The World from Berlin 'America Must Tread Carefully in Haiti'

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has appealed for patience as anger mounts in Haiti over the tardiness of the relief effort and aid groups criticize the US management of the airport. Yet most German papers argue that the superpower is vital in helping the devastated country recover from the disaster.

US soldiers at Port-au-Prince international airport.
REUTERS

US soldiers at Port-au-Prince international airport.


The aid is starting to get through to Haiti. But it is insufficient and it is not reaching enough of the people who desperately need it. As the United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon appeals to Haitians for patience, and the United States prepares to send in more troops, the European Union has pledged tens of millions in reconstruction aid to help the quake-ravaged country recover from the disaster.

Ban made an emotional trip to the devastated capital Port-au-Prince on Sunday, visiting the destroyed UN headquarters and acknowledging that many survivors are growing desperate. "I sincerely hope and appeal to Haitian people to be more patient," he said.

Photo Gallery

16  Photos
Photo Gallery: Aid Gets to People in Haiti, But Only Slowly

The US is preparing to send in more troops to deal with the aftermath of the 7.0 quake. On Tuesday, US Lt. General Ken Keen described a disaster of "epic proportions" and said it was a "reasonable assumption" that up to 200,000 people have died. But anger and frustration are mounting over the slow pace of assistance. Many of the survivors of Tuesday's earthquake have been left to fend for themselves as aid fails to get through and there are already reports of sporadic violence and the lynching of would-be looters.

While planes and ships are descending on the country to provide relief, the US- controlled airport is proving to be a bottleneck and the ports cannot be used because of quake damage. Some aid groups have been critical of the US management of the Port-au-Prince airport. Doctors Without Borders called on the US military to be "clear on its prioritization of medical supplies and equipment."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has warned governments and aid groups against squabbling. French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet had expressed annoyance at the turning back of a French plane carrying a field hospital by US officials at Port-au-Prince airport. Kouchner told France-Info radio on Monday that "people always want it to be their plane … that lands," but said, "what's important is the fate of the Haitians."

Werner Hoyner, a senior official at the German Foreign Ministry, has warned against a uncoordinated provision of relief in Haiti. "There is no lack of willingness to help," he said on Monday in Brussels. "However, we have to take care that we don't enter a competition to outdo one another."

International aid workers are struggling to cope with the scale of the disaster. There are a quarter of a million people left injured by the quake and they desperately require medical attention. However there is a shortage of medical supplies, equipment and doctors. Fuel is also in short supply.

The UN World Food Program said there were some improvements in the distribution of food and water, as it reached 60,000 people on Sunday. However, with an estimated 3 to 3.5 million people in need of aid, there are fears of social unrest.

Another 7,500 US forces are due to arrive in Haiti on Monday to join the 5,800 already on the ground or in ships off the coast. Meanwhile, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said that the UN had asked the EU to provide logistical support for the ships laden with emergency supplies. He said the EU also wanted to provide police units, "to protect aid distribution and prepare roads."

EU States Pledge €400 Million

European nations are to send hundreds of millions of euros in emergency and reconstruction aid to the impoverished country. EU development ministers met in Brussels on Monday and the EU and its member states together pledged over €400 million ($575 million) in longterm aid to help rebuild the devastated country. The ministers also discussed the launch of a security mission to Haiti to help maintain law and order, with talk of sending 150 people as part of a police force.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said that the 27-member bloc had asked the UN to let it know what contributions it could make to maintaining public order. Ashton, who is due to travel to New York on Wednesday for talks with US and UN officials, said that there were "big logistical questions." "You can't just walk in and dump aid, you have to have a plan, to do it properly to make sure it reaches everyone."

Photo Gallery

9  Photos
Photo Gallery: Surviving the Aftermath
German newspapers on Monday assess the role of the United States in providing aid to Haiti, with most agreeing that the super power is best placed to head the relief effort.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"In this catastrophe the United States is showing its best side. Helping its neighbors in their hour of need is one of America's primary virtues. Washington is reacting to the crisis in Haiti with a kind of general mobilization, even an invasion of mercy."

"The humanitarian superiority of the US has already raised suspicions. France has criticized the abrasive way the Americans at the airport have taken command, as the completely helpless government in Port-au-Prince abandons control to the US soldiers. This kind of criticism will only increase as soon as thousands of GIs go on patrol in order to provide temporary security. America must tread carefully in Haiti -- after decades of interference and occupation. No one can help more at the moment than the superpower. Later, however, many will claim to know how things could have been done better. The good deed of today can in the long term become a terrible curse."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"The frustration of the foreign aid workers' and the helpless people in the face of a humanitarian disaster is understandable. However, the bottlenecks occurring in Haiti are unavoidable and the criticism is unfair. When an earthquake completely destroys the already weak infrastructure of a poor country, then blockages are unavoidable."

"It is also an illusion that it is foreign aid workers who save the most people after a disaster. No matter how well organized the operation is, it takes a few days to assemble the colonies of aid and get them to their target. And it is exactly during these first few days that the injured are brought out of the rubble and treated -- by the people affected themselves, who are not just helpless victims."

"That does not mean that the international disaster aid has reached its maximum in efficiency. And everything must be done to improve it."

"One thing is striking about the operation in Haiti: The US has taken a leading role. Not only is it sending an enormous amount of material and personnel, it is also coordinating much of the aid coming from other countries. However, it would be negligent if the international community were to depend on the US or other big powers to do the same in future disasters -- the US reacted far too late in the case of the tsunami five years ago."

"The cumbersome structures of the UN seem little suited to providing rapid aid. What is required is a coordination point for disaster relief, a kind of global fire brigade. ... What must not be allowed to happen is that national vanities and the desire to seem particularly generous get in the way of improving aid."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"As if the international aid organizations didn't have better things to be doing, a narrow-minded rivalry has begun over the 'leadership.' Mexico has already called for a session of the UN Security Council with the aim of strengthening the role of the US in handling the relief effort. And in Europe, too, people are seeking the limelight by attacking the US, which is putting in motion the massive capabilities of its forces, providing huge amounts of money and mobilizing prominent fundraisers. No power in the world is better placed to get things off the ground."

"That is the political truth: Nothing works without the America's determined involvement, no matter how generous other providers of aid may be. Without Washington's long-term engagement, Haiti has no future. Survivors in Haiti do not interpret any corresponding declaration by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a threat, but as a way out of the misery. And perhaps as making up for previous indifference."

Siobhán Dowling

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