US halts airlifts from Haiti

January 31, 2010 12:00 am

, PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 31 – Haiti\’s injured earthquake survivors suffered a potentially fatal setback this weekend when the US military suspended evacuation flights because of controversy over medical care costs.

Flights that have carried more than 500 people with spinal injuries, burns and other wounds ended after the Republican governor of Florida asked the Obama administration to share the financial burden on his state\’s hospitals.

"Apparently, some states were unwilling to accept the entry of Haitian patients for follow-on critical care," US Transportation Command spokesman Captain Kevin Aandahl told AFP.

"Without a destination to fly to, we can\’t move anybody."

Aid groups warned the row over money could cost lives.

"People are dying in Haiti because they can\’t get out," Barth Green of Project Medishare for Haiti, a nonprofit group which has been evacuating about two dozen patients a day, told The New York Times.

The US State and Defense Departments were working with Florida Governor Charlie Crist and state authorities to try to fix the problem, said US Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten.

The United States has spearheaded relief efforts since the 7.0-magnitude quake on February 12 killed around 170,000 people, injured around 200,000 and left more than one million homeless.

The aid effort as a whole has, however, drawn criticism for a lack of coordination. Several leftist Latin American nations have also accused US forces of occupying Haiti militarily instead of focusing on aid needs.

Quake-hit Haitians, many of whom are living in squalid makeshift tent camps, have complained that the huge influx of relief has been slow to reach them on the ground.

Health Minister Alex Larsen said the government was "moving as fast as possible" to shelter quake victims ahead of the rainy season that could trigger a public health disaster.

"There\’s discussion going on right now on how to deal with this issue quick enough," Larsen told AFP.

Haiti\’s President Rene Preval urged earlier this week for the foreign donors to send 200,000 tents to house families left homeless before rainfall blights relief plans.

The UN World Food Program was due to open 16 fixed collection sites reserved for women Sunday in a bid to reduce long lines at mobile distribution locations.

Already existing sites in the capital allow female survivors to pick up supplies using coupons.

Tent camps outside the capital that the government said would ease the pressure on Port-au-Prince have finally begun to open, but for some the squalid conditions are too much.

Diseases such as diarrhea, measles, and tetanus were rising in tent settlements, prompting UN agencies and Haiti\’s government to prepare a mass vaccination drive.

Survivors also face rising insecurity with reports of rape and violence plaguing the weak and vulnerable.

Police were holding five men and five women with US passports, and two Haitians Sunday on suspicion they tried to cross into the Dominican Republic with 31 Haitian children in a trafficking scheme, Social Affairs Minister Yves Christallin said.

He said two pastors were also involved, one in Haiti and one in Atlanta, Georgia. The children were aged two months to 12 years.

Schools were also struggling to resume lessons, with most missing hundreds of students and teachers.

"It\’s a disaster. There were many deaths. I\’ve lost irreplaceable teachers," said Marie-Marthe Paul, director of the Canape Vert School in Port-au-Prince.

Aid officials have warned that the reconstruction process in Haiti, already the poorest country in the Americas before the quake, will take decades.

Meanwhile in Addis Ababa the 14th African Union summit on Sunday paid a lengthy tribute to the quake victims.

"What happened to Haiti is a tragedy that transcends borders. It has immediate implications for Africa as the land of origin of the ravaged Haitian peoples," Jean Ping, who heads the body\’s main executive arm, said.


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