Children suffering health problems in Port-au-Prince camps
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- Children are increasingly suffering health problems in Port-au-Prince's crowded encampments, say international medical workers, who predict the situation will worsen as Haiti continues to reel from the Jan. 12 earthquake.
Food remains scarce, water is often impure and thousands upon thousands of families are living side by side in makeshift shelters that rarely consist of more than a synthetic tarpaulin and walls of thin cloth.
Worried about the potential for disease, medical teams launched a major campaign Tuesday to vaccinate children in the capital.
In a project expected to last about two weeks, the goal is to protect as many as several hundred thousand children against measles, tetanus and diphtheria, UNICEF spokeswoman Roshan Khadivi said.
"Every day it is worse," said Pino Gonzalez, a Médecins du Monde nurse working with children at a sweltering encampment on Toussaint L'Ouverture Boulevard, about a mile from the Port-au-Prince airport. "If you go more and more days without food, water or shelter, it can only get worse."
U.S. officials said Tuesday that three weeks after the earthquake destroyed Haiti's capital, international food aid had reached at least 1 million people -- but another million were estimated to need such assistance. At least 70,000 families who lost their homes had received plastic sheeting, tents or shelter materials, but at least 170,000 more required help, they said.
"We are in an emergency relief situation, and we will continue to be in an emergency relief situation for many weeks to come," Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told reporters in Washington.
He said, however, that water distribution had been a "success story." People who had no access to international food aid appeared to be getting by through scavenging, buying goods in markets and other means.
International food trucks have not stopped in the Toussaint L'Ouverture Boulevard camp, where a citizens' committee estimates that 12,000 suddenly homeless people have taken refuge. Nor has there been other help.
"We have asked," Médecins du Monde physician Philippe Rodier said, "but the problem is so enormous for the resources available."
By midweek, officials estimated, daily food deliveries will be underway in 16 places in Port-au-Prince, including gang-wracked Cité Soleil. The effort is scheduled to reach 2 million people in 15 days. Army Col. Gregory Kane called it the U.N. World Food Program's "surge."
"Things are getting better, but the needs are immense," said David Meltzer, the American Red Cross's senior vice president for international services. "It will be years. Three weeks into it, it's still very early to see what the recovery will look like."