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Haiti Aid Backups Spark Anger, Desperation

A generous world has flooded Haiti with donations, but anger and desperation are mounting as the aid stacks up inside this broken country.

Bottlenecks at key transportation points and scattered violence, including an armed group's attack on a food convoy, have slowed the distribution of food and medicine from the port, airport and a warehouse in the Cite-Soleil slum. U.S. air traffic controllers have lined up 2,550 incoming flights through March 1, but some 25 flights a day aren't taking their slots. Communication breakdowns between Haitians and their foreign counterparts are also endemic.

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"Aid is bottlenecking at the Port-au-Prince airport. It's not getting into the field," said Mike O'Keefe, who runs Banyan Air Service in Fort Lauderdale.

Foreign aid workers and Haitians are fed up - one Haitian father paid a group of men more than $200 on Tuesday to retrieve his daughter's body from his collapsed house, rather than wait for demolition crews.

"No one is in charge," said Dr. Rob Maddox of Start, Louisiana, tending to dozens of patients in the capital's sprawling general hospital. "There's no topdown leadership. ... And since the Haitian government took control of our supplies, we have to wait for things even though they're stacked up in the warehouse. The situation is just madness."

Boxes of supplies are stacked to the ceiling in the hospital's dimly lit warehouse. In another storage area, medicine, bandages and other key supplies pile up on tables - watched over by a Haitian health worker who scrawls in a notebook, ticking off everything that comes in and out. Doctors say since locals took over the supply room, crucial time to save lives has been lost by filling out unnecessary forms.

Donors talk about five key logistical challenges - grappling with a non-functioning government, a backlog of flights at the airport, a damaged and small port, clogged overland routes from outlying airports and the Dominican Republic, and security concerns.

Aid agencies say food and water deliveries have about doubled in the past 10 days, but some relief workers are frustrated at how long it takes to move other supplies out of the U.N.'s warehouses.

UN officials said Tuesday that more than 100 ships are en route to Haiti, but part of the capital's port remains unsound, with limited capacity. Ships need their own cranes and other offloading equipment.

Traveling from the airport on the eastern edge of the capital to the western side of the city can take more than 3 hours. Travel by night is largely out, there are few functioning street lamps and, once the sun sets, countless survivors sleep in the streets.

Haiti has been plagued with crime, violence and gangs in the past, and some aid workers worry about being ambushed. Most aid convoys require armed escorts, like the one that fired guns to drive away 20 armed men who blocked a road and tried to hijack a food convoy from an airport to the southern town of Jeremie. U.N. and Haitian police on Tuesday arrested 14 people suspected of participating in Saturday's attack, the U.N. said.

Mobs have also stolen food and looted goods from their neighbors in the camps, prompting many to band together or stay awake at night to prevent raids.

Small groups of state employees and lawyers held protests across the city Tuesday, denouncing President Rene Preval's leadership. Prime Minister Max Bellerive defended their performance before a quorum of 20 Haitian senators, saying "even the most advanced countries could not respond to this crisis."

"The government has not been able to even prove symbolically that it exists," Sen. Andrisse Riche responded angrily. He said had hadn't been contacted by anyone in government since the Jan. 12 earthquake.

The disaster has killed at least 150,000 and demolished virtually every government building in the capital. Some 1 million people are homeless, many huddling in crude tents and bed sheets.

The government has asked private aid organizations register and send e-mails detailing what they're doing and where. The goal is to coordinate food being distributed by non-governmental organizations, though not U.N efforts. Haitian officials complain some areas are receiving multiple rations while others have nothing.

"It is true we are in need," said Sen. Jean Joel Joseph. "But don't treat us like dogs ... as if we are animals."

Relief organizations are finding ways around the bottlenecks.

To avoid long lines at the port, the American Red Cross has created a "boat bridge" to unload relief supplies from a Colombian Red Cross ship off shore, said David Meltzer, the group's senior vice president for international services.

The U.S. military has managed to land between 120 and 140 flights a day at Port-au-Prince airport, which handled just 25 planes daily before the quake, Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Candace Park said.

Another way to avoid backups on the tarmac is to buy aid in Haiti, said Edward Rees, whose nonprofit Peace Dividend Trust in Haiti is pressing donors to purchase local goods and hire local workers whenever possible.

Rees said he met Tuesday with a rice supplier "who is aghast at all the rice being flown and shipped in, when his warehouses are still half full."

The World Food Program, which coordinates logistics of food delivery among relief groups, has brought in a fleet of trucks that has significantly expanded deliveries from other cities and the Dominican Republic, spokesman Marcus Priory said.

"We have been facing the most complex operation we have ever had to launch because we have massive needs (and) a densely populated urban context, which is not a traditional operating area for a humanitarian mission," Priory said.

And U.S. soldiers are stepping in to dislodge traffic james in Port-au-Prince, where aid convoys are stuck in a constant mass of people, trucks, and tap-tap minibuses squeezing past the debris piles.

"It's like this everyday!" shouted a soldier from 82nd Airborne Division, getting vehicles moving again Tuesday near one city slum.

O'Keeffe said flight schedules were being complicated by people missing slots, which he blames on a phone reservation line so clogged that groups are booking landing times even if they aren't sure they'll need them.

He is advising pilots to use smaller outlying airports.

O'Keeffe recently flew 9,000 meals, baby formula, baby food and diapers into the Jacmel airport, which is being run by the Canadian Air Force and watched the supplies being loaded onto a United Nations truck.

"By the time I was back in Florida, I had photos of babies in diapers being fed the formula I flew in," he said. "Pretty satisfying."

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