Haiti earthquake: Is the US aid effort too slow?

On Tuesday, the US military airdropped 3,700 gallons of water and 14,000 pre-packaged meals into Port-au-Prince, in an area secured by US troops.

Jorge Silva / Reuters
A Haitian boy receives water from US forces at a food distribution point in Port-au-Prince Tuesday.
Tech. Sgt. James L. Harper Jr. / US Air Force / Reuters
A US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft airdrops humanitarian aid into Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, Monday.

Over the weekend, United Nation's secretary General Ban Ki-Moon described the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake as "one of the most serious humanitarian crises in decades," and there's been an outpouring of international support in the face of that need.

The US has so far been in the lead.

On Tuesday, the US military airdropped 3,700 gallons of water and 14,000 pre-packaged meals into Port-au-Prince, in an area secured by US troops. Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division have been fanning out into the capital and environs, seeking to locate earthquake survivors, provide basic security, and beginning aid missions of their own. A 250-bed hospital ship is scheduled to arrive in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, US troops helicoptered in to the site of the Presidential Palace to set up a base for aid operations. The US Army said there are 2,000 troops on the ground so far and expects to have 10,000 more in the area in about a week, with half of the new troops dedicated to working on aid operations.

But there have been complaints from some quarters that the US response has been too slow.

Analysts following the aid mission -- which is shaping up to one of the largest in Western Hemisphere history -- have generally had positive reviews of the US build up. So have average Americans. A CBS poll released Monday found that 80 percent of Americans approve of President Obama's handling of relief for Haiti so far.

To be sure, many Haitians have understandably been angry at the slow arrival of aid. "For those who have lost everything, of course, help cannot come soon enough... but we are working day and night," Mr. Ban said, urging patience.

The National Journal Online hosted comments from a number of experts in international affairs on its blog on the relief effort so far.

Michael Brenner, a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, wrote: "We are doing a splendid job. Let's hope that it can continue unencumbered by the visits of celebrity politicians on the hunt for a photo-op."

Writing in the same place Wayne White, a retired US diplomat who served in Haiti, was far more critical, complaining that a lack of flexibility by US planners delayed getting aid to people who needed it most

"Large numbers of hard-working, caring people rushed to Haiti and put in terrific personal efforts, but lack of aggressive leadership, more creative solutions, and simply the flexibility to improvise in the face of unusually tough obstacles reduced greatly the overall amount of vital aid actually reaching most of those critically in need early on. In the end, those shortcomings probably will cost thousands – even tens of thousands – of lives," he wrote.

He says that the US should have begun large scale airdrops almost immediately.

US aircraft "could have dropped many hundreds of tons of provisions all over the city and many other affected areas beginning very early in the crisis, lessening the potential for frantic reaction among the victims when more normal distribution could begin later," he argues. "The lack of movement of supplies from the airport into town was especially frustrating to observe while the media used its energy and creativity to penetrate into all sorts of areas, and a number of private aid personnel already living in Haiti managed to move around plenty of areas of the capital, even driving seriously wounded from deep inside the city to the Dominican border."

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