Haiti death toll tops 200 000 as aid anger mounts

2010-02-04 09:01

THE death toll in the Haiti quake has swelled to 200,000, Prime

Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said yesterday as angry protests over the slow

arrival of aid flared on the rubble-strewn streets.

More than three weeks after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake, Bellerive

said his tiny Caribbean nation had been ravaged by “a disaster on a planetary

scale” and detailed the tragic toll suffered by his people.

“There are more than 200 000 people who have been clearly

identified as people who are dead,” he said in an interview with AFP, adding

that another 300 000 injured had been treated, 250 000 homes had been destroyed

and 30 000 businesses lost.

At least 4 000 amputations have also been carried out due to

horrific crush injuries – a shocking figure which is likely to strain the

impoverished nation’s already meagre resources for years to come.

Bellerive said he has proposed the formation of an “emergency

government” in Haiti to focus on the crisis, but insisted that the authorities,

devastated as their ranks have been by the disaster, remained “in control of the

situation”.

Despite a massive aid operation, a lack of coordination and the

sheer extent of the damage have hampered the distribution of food and water,

leading to mounting tensions among a million people left homeless.

“The Haitian government has done nothing for us, it has not given

us any work. It has not given us the food we need,” Sandrac Baptiste said

bitterly as she left her makeshift tent to join angry demonstrations

yesterday.


With tensions running high in the ruined capital Port-au-Prince,

some 300 people gathered outside the mayor’s office in the once upscale

Petionville neighborhood.


“If the police fire on us, we are going to set things ablaze,” one

of the protesters shouted, raising a cement block above his head.


Another 200 protesters marched toward the US embassy, crying out

for food and aid.


The US has taken the lead in the huge relief effort, with some 20

000 troops, but yesterday a senior official at the US Agency for International

Development (USAID) faced tough questioning about Haitians livid over the pace

of aid.


“It is natural that they feel like that after a catastrophe of this

magnitude,” USAID deputy director Anthony Chan told reporters.

“We are doing the

best that can be expected.”


But aid agencies have sounded the alarm that donations for Haiti

relief have been desperately low compared to after the 2004 Asian tsunami, which

had a death toll of about 220 000.


The head of the French Red Cross, Jean-Francois Mattei, said on a

mission here that the organization has received 11,5 million euros (US$16

million) for Haiti, one tenth the amount it received for tsunami relief.


And while the International Red Cross raised US$3 billion in relief

in the tsunami’s aftermath, the figure for Haiti stands at just US$555 million

in the aftermath of the worst natural disaster on record in the Americas.


Mattei said a “media controversy” over the use of tsunami relief

funds had made some potential donors wary of giving, adding: “It is not

surprising to see the decline in donations.”


Meanwhile, a group of US missionaries were to learn today

whether they would be charged with trying to illegally take children out of

Haiti, a judge told AFP.


The 10 Americans from the Idaho-based Baptist group New Life

Children’s Refuge have been detained in Haiti since the weekend after they tried

to take some 33 children to neighbouring Dominican Republic.


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday it was

“unfortunate” that “this group of Americans took matters into their own hands”

by trying to take the children across the border without proper

documentation.


“We are engaged in discussions with the Haitian government . . .

and looking for the best way forward on this,” she added.


The case has cast a spotlight on the plight of Haiti’s hundreds of

thousands of orphans, and how they face the very real threat of falling victim

to child-traffickers taking advantage of the post-quake chaos.


Amid the mounting frustration in Haiti’s streets, UN chief Ban

Ki-moon asked former US president Bill Clinton to assume a leadership role in

coordinating the international aid.


“The trick is to get the Haitian people back where they can stop

living from day-to-day and start living from week-to-week or month-to-month and

then start the long-term efforts,” Clinton said.


A British aid umbrella group, Disaster Emergency Committee, warned

yesterday against “quick-fix rebuilding” plans, saying in-depth studies were

needed on how to best protect Haiti from future hurricanes and earthquakes

before a massive reconstruction project is launched.


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