Mobs disrupt some Haiti quake food handouts


Aid workers in Haiti really do deserve special recognition for their efforts. As if conditions aren’t bad enough as it is, they need to also deal with the criminal element, which makes an already extremely difficult situation all the more stressful. TGO

Refer to story below. Source: Reuters

By Jackie Frank and Patricia Zengerle Jackie Frank And Patricia Zengerle

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Angry crowds mobbed three food distribution sites in Haiti’s capital on Thursday, the latest handouts to turn chaotic as aid groups struggle to help the throngs left desperate and hungry by the catastrophic earthquake.

Several people fell and risked being trampled as a crowd rushed the grounds of the ruined Ministry of Culture, where Haitian police handed out bags of food from two trucks.

Also on Thursday, U.N. peacekeepers in Cite Soleil, one of Port-au-Prince’s worst slums, fired warning shots when a crowd turned angry as people waited for rice. Another food distribution turned unruly near the Haitian art museum.

Despite these incidents, not all handouts have been chaotic. Aid groups acknowledge huge logistical problems but say they are increasingly getting food to the hundreds of thousands needing help since the January 12 quake.

At the Ministry of Culture, Haitian police handed out bags containing such staples as oil, soap, pasta and rice.

But there was not enough food for the tens of thousands of people who swarmed the site, and too few police officers to keep order.

A group of men scaled the fence, jumped on the trucks and began throwing food bags to the people below, mainly to the stronger men and boys at the front of the crowd.

Several people fell, but Reuters witnesses saw only minor injuries.

A woman named Berline said the fray left her with nothing to feed her six children, aged 4 to 14. “I don’t have anything to give them. I tried but I was pushed out,” she said, weeping.

U.N. peacekeepers from China said they were there only to monitor the situation and did not have the authority to interfere without instructions from the Haitian police.

STONES THROWN AT SOLDIERS

In Cite Soleil, aid workers, guarded by armed Argentine U.N. peacekeepers, poured rice from bags into anything earthquake victims could carry it in, often just the front of a shirt turned up to form an improvised pocket. Some young men threw stones at U.N. soldiers.

Aid workers are struggling with the logistics of providing adequate food for the nearly 1 million people left homeless by the earthquake, which killed some 200,000 people and devastated the coastal capital and surrounding towns in the Caribbean nation of 9 million.

Malnutrition was a problem in Haiti even before the earthquake, and the need now is enormous. Many quake survivors say they still have not received any food aid, more than two weeks later. Aid officials acknowledge that, while water is being supplied to those who need it, food is a problem.

“I think there is sufficient food,” said Lewis Lucke, a retired U.S. ambassador serving as the American coordinator for relief and recovery in Haiti. “The issue there is distribution and security, and security is part of distribution.”

Separately on Thursday, U.S. troops, who have stepped up their visible presence in Haiti, accompanying food distributions and patrolling troubled areas, chased gang members who had gunned down a man in Cite Soleil.

“We are here to help the population. If the bad guys try to attack them and we see that, we will protect the people because we are here to help them,” said Staff Sergeant Anthony Sloan of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva and Carlos Barria in Port-au-Prince; Writing by Patricia Zengerle: Editing by Jane Sutton and Eric Beech)

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