Tags: aid | haiti | slow | airport | quake

Pentagon Defends Actions to Free Haiti Aid Bottlenecks

Thursday, 21 January 2010 12:11 AM

The US military defended its management of the flow of aid flights into Port-au-Prince airport Wednesday, saying it was working hard to free up bottlenecks but space was limited.

Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday that a cargo plane carrying 12 tons (11 tonnes) of medical equipment had been diverted for the third time since Sunday despite "repeated assurances" it could land at Port-au-Prince.

Paris has also sought to defuse a row with Washington after French Secretary of State for Cooperation Alain Joyandet called on the United Nations to clarify the US role in Haiti, saying the priority was "helping Haiti, not occupying Haiti."

But a senior US military official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said priorities on which aircraft could land were set by the Haitian government and the United Nations, with the United States playing only an enabling role.

"There will be times when folks are unhappy, when they have things that they want to get in and need to get in," the official said. "And it's a sheer issue of physics and geometry; you just can't get them all in there."

"There are great people on the ground, working very, very hard to try and get as much in as they can as fast as they can, and try and keep everybody impressed that we are there to support them.

"But there are some people that (are) just not going to be happy because we can't get it all," the official said.

With only a 9,600 foot runway (2,926 meters), the Port-au-Prince airport has been choked with aid flights since the January 12 earthquake that caused massive death and destruction throughout much of the Haitian capital.

Some aircraft were coming in to Haiti without the proper clearances and were then diverted to other airports, according to the official.

But he said about 130 flights a day were now flowing into the airport, up from an initial 30 to 40 flights a day.

To relieve the stress on Port-au-Prince, the United States was operating from an airport in San Isidro, in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

The Canadian military, meanwhile, was clearing debris from an airfield in Jacmel, south of Port-au-Prince, and adding lighting and fueling stations to make it operational 24 hours a day, Canada's Defense Minister Peter Mackay said in Ottawa.

The US military official said US military flights accounted for 28 percent of the traffic at the Port-au-Prince airport, with the remainder belonging to the United Nations, non-governmental groups, other US government agencies and other international efforts.

The US Agency for International Development was identifying medical supply requirements to allocate time slots for aircraft to land at the airport, with input from the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, another senior military official said.

Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in New Delhi Wednesday that he had ordered port clearance ships to deploy to Haiti in a bid to re-open the country's main port "within a week or two."

An initial report by the Pentagon after Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude quake had said that the badly-damaged port could take 60 to 90 days to be put back into operation.

Gates insisted the Pentagon had moved quickly to respond to the disaster and defended the pace of the US relief effort.

"It's hard for me to see what more the United States could make available or how we could make it available faster, in trying to deal with the tragedy there," he told reporters.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Thursday, 21 January 2010 12:11 AM
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