Page last updated at 21:18 GMT, Sunday, 24 January 2010

Haiti aid tracked by BBC arrives in Dominican Republic

By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Santo Domingo

Wheelbarrows for Haiti tracked by the BBC
The BBC is tracking aid from Oxfordshire, including these wheelbarrows

It was the early hours of the morning when the British Airways flight arrived at the international airport at Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic.

Among the aid, which BA had carried free of charge, was 50 tonnes of supplies organised by Oxfam - emergency equipment paid for by the UK's Disasters Emergency Committee's Haiti Earthquake Appeal.

The fundraising effort has already reached more than £30m in one week.

The aid, which the BBC has been tracking from Oxfordshire, was swiftly unloaded and then the process began of preparing the cargo to be transported by truck approximately 250 miles to the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.

The flight also carried supplies from the UN's World Food Programme and Unicef.

With the airport there heavily congested, road transport from the neighbouring Dominican Republic has been an important way to get aid to the Haitian people affected by the earthquake.

This country is a popular tourist destination, but the airport at Santo Domingo is even busier than normal with up to 40 extra flights per day bringing aid into the country.

Loading up the lorries here in the UK is straightforward but once the consignment gets to Haiti, can Oxfam be sure it will reach the people who need it?
BBC's Luisa Baldini

Multiple aid agencies are involved, and around the edges of the main runway the work of loading and unloading aid is a continual process.

Oxfam says that with the announcement that the search for survivors is over, the focus should be on helping the Haitian people.

"The end of search and rescue efforts does not mean we can slow down. Relief and recovery for the survivors is the priority now," says Mark Fried, spokesman for the relief agency.

"Hundreds of thousands who lost everything but their lives need water for drinking and washing. They need latrines to contain the spread of disease. They need shelter and simple household items like cooking pots."

On Friday, respected medical journal The Lancet accused aid agencies and non-governmental organisations of competing against each other rather than working together.

Without naming any organisation, an editorial in the journal said: "NGOs are rightly mobilising, but also jostling for position, each claiming that they are doing the most for earthquake survivors."

However, aid workers on the ground say that claim is unjust.

"I think every organisation wants to do its best to put in place the means that they need," says Florent Mayolle, a logistics manager with Oxfam International and who is working in the Dominican Republic.

Florent Mayolle
Florent Mayolle is working for Oxfam International in Dominican Republic

"That is why, maybe, you can feel a little bit of competition. But now we are forgetting about that and trying to organise ourselves in a way that there is good co-ordination. That is the most important thing for us now."

Referring to the operation to bring in the British aid, as well as supplies from Denmark, Henrik Hansen of the World Food Programme agrees.

"In crises like this aid agencies do come together," he says. "In this particular case, Oxfam requested the World Food Programme provide warehouse capacity and overland transport to Haiti - and we provided those services."

While it was a complicated operation getting the aid organised and on a flight from Stansted to the Dominican Republic via Denmark, where it also picked up supplies, the hard part will be to ensure the aid gets to the people who need it most when it arrives in Haiti, where it was due to arrive on Sunday.

This is another area where the overall relief effort in Haiti has been criticised - with claims of poor distribution and confusion - with some areas even getting too much supplies and others too little.

But aid agencies point to the scale of the disaster in a country that was already lacking in infrastructure, and say the picture is slowly improving.

"People have to understand that we cannot send goods if we are not able to receive it in Port-au-Prince," says Florent Mayolle.

Difficult process

"So we need first to prepare the goods in a good manner, and to send it with security and to be able to receive the goods and afterwards to distribute it properly.

"Until now we had some problem of security, we didn't have the warehouse for storage. We will not be able to send it to lie on the ground without security - it is not possible."

DEC APPEAL
The Disasters Emergency Committee is co-ordinating an appeal to help the people of Haiti
There are 13 charities involved including the British Red Cross, Islamic Relief and World Vision
Donate via the DEC website or by calling 0370 60 60 900

With the warehouse and transport arranged - the small convoy of trucks carrying British aid was able to set off on Saturday afternoon.

Because convoys are only crossing the border twice a day due to security considerations, the drivers were waiting there overnight before completing their journey.

The aid included a wide range of material, from tools that will be useful in improving sanitation to latrine slabs and water tanks.

Oxfam says it is working in seven sites across the Haitian capital - trying to provide help to more than 90,000 people.

For all the main agencies the process of getting supplies to Haiti has been fraught with difficulties, and in the weeks and months to come lessons may well have to be learned from the experience of the last few days.

But among aid workers on the ground there also seems to be an endless amount of goodwill and determination - backed by the generosity of people in countries around the world.



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