Commentary: Lending Haiti a hand

The world has united on behalf of Haiti in ways that are breathtaking, with supplies and medical help coming from America, China, France and virtually all civilized countries on the globe. Funds and materials have been gathered from missionaries in Raleigh and other cities where churches have long engaged in trips to that poor, troubled nation not far from the southeastern United States. Schoolchildren and presidents are involved.

President Barack Obama announced this week that former President Bill Clinton and Obama's immediate predecessor, President George W. Bush, would join hands to lead fund-raising that would go beyond helping the nation recuperate from last week's 7.0 devastating earthquake, which was followed Wednesday by a 5.9 aftershock. Money raised in their effort also would go toward restoring the country, from reconstituting the upper echelons of government down to the employment of people long plagued by natural destruction, poverty and corruption.

For now, though, the immediate crisis in the quake's aftermath is how to help ordinary Haitians simply survive, because the very good intentions of millions of generous people around the world have been hampered by disorganization and the chaotic condition of Haiti's own infrastructure, which wasn't all that strong to begin with.

A case in point: medical supplies and doctors have faced delays in getting into the country because of problems with air travel, even as people on the ground continued to die from injuries. U.S. Marines and members of the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg have gone far beyond just providing security, basically taking an "anything and everything" approach to their duties.

There are heart-wrenching cries every moment, such as this one from a young mother: "We need so much. Food, clothes. We need everything. I don't know whose responsibility it is, but they need to give us something soon." In her desperate plea, she has hit upon what is recognized as a key problem with relief efforts, that no one seems to be in charge. It's not surprising, really, given what the earthquake did. Nor is it surprising that the country's president, Rene Preval, feels somewhat helpless.

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