “Estimates of amputations have varied dramatically – from a few thousand to more than 110,000, according to agency reports. There’s no reliable count amid the chaos so far, but even the most conservative disaster workers say more than 75 people a day have lost limbs since the quake, either because of initial injuries or because of secondary infections and gangrene,” MSNBC writes.

“It’s still too early for earthquake victims to receive artificial limbs, said Pat Chelf, a board member for the Amputee Coalition of America, an education and advocacy group. Under the best circumstances, amputation injuries take a month or more to heal, and the conditions in Haiti are anything but the best” (Aleccia, 1/28).

In related news, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley said Thursday that the U.S. plans to work with the international community to protect Haitian children who might be at risk of trafficking, CNN writes. Crowley said, “We have concerns about traffickers, we have concerns about pedophiles … We’ve seen a couple of cases of those in recent days. So this is just something we are working collectively with those organizations that are actively trying to help children, people on the ground, be alert for this kind of danger” (Keyes, 1/29).