Haiti relief surge fails to bring security

Thousands of US Marines have joined the Haiti relief effort, but lawlessness prevails on the streets with looters preying on the helpless and raiding the flattened ruins.


Doctors working with limited equipment amputated limbs to save lives while rescuers picked through debris to locate unlikely survivors more than six days after the 7.0-magnitude quake struck, reducing the Haitian capital to rubble.

US President Barack Obama proposed a joint US-Brazilian-Canadian leadership for relief efforts as the massive international humanitarian operation was still failing to bring security and alleviate the suffering of a traumatised populace, despite the arrival of more than 2,200 US Marines.

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 the recovery in Haiti, which was already the western hemisphere’s poorest nation.

He warned that what was most needed was “a central authority in Haiti able to channel all the aid that is arriving.”

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.

Request for more troops

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.

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 looting but the paltry security presence in the destitute city made that a futile task.

The Red Cross warned that violence by desperate Haitians was growing, though Lieutenant-General Ken Keen, the top US officer on the ground, insisted: “The level of violence we see now is below pre-earthquake levels.”

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.

Growing desperation

“Prices for food and transport have skyrocketed since last Tuesday and incidents of violence and looting are on the rise as the desperation grows,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

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.

As the relief effort was stepped up, US paratroopers deployed out of the main Haitian airport in waves of navy Seahawk helicopters to set up bases from which to launch humanitarian operations.

“We have seen a dramatic improvement in the efficiency and coordination of the flow of goods coming in,” World Food Programme executive director Josette Sheeran told reporters in Rome.

But conditions appeared to have barely improved for hundreds of thousands of homeless, injured and traumatized people, many of whom trawled the streets desperate for food, water and medicine.

International aid trickled in but supplies remained scarce amid the enormity of a crisis the United Nations estimates affected three million people and left 300,000 homeless.

Clinton visit

Former US president Bill Clinton, a special UN envoy to Haiti, defended the pace of the relief effort as he visited Port-au-Prince to meet Haitian leaders and get first-hand accounts from survivors.

“No, I don’t think they were slow coming in,” Clinton said as he walked down hospital hallways cluttered with injured survivors. “The infrastructure broke down, and that’s what we’re building up.”

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.

From Saturday to mid-day Monday, out of 30 operations performed by the French team at the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince, 28 ended in amputation.

French doctor Jacques Lorblanches said he had lost count of the number of amputations he had performed in the past 48 hours but would never forget the ghastly conditions.

“I have never seen anything like this… infected wounds full of larvae,” he said. “I did my first amputation with three forceps, five scissors and a scalpel, without water, and just a flashlight to illuminate the injury.”

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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