Fear, hunger as aid trickles in

Armed looters roam Haiti streets; President praises international relief efforts
Last Updated 16 January 2010, 17:25 IST

Four days after Tuesday’s catastrophic earthquake, the Haiti government admitted it was no longer able to function properly as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to oversee relief efforts.

“People are hungry, thirsty. They are left on their own,” said Leon Meleste, an Adventist sporting a white “New York” baseball cap.

“It is increasingly dangerous. The police doesn’t exist, people are doing what they want.”
The Haitian capital — insecure at the best of times — is now devoid of a functioning police force, bringing fears of a dystopian war in the wake of Tuesday’s huge 7.0-magnitude earthquake.

“Men suddenly appeared with machetes to steal money,” said Evelyne Buino, a young beautician, after a long night in a neighbourhood not far from the ruined city centre. “This is just the beginning.”

“All the bandits of the city are now on the streets,” a local policeman said standing near the city’s collapsed jail. “They are robbing people. It is a big problem.”

A vanguard of the 10,000 US troops being deployed to Haiti has taken control of the airport, clogged with tonnes of relief supplies, and has begun the first distribution of aid to quell the threat of violence.

Aid drops

Aid is also being distributed from the USS Carl Vinson, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier where 19 helicopters have been carrying out limited aid drops.

“We have lift, we have communications, we have some command and control, but we don’t have much relief supplies to offer,” said Rear Admiral Ted Branch aboard the Carl Vinson.

Hillary Clinton said she would travel to Haiti to see the earthquake relief efforts first hand, deliver more supplies and meet Haitian President Rene Preval.“We will also be conveying very directly and personally to the Haitian people our long-term, unwavering support, solidarity and sympathies to reinforce President Obama’s message that they are not facing this crisis alone,” said Clinton.

The Haitian government is operating out of a police station at the airport, where Preval, looking exhausted with dark pockets under his eyes, said: “The government has lost its capacity to function properly, but it has not collapsed.”

Preval praised the massive international relief effort but warned that the aid operation remains uncoordinated.

He said 74 planes from countries including the US, France and Venezuela, had arrived at Port-au-Prince’s overwhelmed airport in a single day.

As the Haitian leader struggles to piece together the remains of state, the country’s destitute citizens are left trying to fill the void.

50,000 killed’

Haitian officials said at least 50,000 people had been killed and 1.5 million left homeless in the Caribbean nation, one of the poorest countries in the world, which has long witnessed violence and bloodshed.

The Haitian president called on his countrymen to show patience and defended the government against accusations of inaction.

“No one is alone in his situation. I understand that people suffer because they have relatives under the rubble, but they must understand that there are thousands of people in that very same situation,” said Preval, adding that people underestimate the extent of the damage.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon is set to visit Haiti on Sunday as the world body appealed for $562 million dollars from donors.

(Published 16 January 2010, 17:24 IST)

Follow us on