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Aid Distribution Improves As Clinton Defends US Haiti Leadership

Barry Newhouse | Port-au-Prince, Haiti 26 January 2010

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended aid efforts in Haiti on Tuesday, following international criticism of the U.S.-led earthquake relief operation. There are more signs that international troops, aid groups and Haitian authorities are improving the distribution of free food and water.

Since the United States took the lead in handling logistics for the international aid effort, some medical groups as well as French and Brazilian officials have complained that U.S. military planes were given priority to land, forcing other flights to the neighboring Dominican Republic. Italy's foreign minister recently called the U.S. leadership in the crisis a "pathetic" failure. Some news agencies have compared the operation to a military occupation.

Clinton says she "deeply resented" the criticism. "As is often the case, some of the international press either misunderstood or deliberately misconstrued what was a civilian and military response -- both of them necessary to be able to deliver aid to the Haitians who desperately needed it," she said.

International relief efforts have struggled to overcome the enormous logistical challenges of bringing food, water and temporary shelter to the hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by the earthquake. But there are signs of progress.

In the massive tent city across the street from the ruined presidential palace, thousands of Haitians lined up on Tuesday for food distributions. Across the street, the parking lot of Haiti's elite police emergency response unit has become an open-air medical clinic.

A police inspector at the site who refused to give his name says Haitian police have radically changed their mission in recent days. He says police used to work to maintain order in the city, but now they working to meet the needs of the people.

U.S. military commanders say that despite the desperate conditions in parts of the capital, food distributions overall have been orderly.

On Tuesday, private water companies agreed to provide free clean drinking water to the relief effort. In a neighborhood in northern Port-au-Prince the line for clean water was long.

As the crowd jostled to fill plastic containers, resident Mary Josee said she welcomed the newly available supply, but said she is more worried about getting food for the eight members of her family now camped out in their front yard. "I am hungry. I am hungry, hungry, hungry," she said.

U.S. officials are setting up as many as 15 food distribution points throughout Port-au-Prince to feed more than 200,000 people per day.

Josee says she has heard about the centers, but that she has not been able to visit one. She points to her leg, which was injured in the quake. She says the nearest food station is too far for her to walk. So for now, she and her family are making do with what little they have.

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