USAID official: Emergency assistance still hasn't reached many Haitians

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 2, 2010; 7:01 PM

Three weeks after a powerful earthquake destroyed Haiti's capital, aid officials are still seeking to reach hundreds of thousands of desperate people who apparently have not received food and shelter from an expanding international aid operation, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the relief effort has escalated in recent days and will continue to do so. Emergency food aid has been provided to more than a million people in and around Port-au-Prince, but 2 million people are estimated to need such assistance, he said.

At least 70,000 out of an estimated 240,000 to 300,000 families that lost their homes have received plastic sheeting, tents or other shelter materials from U.N. programs, nonprofit groups or the Haitian government, he said.

"We are in an emergency-relief situation, and we will continue to be in an emergency-relief situation for many weeks to come," Shah told a news conference at the State Department.

Shah said that water distribution represents "a success story," with no reported shortages. But sanitation continues to be a challenge, he said, as does the process of clearing mounds of rubble from Port-au-Prince and other affected areas.

Shah said that enough plastic sheeting, tents and other materials have arrived in the country to provide shelter for 260,000 households and that relief workers are trying to get them to families living outdoors. One complication, he said, is "finding sites that are appropriate for families to build those shelters," given the huge amount of debris and concrete covering land in the densely populated capital.

Thousands of Haitians are clearing rubble under temporary work programs, which are helping the situation, he said.

Shah said the pace of food delivery has picked up since aid workers established a system in which Haitian women are given coupons to receive rice and other goods for their families at 16 distribution sites in Port-au-Prince. About 800,000 people in the city have received emergency food aid, as have about 250,000 people outside the capital, he said.

Aid officials plan to reach an estimated 2 million people within the next two weeks, officials said. People who haven't received international aid appear to be getting by through purchasing food in markets, scavenging or by other means.

Cheryl Mills, chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, said the Haitian government is playing a growing role in the relief effort.

"We are increasingly seeing more and more of the government functioning," said Mills, who is coordinating the response to the quake on behalf of the State Department.

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