Insecurity, health crisis in Haiti

January 19, 2010 12:00 am

, PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 19 – Troops struggled on Tuesday to control looters in the ruined Haiti capital amid urgent efforts to speed up aid deliveries to hundreds of thousands of survivors of a devastating earthquake.

A health crisis also loomed as a week after the 7.0-magnitude tremor aid workers struggled to tend to the homeless and injured amid deteriorating security in the stricken capital Port-au-Prince.

The United Nations said Tuesday more than 90 people had been pulled out alive so far, but with hopes of finding any more survivors in the rubble fading, relief efforts were focusing on the estimated quarter of a million injured and 1.5 million left homeless.

The Security Council was expected Tuesday to approve a request for 3,500 extra UN troops and police to be deployed to help curb lawlessness.

Even as pledges of improved security were made, thousands of homeless Haitians were prey to roving bands of looters swarming through the ruins of Port-au-Prince, with police and military officials tasked with protecting the vulnerable populace nowhere to be found.

Officials have expressed fears the final death toll may top 200,000 — if it is ever known at all — while a government minister said Sunday that 70,000 bodies had already been buried.

A lucky few survivors received treatment from surgeons on a US Navy ship floating kilometers (miles) from Port-au-Prince, but the medics aboard were frustrated at not being able to do more.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon requested 3,500 more troops and police for the battered UN mission that was trying to bring stability to the dysfunctional Caribbean state even before disaster struck.

The UN peacekeeping mission — which had its headquarters destroyed in the January 12 earthquake — had been deployed in Haiti since 2004 to help stabilize the country, already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

More than 2,200 Marines had arrived aboard the amphibious ship USS Bataan, boosting overall US troop numbers to 7,000 either in Haiti or offshore.

Approximately 1,700 US troops were already on the ground overseeing the aid effort and trying to provide desperately needed security. US commanders promised more than 10,000 personnel in total would be in the disaster zone in the coming weeks.

"We will stay as long as is required," said Major General Cornell Wilson. "We are working in conjunction and coordination with UN forces and the government of Haiti for security issues."

US President Barack Obama proposed a joint US-Brazilian-Canadian leadership for relief efforts as the scale of the disaster overwhelmed the international humanitarian operation.

Obama suggested to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva that the three countries "should lead and coordinate efforts by the international community of Haiti donors and other parties," a Brazilian government official said.

EU nations promised more than 600 million dollars in aid and reconstruction funds but Dominican President Leonel Fernandez estimated 10 billion dollars over five years would be needed to help Haiti recover.

In the stinking capital Port-au-Prince, where corpses lay abandoned under the rubble and palace gardens were turned into putrid slums, groups of survivors roamed the streets to scrounge supplies.

Troops in combat gear fired off rounds and hauled some people to the ground to try to stop the worst of the pillaging.

Looters roamed from shop to shop, some clearly survivors scavenging for food and water, as the unrest across the region was stoked by a delay in supplies reaching the hundreds of thousands who have been without a steady source of food or water since the quake struck.

"I wanted to get my possessions from my house, but the looters prevented me," wailed one distraught elderly man near what remains of his rubble-strewn home.

The International Committee of the Red Cross warned that violence by desperate Haitians was growing.

"Prices for food and transport have skyrocketed since last Tuesday and incidents of violence and looting are on the rise as the desperation grows," it said in a statement.

Aid was trickling through to the needy though and UN agencies said field hospitals and food distribution had multiplied in and around the capital.

Around 105,000 food rations and 20,000 tents were distributed Monday by the World Food Programme and humanitarian groups from neighboring Dominican Republic, a Haitian official said.

Amid the death and desperation the life-affirming tales of survival that had provided glimmers of hope in preceding days were drying up, although an 18-month-old baby was found alive on Monday.

Emergency workers expanded their operations to battered communities outside of Port-au-Prince, including Gressier, Petit Goave, and Leogane, which were all leveled by the quake.


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