Haiti Aid Efforts Go Awry in the ‘Convoy to Nowhere’

Christopher Rhoads
Wall Street Journal
January 29, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—Scott Lewis hoped to deliver more than one million meals to Haitians on Wednesday via a 15-truck convoy brimming with beans and rice.

Instead, “It was the convoy to nowhere,” Mr. Lewis said. Well after dusk, the 52-year-old founder of a U.S. disaster-relief organization had barely delivered any food, other than some bags left at a missionary hospital, and a few more bags that got looted from the convoy as it crawled along crowded streets.

Trucks conked out. Communication with the U.S. military broke down. Traffic snarled the streets. Hungry crowds made handing out food unsafe.

It’s not typical for so much to go wrong on a major operation like this—in fact, on Thursday, the Army successfully delivered the cargo, in the largest single-day food distribution here. But a diary of Wednesday’s journey reads like an anthology of the obstacles stifling efforts to deliver aid since an earthquake turned the Haitian capital to rubble two weeks ago.

“The whole world wants to know why we can’t get food to the Haitian people,” said Ed Minyard, a 59-year-old former U.S. Army Ranger running the convoy, after Wednesday’s debacle. “Well, you just saw why.”…

…Trouble began when Mr. Minyard headed to a warehouse for one planned rendezvous. Though the warehouse was just a short drive from the airport, impenetrable traffic immediately engulfed the convoy. The trucks sat, barely inching forward, for nearly two hours.

The problem became apparent: The warehouse gate—enshrouded in a cacophony of noise, wild dogs, pigs and exhaust—was closed to all traffic. A line of trucks as far as the eye could see converged on the gates.

A voice crackled across Mr. Minyard’s radio. “I’m looking right at the gate,” said Jean Charles, a Haitian-born U.S. citizen and the team logistician, in a vehicle near the front. “They’re not letting anyone in.”

Someone else’s truck (not one of Mr. Lewis’s) had broken down earlier that morning inside the complex, blocking all traffic into and out of the warehouse area. The simple snafu was preventing hundreds of trucks from getting on with their business.

“Welcome to Haiti, man!” shouted Jason Cassis, 27, owner of two of the warehouses inside the complex, over the din…

The entire article is at the Wall Street Journal.

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