Blocking Doctors? Let the Aid to Haiti Go Through

The TV story seems to be that aid from America is pouring in to Haiti. But on the ground the US military is blocking doctors and American aid workers with longstanding relationships in Haiti from bringing in desperately needed aid, and the US is also being slow to expand airdrops of water, water purification tablets, and food. Where is the United States Congress? Because the US military is involved, does that mean no one can say anything?

Yesterday, Doctors Without Borders reported that

A Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) cargo plane carrying 12 tons of medical equipment, including drugs, surgical supplies and two dialysis machines, was turned away three times from Port-au-Prince airport since Sunday night despite repeated assurances of its ability to land there...Since January 14, MSF has had five planes diverted from the original destination of Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic. These planes carried a total of 85 tons of medical and relief supplies.

One of their staff members said,

"We have had five patients in Martissant health center die for lack of the medical supplies that this plane was carrying.... Today, there are 12 people who need lifesaving amputations at Choscal Hospital. We were forced to buy a saw in the market to continue amputations."

Groups ready to deliver aid to Jacmel - the fourth-largest city in Haiti - were told they would receive no clearance to land there from the U.S. military, even though they already had both aid supplies and the means for distributing them. This aid is only now being delivered - thanks to assistance from the Dominican Republic, not the U.S.

Finally, the US has started to airdrop water and food. AP reported that "The U.S. military has airdropped water and food into Haiti after earlier ruling out such a delivery method as too risky." But the airdrop AP reported was merely a test, not an effort to distribute supplies widely.

The risk cited earlier by Defense Secretary Gates was that airdrops might trigger riots if there were no infrastructure on the ground to distribute the supplies. But the primary driver of potential violence is shortage: if there is plenty to go around, there is no reason to fight. The US corporate media are obsessed with images of looting and conflict, slavishly devoted as they are to their "Lord of the Flies" meta-narrative that human beings are beasts who must be constantly supervised by Men With Guns, but so what? Any marginal increase in the probability of conflict has to be weighed against the certainty that people will die if they don't have clean water.

That's why these airdrops of food and water - including water purification tablets, because in some places people have access to water, but not clean water - should be immediately expanded.

The US operation has been putting "security concerns" above all else - at a high cost in Haitian lives. Perhaps that's not a surprising consequence of putting the military in charge, but that's why Congress needs to get engaged. You can write to your representatives in Congress here.