One of the main developing stories on BBC and other international media over the weekend is the mystery surrounding the apparent freeze - since Wednesday, 5 long days ago - of US military medevac flights from Haiti to the US, meaning Florida. It's time to get a grip before this becomes a major calamity, human and diplomatic.
[UPDATE I, 1 February: the White House has announced that flights will resume Monday. UPDATE II, 2 February: according to the New York Times, the Federal government will now reimburse hospitals for Haitians treated under the emergency. The doctor whose outcry galvanized concerted action said the system was back "in sync."]
The White House has told the BBC that the suspension is due to "logistical issues," but the Miami Herald indicates that state-federal wrangling over reimbursement of medical costs has played a part in the confusion. A Florida doctor on the ground in Haiti said that "it is not our finest moment right now."
One Florida official referred to confusion over having to deal with multiple federal agencies. Oops, there we go again, despite years of work and millions spent on "interagency" coordination. Granted, well-intentioned people of numerous nationalities and organizational affiliations are pitching in during this dire emergency, under daunting conditions. But that is exactly what interagency planning is for - coordination.
The decision to have the US military go in with overwhelming numbers, take charge of the Port-au-Prince airport, and regulate the flow of relief supplies and medevacs means that that the US is solely responsible for making this work. When it doesn't, it shouldn't be up to Florida officials and US Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) spokesmen to trade charges over who is responsible for the holdup. In addition to unblocking the jam, let's exert a little message control here.
Despite the destruction and the initial rush to help, things started out promisingly - hell, even Cuba granted special flight clearance for US military planes to fly through its airspace. If Florida is having trouble admitting a few hundred additional Haitians, why not expand on this diplomatic breakthrough and work with Cuba's ongoing Haitian medical program to land patients there?
Image from the Commission for Aviation Regulation.