In earthquake-ravaged Haiti, daunting challenges hobble relief efforts
Saturday, January 16, 2010
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- The United States and other countries rushed more emergency stocks of aid and supplies to Haiti on Friday in an intensifying effort to resuscitate the earthquake-ravaged nation from a state of collapse.
Like doctors working on a dying patient, foreign governments labored to establish a kind of life- support system that would bring Haiti back after the 7.0-magnitude quake that struck Tuesday.
With 1,000 troops on the ground, and more stores of food, water and equipment on the way, U.S. officials confronted the staggering and complex task of reviving the tortured nation, where the unemployment rate was 70 percent before this week's calamity.
The State Department said that a Navy carrier arriving here was carrying 600,000 daily rations of food, and that an additional $48 million in food assistance would be made available, enough to last several months. An estimated 100,000 containers for water are being shipped in, along with four water-purification systems, and the Pentagon said as many as 10,000 troops could be deployed.
"We're in the emergency response phase," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "In the coming days, we'll be shifting our focus to recovery. That means bringing in the basic support to . . . stabilize the population. Then comes the long-term challenge of rebuilding Haiti."
But in a country whose government has all but collapsed, whose feeble economy has been crushed and whose people have been left destitute, the challenges were daunting.
On Friday, desperate Haitians scuffled over food and water, and at night, in a capital where power was scant, wandered in the dark. The bodies of the dead clogged streets and cemeteries.
Accountant Jean Jude Lesperance, 42, said his friends had tried for two days to find him a bed, but the best they could do was a metal folding chair.
"When will this end?" he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "Help me."
The Haitian Red Cross has said 50,000 people may have perished in the quake, though other estimates were higher. Five Americans -- including a State Department employee -- have been confirmed dead, but more are thought to have been killed. In a rare bit of good news, a Washington priest who had been missing since the quake, the Rev. Arsene Jasmin, was found alive.
The deputy country director of the World Food Program, Benoit Thiry, said food distribution was going "very badly" Friday.
The agency said it could distribute high-energy biscuits to only 1,700 people in teeming Port-au-Prince, a city of 2 million, on Thursday. The agency was aiming to reach more than 10,000 people Friday and double that amount Saturday.