Haiti remains ravaged by infrastructural damage, poor communications, petty corruption and impassible roads, making relief efforts continuously difficult in some areas, according to a local man who was part of a recent four-crew relief mission to the Caribbean nation that experienced a devastating earthquake in mid-January.
Jonathan Clues, a local pilot and entrepreneur, helped raise more than $7,500 through e-mail donations to fund the Feb. 8-16 mission, which involved a plane based out of DeKalb Peachtree Airport transporting thousands of pounds of stockpiled supplies to rural Haitian outposts from neighboring Dominican Republic.
“It’s still in terrible condition,” said Clues. “Transporting items is a near-impossible task in some places.”
The extent of the country’s woes was apparent throughout each leg of the team’s mission plan, starting with first touching down on Haitian soil. Exhaustive aircraft inspections by Jacmel Airport officials, including weight-balance calculations and instrument checks, led to frustrating delays in some cases, according to clues
Once cleared, getting the supplies to nearby small towns and villages was a greater challenge. The lack of a contact network made establishing a supply route difficult.
“We had to find and hire a translator, who then had to help with hiring drivers to get supplies to the villages,” said the 37-year-old Clues. “Along the way, they doubled their fee.”
After reaching one village, Clues’ team encountered a group of men who claimed to be Haitian Interior Ministry officials, insisting that any relief efforts would have to be cleared through them. The men produced no supporting identification.
Other villages, identified by a map, couldn’t be reached because of roads still blocked by the earthquake’s damage.
“At one point we came to a stop while road workers labored to bulldoze the remnants of a landslide that was blocking the road. The Canadian soldier overseeing the work informed us that this operation had been going on for several weeks, with many roads blocked since the earthquake,” Clues said. “Once our journey resumed we witnessed miles upon miles of structural damage, tent villages, landslides and cracks in the roadway.”
The mission’s original plan involved transporting supplies from Santiago, the Dominican capital, to Jacmel Airport, where a helicopter would undertake a number of “hops” to villages unreachable by road. However, telecommunications damage made contact with the helicopter pilot difficult, and coordination suffered, he said
The team then focused on building a list of reliable contacts within a network of villages, and arranged for sites where a helicopter could safely land.
Despite reports of supply trucks being attacked by desperate refugees, Clues encountered no security problems in villages reduced to rubble.
“What impressed me was that, despite their desperation, not one person crowded our personal space. They just listened. They calmly walked us around the camp and showed us potential helicopter landing spots,” said Clues, telling of an experience in one village. “We took note of some overhead cables and also that the local children played with their only toys, some homemade kites – both of which would be a hazard to a helicopter.”
After three days, the mission was concluded, with thousands of pounds of supplies eventually reaching refugees. However, large stockpiles remain in Santiago, where many international aid organizations have sent relief since the Jan.12 earthquake that reportedly killed more than 150,000 people and left many more homeless.
With the number of relief workers in the country steadily decling, many fear that the process of rebuilding Haiti will be affected – thereby increasing the potential for serious unrest.
“As we traveled around the Southeast region, the most obvious observation was that any aid mission requires knowledgeable and trusted people on the ground to receive the aid and then distribute it accordingly,” said Clues, who believes that aid efforts need critical reexamination. “General aviation can be of huge value as this country goes from first aid-early responders to the early recovery phase, moving aid quickly and safely to the remote areas.
“Medical supplies and food will always be gratefully received, but there is going to be a longer term plan to help the Haitian people be more self-sufficient.”