Haitian relief goods in limbo

University groups are rounding up goods to help victims of the Haitian earthquake. But at present few relief supplies are getting any farther than Miami.

Melaku Assefa (right) and other students from the Dalhousie Model UN Student Society collect food and supplies with hopes of sending them to Haiti soon. Photo: Adam Miller

Many university students are rallying to send supplies to the battered country of Haiti, yet United Parcel Service (UPS) and other shipping companies are unable to transport any packages into the country, leaving much-needed goods sitting in storage.

UPS representatives said Monday that due to overwhelming relief efforts, packages are being held up in Miami until the chaos subsides and it's easier to transport within the country.

Due to the high volume of shipping traffic from around the world and the disordered state of the shipping routes in Haiti, UPS is currently unable to give an exact date as to when these routes would be reopened.

"That's the issue we have right now," says Nathalie LeMoine, secretary to the Haiti Consulate General in Canada.

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Packages being sent to Haiti are currently being held in Miami until further notice, for now the Red Cross recommends sending money as opposed to goods. Photo: Adam Miller

"The best way for people to donate is through Red Cross - priority one is money, then tents and blankets and finally emergency supplies to clean wounds. Food nor clothing are required at this time."

The Dalhousie University Model United Nations Student Society has been working since 10 a.m. Monday morning to collect donations of money, water, clothing, blankets, batteries, cookies and other high-calorie foods.

The society is under the assumption that all packages would be sent directly to Haiti and that UPS was offering free shipping from Miami to Haiti.

Yet a UPS representative said yesterday that no such deal on shipping exists and this was nothing more than a baseless rumour. They also highlighted that they have already contributed US$1 million the Haitian earthquake relief effort.

But the delivery delays could leave thousands of packages containing food and other supplies sitting in storage growing closer to expiration, while thousands of Haitians struggle with a lack of even the most basic supplies.

Dalhousie student and member of the Model UN Society Melaku Assefa was unaware packages were being held in Miami, saying he has been struggling for days to find any local organizations able to send relief directly to Haiti.

"Tuesday through Friday I was trying to contact any companies shipping to Haiti," says Assefa.

"I've been communicating with UPS and other shipping companies and the Halifax charity group Salutary Angels has been doing the same thing and has been contacting the Haitian embassy."

Although Assefa was unaware relief efforts had been halted for the time being, he says the society still aims to send out all of their supplies on Wednesday and will be hosting a fundraising event at the Grawood on Jan. 27 to help cover the shipping costs.

"It all depends on the volume of supplies," says Assefa. "We know that the shipping is not going to be totally free."

Marie-Helene Beauboeuf, a Haitian native and the founder of the Halifax-based non-profit charity group Salutary Angels says she's not surprised that packages are being held up.

"Of course we can't ship to them because there's no airport, no commercial airlines are able to get through," says Beauboeuf.

"I don't know how I'm going to send supplies yet. As a matter of fact I have to email Melaku (Assefa). He says he has water, clothes and blankets, and I don't know myself how we're going to get supplies there - it's a serious problem."

Beauboeuf says she currently has one volunteer looking into the situation, and is hoping to get packages sent out one way or another in the next few days.

"Well we'll just have to wait. I've been trying to contact the Haitian embassy to try to get things sent through them, but even then I don't want to spend money to send things to Haitians. It's very complicated, things are not going as smoothly as expected so everybody is on hold."

Yet Beauboeuf understands why organizations will have to wait to send out packages, because aid workers have been struggling to find some semblance of stability since the earthquake.

"It's chaos," she says. "Nothing is coming in, everybody is overwhelmed and the population is getting anxious and close to rioting."

"Meanwhile we can still receive donations and supplies, but we have to wait until the shipping problems clear up. It's a tough time. I'd love those people to have those blankets and food now. I know we're all impatient and we want things to get there quickly, but people just have to be patient."

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