Saturday, February 6, 2010

Making Progress

As I think I alluded to before, everything you do here takes more time than you think. The country lacked a strong infrastructure even before the earthquake, and now the influx of people, cars, and trucks has completely clogged the city. Driving a mile takes 30 minutes at least. So when we went to pick up our 60 pallets of medicine from the PAP airport yesterday, we didn't expect anything different. Although they had arrived on-time and were off-loaded onto the tarmac by 8am sharp, it took another eight hours to get them through customs and onto our trucks. That was partly due to the fact that Bill Clinton and Paul Farmer arrived in their private jet at the airport at 10am, thus closing down the whole airport, and partly because the customs official who has to sign the paperwork decided to not show up for work. We were dealing with a volunteer agent who said that since the quake, government officials have often stopped coming in to work because they are not only overwhelmed, but they also got used to not working very hard in the days (and years) before it happened.

In the end though, we got it all safely to the warehouse and unloaded. And having the 24 hour security at this warehouse cannot be overstated because today, as we picked up 6 more trucks to deliver to Partners in Health and St. Damien's Childrens Hospital, we were told that we couldn't bring any of them to St. Damien's because just that morning a truck was looted while it was outside waiting to come in. People are just trying to get their hands on whatever they can, and unfortunately these were medical items (from another organization) for this hospital that the people who stole it probably couldn't do much with anyway.

We're seeing more and more here that while there is a huge amount of supplies coming in, the distribution process is incredibly slow. This is partly to do with the infrastructure problems I've been talking about, but also has to do with the fact that groups are simply overwhelmed with the amount of supplies coming in. We went to a warehouse today that was packed full of stuff (food, water, medicine, clothes, etc.) but the group running it didn't have the manpower or trucking/logistical capabilities to get any of it out. It's a terrible thing to have a warehouse full of products and then see a sign just outside their doors reading, "Please help us. We need food and water." But that distribution process is not easy. You need tons of manpower, you need to be able to spread it out amongst the people, and you need to maintain your own safety. And when it comes to medicines, you have to ensure that it's getting into the hands of the people who can properly prescribe it. So while there is justified anger on the part of the Haitian people with the speed in which aid is being delivered, you have to be here and understand the situation to fully grasp the challenges and complexities.

So with all that being said, tomorrow (yes, SuperBowl Sunday) we're spending the day getting everything we can out of our own warehouse and distributed to the hospitals. This amazing guy who owns our warehouse has offered us a truck and a driver to make deliveries within PAP, and we are working with the WHO and World Food Program to get items helicoptered out to the surrounding areas that have also been devastated.

Phase 1, as I call it, is mostly complete down here. And, so far, only 2 of 4 of us have gotten sick! Guess which weak-stomached person you know was the first to come down with it...

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