Aid effort a battle to ‘manage the desperation’

THE race is on to get much-needed aid to Haiti’s struggling survivors amid concern over riots for food and the development of malnutrition among the starving population.

Irish aid agency GOAL have warned unless food is delivered more quickly, the life-saving aid effort could be set back by angry and desperate mobs.

An Irish Aid report, to be handed to Government ministers this week, is also expected to call for further aid, warning of fears for survivors ahead of the hurricane season later this year.

Small signs of daily life have returned to the flattened capital of Port-au-Prince. Hungry survivors queue outside banks which have begun to open, desperate to access money wired to their accounts from loved ones abroad.

Among the rubble and rubbish piled high in the city, stalls have begun to open. Vegetable, fruit and meat sellers jostle for space, pressed in among the mounds of concrete debris that crowds the paths and roads.

GOAL distributed food and medicines at the weekend after an Aer Lingus flight carrying over 27 tonnes of supplies landed in neighbouring Dominican Republic. Flight EI 4101 touched down on Friday following a 4,204-mile journey after crew gave their free time to the charity mission. Aid was then trucked across the border on Saturday into Haiti.

Aid workers guarded by UN armed security then distributed 18 tonnes of rice, beans, salt and oil for more than 6,000 people as well as blankets and kitchen sets in the mountainous area of Turgeau, in the south of the capital. The food is enough for just two weeks. GOAL’s emergency coordinator in Haiti Brian Casey added: “Malnutrition has not set in yet; it’s not a major concern. But unless we get the food in quicker we are going to have a big malnutrition problem within weeks... We’re effectively managing desperation here. People are hungry, they’ve no shelter, they’ve no food and unless we can get the aid out very quickly, it’s going to turn into riots. It’s already happened in pockets around the city, it’s difficult to manage that. There isn’t enough security on the ground. It’s a very big concern.”

Haiti community leader Francis Liautayd, 68, who saw three of his neighbours die in his own yard on the night of the quake, said: “About 90% of the houses in the immediate vicinity of my home are destroyed.” At the weekend Haiti President Rene Preval was jostled by angry crowds who complained about the slow delivery of aid. He was mobbed by frustrated survivors while attending the funeral of an archbishop in the ruins of the Notre Dame cathedral. In Port-au-Prince, cranes remain inoperable at the port, knocked out by the 7.0-magnitude quake. There are also fears only two to three weeks of fuel is left in the country. Rubbish burns in open sewers lining the front of the remaining shanty towns. For GOAL chief John O’Shea, a Marshall-like plan is needed to rebuild the country, a job that NGOs cannot do alone. “I expected to see a lot of buildings knocked down, but the number of them is incredible. We can’t do anything about a cathedral half-knocked and half-standing. That’s a job for massive engineering.”

Under the crumbled remains of the cathedral, a body lies with its arm outstretched: one of the choir who was unable to escape when the roof collapsed.

A 23-year-old man was pulled alive from the rubble of a ruined hotel in the capital over the weekend, 11 days after the earthquake, just as the official search for survivors was declared over.

The white stone remains of the grand palace lie smack in the centre of the city’s ruins. Across the road, makeshift shelters house thousands of homeless families.

Makeshift signs hang on rubble reading, “Please help, we need food water medicine.” On the paths, men and women have scarves tied over their mouths to protect them from dust and stench rising off the ground. Lines of buses fill the streets as the exodus continues under government plans to rehouse up to 400,000 people outside the capital.

US Black Hawk helicopters fly overhead as naked children wash in the streets. This could be a war zone, but the fight, the struggle among the young and old, is for food, not power. Irish Aid workers returned home yesterday after a week-long scoping mission for ministers. The Irish Examiner understands their report will not cite particular security concerns. But it will warn of the pending rainy season in March and the following hurricane one in June which could heap even more tragedy upon Haiti and its now 1.5 million homeless people.

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