PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) - The US military was to resume medical airlifts of critically injured Haiti earthquake victims on Monday after a dispute over who would pay for their care halted evacuations.
Nearly three weeks after the 7.0-magnitude quake that killed about 170,000 people, more than one million survivors are homeless and living in appalling conditions, desperately short of food, water and medical attention.
The huge international relief effort is struggling under the sheer scale of the disaster to reach where it is most needed, and there are growing concerns over the safety of vulnerable women and children.
The resumption of emergency medical flights for the critically injured was announced on Sunday by White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.
"The flights are on track to resume in the next 12 hours," he said.
"We are working with the Haitian government and the international community to meet this urgent need and save lives."
Flights carrying people with spinal injuries, burns and other wounds ended on Wednesday after Florida Governor Charlie Crist asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost, US media reported.
Once US officials confirmed there were more medical centers available both in the United States and abroad to treat the Haitians, "we determined that we can resume these critical flights," Vietor said.
Earlier, amid warnings that child traffickers could take advantage of the quake chaos, Haitian police stopped five men and five women with US passports and two Haitians trying to cross into the neighboring Dominican Republic with a busload of children.
The Americans were members of a US Christian charity group. Related article: Police hold 10 over 'trafficking' fears
Laura Silsby, head of the Idaho-based New Life Children's Refuge, insisted the group's aims were entirely altruistic.
"We came here literally to just help the children," she told AFP from just outside her detention cell near Port-au-Prince airport.
"Our intentions were good. We wanted to help those who lost parents in the quake or were abandoned."
But Patricia Vargas, director of the Haitian center where the children are being cared for, said most of the youngsters, aged between two months and 14 years, insist they still have family.
Some of the older children had spoken to aid workers and "say their parents are alive, and some of them gave us an address and phone numbers," she said. Related article: Children fearful after rescue
The US embassy the group was being held for "alleged violations of Haitian laws related to immigration."
Meanwhile, the World Food Program was launching a massive food aid effort targeted at vulnerable women.
The UN agency said it would open 16 fixed collection sites in the capital, aiming to feed two million people in two weeks.
Only female quake survivors will be allowed at the sites to avoid a repeat of scenes that have seen children and women shoved aside in the scramble for bags of rice, beans and cooking oil.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive made a fresh appeal for 200,000 tents before the country's rainy season starts, most likely in May.
"We are very aware of the consequences to all of the people on the streets if it's starting to rain," he told CNN, adding the government only had 3,500 tents so far.
The US-led aid effort has drawn criticism for a lack of coordination, and many Haitians complain that relief has been slow to reach them.
Diseases such as diarrhea, measles, and tetanus are rising in tent camps, prompting UN agencies and the government to prepare a mass vaccination drive, while survivors also face rising crime with reports of rape and violence.
Aid officials have warned that the reconstruction process in Haiti, which was already the poorest country in the Americas before the January 12 quake, will take decades.
Donations have poured in from around the world -- the UN last week put the figure at two billion dollars -- and a Danish television appeal at the weekend jointly for Haiti and women in Africa raised 17.5 million euros (23.3 million dollars). Related article: Big business urged to help