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Now Haitians die of thirst as UN fails to lead in the face of chaos

It cannot be overstated just how leaderless and chaotic is the rescue and aid effort for Haiti. It is astounding and criminally negligent that the UN should state that Haiti is a "sovereign" nation and that, therefore, the Government of President Rene Preval is in charge of operations.

There is no Haitian Government. This is my third visit to Port-au-Prince and Haitian governance is dysfunctional at the best of times.

Today, most of the government buildings have been destroyed by the earthquake. The giant presidential palace is devastated. Mr Preval is living at the airport.

The Ministry of Health has totally collapsed. The jail has emptied, with 3,000 prisoners at large. The central police station was flattened. Many officers died. The rest are overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, the international aid effort is rudderless and mired in logistical chaos. Myriad aid agencies are arriving by plane and by road but there is no central co-ordinating body to tell them what to do -- so they are muddling along as best they can.

There is a single, narrow road from the airport into Port-au-Prince where, a week after the earthquake, hope for many more survivors dwindles by the hour. The road is snarled with Haitian vans, motorbikes, UN armoured personnel carriers and aid trucks. It is a nightmarish scene of gridlock and tooting horns.

On the tarmac the 82nd Airborne Division, some of whom I spoke to on Sunday, had been languishing since Wednesday night, sitting around, smoking cigarettes, not having left the airport. Outside the perimeter, tens of thousands of Haitians were desperate for water and were begging for food and medicine.

Private Patrick Jones told me that only a few supplies of food and water had arrived.

"We don't want to go out and distribute anything until we are sure we have enough for everyone," he said. "We don't want to give to some and not to others."

There are planes from the US, Nicaragua, Argentina, the UK, Canada, Chile, Spain and France -- yet no central command.

Aid agencies were incensed by Hillary Clinton's visit on Saturday. The US military blocked supply planes from landing to make way for her arrival.

The UN World Food Programme expected to reach more than 60,000 Haitians yesterday but conceded that it needed to make two million daily deliveries. The Geneva-based Medecins sans Frontieres said bluntly: "There is little sign of significant aid distribution."

In the meantime, Haitians are beginning to die of thirst and are without food and medicine because of an abject failure of leadership by the international community.

The US Government and the UN urgently need to step in and grasp the nettle and appoint a figure of international standing to take charge.

Anything less is a betrayal to the people of Port-au-Prince.

hnews@herald.ie


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