Haiti's logistical nightmare

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Relief workers, doctors and military troops continue to work hard to help earthquake survivors in Haiti. But conditions there remain extremely difficult. There are reports of hospitals and clinics running out of medicine, and then there's the still-frustrating work of delivering food and water to survivors. Marco Werman speaks with Wall Street Journal reporter Christopher Rhoads about the logistical nightmare of distributing aid in Haiti.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. Relief workers, doctors and military troops continue to work hard to help earthquake survivors in Haiti, but conditions there remain extremely difficult. There are reports of hospitals and clinics around Port-au-Prince running out of medicine. That sparked concerns about survivors dying from untreated wounds and infections. Then there is the still frustrating work of delivering food and water to quake survivors. Wall Street Journal reporter Christopher Rhoads is in Port-au-Prince. Now Chris, you have a front page article in today's paper about one particular aid convoy this past Wednesday and it's really a case study of just how difficult it can be to distribute aid there. Briefly, what went wrong?

CHRISTOPHER RHOADS: Essentially everything that could have gone wrong, did. There was a series of problems ranging from one truck being broken down at an entrance of a key warehouse where this convoy was supposed to pick up some food to miscommunication among military officials and just essentially uncoordinated plans. I should put out that this organization called Eagle's Wings Foundation out of Southern Florida, that they had had some success in the previous days. They had been making food drops, but the day I was with them, basically everything that could have gone wrong, did.

MARCO WERMAN: You talk about the traffic, the communication and the infrastructural problems, but you also clearly describe a situation where the bottleneck seems to be this complex of 40 warehouses near the airport. Was that the source of the challenges for the shipment of aid?

CHRISTOPHER RHOADS: That was what got things off on the wrong foot in the morning. They had been going into that warehouse every day to pick up food. It's a major complex of warehouses and it's really the new business center of Port-au-Prince since the downtown is so destroyed. There was just a bottleneck in there that didn't move for hours because of this broken down truck. So that was basically a wasted morning.

MARCO WERMAN: So this is one example of the problems of getting aid to people who need it in Port-au-Prince. What do you see, though, as the underlying issue here? The real problem.

CHRISTOPHER RHOADS: Well, as one of the people that was in that convoy with me put it, you have people that want to help and there seems to be no shortage of that. And then you have people that know how to help and there is a shortage of that. We sort of saw that through the day. On Wednesday you had a lot of eager people, lot of good will, but in terms of executing the details, numerous people just came up short.

MARCO WERMAN: So there are those that want to help, those that can help, do you have a sense that there is someone, some organization that is working to solve these problems that you describe in your story? Who is in charge?

CHRISTOPHER RHOADS: It seems like you have a lot of moving parts, which might be part of the issue. You have all these NGO's that are working together with the World Food Program, which in turn is working together with the U.S. military, the U.N. troops and others for security. But still within those groupings you have a huge number of individuals and individual entities and coordinating all that is proving to be pretty tough, obviously, even into this third week.

MARCO WERMAN: So your story mentions the U.N.'s World Food Program, the U.S. Army, you mentioned Eagle's Wings Foundation, how does the Haitian government fit into all of this?

CHRISTOPHER RHOADS: It's interesting. As far as I could tell on that day there was no role of the actual government of Haiti. There was, however, a role of Haitians. This organization had hired 150 Haitians to help with the distribution and - - security with the idea of empowering them and showing them that they can do these things on their own and not just accept help. But as far as the government goes, they were not part of that operation.

MARCO WERMAN: The Wall Street Journal's Christopher Rhoads in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Thanks very much for your time.