Aid pours in to Haiti but suffering continues

January 19th, 2010 by – A US military surge and a request for 3,500 more UN troops and police have brought a sliver of hope to despairing survivors of the Haiti earthquake who are still seeking basic supplies and security nearly a week after the disaster struck.
Even as pledges of improved security were made, thousands of homeless Haitians were facing the threat of roving bands of looters swarming through the ruins of Port-au-Prince, with police and military officials tasked with protecting the city nowhere to be found.
More than 2,200 Marines arrived aboard the amphibious ship USS Bataan, boosting overall US troop numbers to 7,000 either in Haiti or offshore.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, also asked the Security Council to authorise the deployment of 3,500 extra UN troops and police, beyond the roughly 7,000 troops, 2,000 police and 2,000 civilian personnel already on the ground as part of the UN peacekeeping mission deployed since 2004 to help stabilise the country.
Approximately 1,700 US troops were already 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.”
The surge comes six days after a 7.0-magnitude quake devastated the city of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, leaving tens of thousands dead, hundreds of thousands homeless and countless injured. Haitian officials have warned that 200,000 may have perished.
To back-up relief for the thousands of wounded, the US hospital ship Comfort was also expected to arrive today.
The armed military presence is certainly needed, according to top US officials and aid agencies.
The streets of the capital were largely lawless as desperate survivors helped themselves to whatever they could find, scattering only briefly when isolated police officers fired shots in the air.
Survivors scavenged 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.
The roaming gangs were stealing anything they could find: sneakers, fabric, music stereos.
“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.
“They’ve already stolen almost everything I own: my rice, my spaghetti, my milk,” the man said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross warned that “incidents of violence and looting are on the rise as the desperation grows.”
US commanders denied that security was deteriorating, with Lieutenant-General Ken Keen, the top officer on the ground, insisting: “The level of violence we see now is below pre-earthquake levels.”
“I would characterize the security situation in Port-au-Prince today as stable,” agreed Rear Admiral Michael Rogers, adding that were “instances of isolated events” but “no sense of widespread panic.”
“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.
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,” Mr Clinton said. “The infrastructure broke down, and that’s what we’re building up.”
EU nations promised more than 600 million dollars in aid and reconstruction funds but Dominican President Leonel Fernandez estimated $10bn 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.”

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