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As Haiti Waits on Aid, Survivors Wonder Who’s in Charge

January 19, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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At one hospital just across from the Port-au-Prince airport, medical workers can see aid entering Haiti but still do not have access to it. Jonathan Rugman of ITN examines how confusion over who is leading the relief effort is slowing the distribution of aid.

JIM LEHRER: Meanwhile, hundreds of people are still in desperate need of help at a makeshift — at makeshift hospitals across the Haitian capital.

Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News has that part of the story.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Sheltering in the grounds of an industrial park is what passes for a hospital. The patients are of all ages. The most critical have open fractures, internal bleeding, and limbs in need of amputation. But there’s no operating table here, and, if you need a drip, either a relative holds it or it hangs from the branch of a tree.

This doctor from the Dominican Republic says they don’t have enough dressings or antibiotics, and, above all, surgeons, to save lives. But what’s astonishing is that the five people who died here last night passed away just across the road from the capital’s airport, where thousands of tons of aid are pouring in.

How many people have you treated here since the earthquake?

ALPHONSE EDWARD, hospital coordinator: I would have to say probably 2,000 to 3,000 at minimum, and it’s probably more, and…

JONATHAN RUGMAN: How many casualties, how many fatalities have you had?

ALPHONSE EDWARD: I would say we’re getting five to 10 a day, unfortunately. And it’s due to lack of supplies, due to lack of doctors. And everything’s just 100 meters away right at the — and we’re right next to the airport.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: A newcomer pulled from the rubble is this 23-year- old, who was trapped beneath a university for six days.

“Jesus can do miracles,” her astonished sister says. But the girl can’t go to a proper hospital, because those which are still standing are full.

ALPHONSE EDWARD: Look at how they’re moving one guy. It takes five people to move one patient on a board. You go to the U.N., they tell you, come back tomorrow at 4:00. We will talk to you then.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Across the road, at the airport, America’s military might is on display, what President Obama has called one of the biggest aid efforts ever. But who’s in charge of prioritizing who needs what? The U.N. says it is in charge of distributing relief, while the Americans say the Haitian government is taking the lead.

COMMANDER CHRIS LOUNDERMAN, U.S. Navy: You know, I have heard some people say it was like chaos. And it is, but the thing is, the more effort that the international community provides, the better off the Haitian people will be.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: But — I understand the chaos, but what I don’t understand is why the aid can’t get from here to the other side of the road.

CHRIS LOUNDERMAN: Right. I’m not — I can’t really hone in on one specific instance of why that location is not receiving the medicine, as you would say, fast enough. The priorities are all prioritized by the Haitian government. I want to underscore that.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Back at the emergency medical center, U.N. troops were trying to stop an angry crowd from storming inside. They showed the soldiers their wounds, in the hope of gaining admission.

“We’re hungry, and they give us nothing,” the people told us.

This crowd is desperate for food and water, so it’s been trying all morning to break into the makeshift field hospital behind me.

This morning, some surgeons from Jamaica arrived with news that they would take some of the critical patients away. The earthquake was a week ago, but aid workers say lives are still being lost here, with a lack of leadership to blame.