US air drops aid in Haiti

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The US military has resorted to airdrops in Haiti, as part of its efforts to speed the flow of aid to earthquake survivors. Anchor Marco Werman speaks with the BBC's Nick Davis about the airdrops, which included food rations and drinking water.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. The survivors of last week's earthquake in Haiti need above all, food and water but aid has been slow to arrive in part because of transportation bottlenecks. Today, the U.S. military tried to break the log jam. Twenty helicopters carrying soldiers touched down near the shattered presidential palace in the capitol, Port au Prince. The troops unloaded supplies on the palace lawn and then moved them to hospitals nearby. Meanwhile, the BBC's Nick Davis in Port au Prince tells us that the U.S. Air Force has started air drops.

NICK DAVIS: C-17 aircraft flying from a base in North Carolina, Pope Air Force Base, coming into Haiti to an area just north of the city, not actually too far from here and dropping a number of pallets of aid down to the people waiting below. Now this is something initially which had been ruled out as a possibility by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gate, mainly because of the fear of what might happen if supplies were dropped into areas on the ground there wasn't enough adequate support to make sure that it just didn't turn into complete mayhem but what they're doing is they're using area which is secured so that the aid can be distributed in a much more orderly fashion. That aid is a mixture of water and also MRE's, these ready meals which basically you open the pack, inside is some water, you throw it inside and it actually self-heats. It heats the food up and it provides very nutritious meals, often used by combat troops in the U.S. military.

WERMAN: So Nick, no scenes of chaos as far as you can tell in these very early hours of these air drops?

DAVIS: No, not so far. Again, as I say because the sites aren't being basically made sterile, they're being secured. What they're doing is making sure that people go in an orderly fashion, that they actually give out the food rather than people taking the food for themselves. There's a real sort of worry that what has happened at other sites could be repeated here, where basically the biggest and the strongest take more food than everybody else.

WERMAN: Nick, I'm wondering since you're close to the airport, are crowds now starting to converge on the airport, presumably to be more quickly on the receiving end of relief supplies? If they can't actually get the supplies out into settlement camps.

DAVIS: That's exactly it. This is a makeshift camp which is just across the road. People there deciding that it's better to be close to where the supplies are coming in, than waiting for aide to get to them. They are aware of these bottlenecks. You know, you often see people here in Port au Prince walk around with transistor radios. They know that the world is aware of their plight but, because the aid hasn't been apparent because of all these delays which have existed, they are going to where they know for definite there's food, where they know for definite there's water.

WERMAN: Maybe you can just give us kind of a scene of what you've witnessed most recently in Port au Prince proper.

DAVIS: Well security's clearly an issue. There's been more widespread looting around this city. Yesterday evening I went to visit a police station, [SOUNDS LIKE] Klissingta Bar, where the officers were preparing to go out on patrol. They were jumping into the back of pick-up vehicles, six or seven of them, just basically hanging on as they sped off into the night. Their job is to make sure that this doesn't become more widespread, to basically put a lid on it, to contain the insecurity which people here believe could be a real problem. Now police in Haiti really do look like soldiers. They're there in urban fatigues and gray to make them blend into the urban environment and they're heavily armed as well with body armor and high caliber weapons. I asked one officer what he felt about the situation, whether or not he felt it would get worse. He said the area downtown which has been the center of much of the problems, he said that isn't so bad, that his fellow officers have got that contained because they were going down there in force and that is clearly what is the hope of the U.N. and the U.S. military, that they can be seen as a deterrent to stop this becoming a really, really widespread issue.

WERMAN: It's interesting Nick, there are reports of, the reports of looting vary. Some say the crime is actually, considering the scale of this catastrophe, is actually lower than before the earthquake.

DAVIS: That's right. Former U.S. president, Bill Clinton, he was here only yesterday and those are the sort of thoughts which he made to the press when he arrived. He was saying that bearing in mind what people have gone through in the last week, you know, the fact is that there's hardly been any real problems. There's only these isolated incidents as far as he's concerned. It is an issue though that as the time goes on, as the delays continue, there may be more but you know, when I speak to people here, it's really clear that there's a sense of community which still exists among the Haitians, very resilient people and many of them really coming together to protect themselves, protect their neighborhoods, making sure that they know who's coming in, making sort of impromptu blockades to make sure the areas stay safe but also sharing food, sharing water and basically working together rather than working against each other.

WERMAN: The BBC's Nick Davis there.