'So much needs to be done'

2010-01-29 21:05

Port-au-Prince - Haiti's quake survivors faced rising insecurity on Friday with thousands of criminals on the loose and reports of rape and violence plaguing the weak and vulnerable.

Aid is still only trickling in despite a vast international relief effort launched after the January 12 disaster, and hundreds of thousands of homeless people are sheltering in tent camps short of food and medicines.

The deputy head of the UN mission in Haiti, Anthony Banbury, told AFP that desperate survivors waiting in line for aid were sometimes turning violent.

While the emergency relief was vital after the quake, which killed 170 000 people, "at the same it can be a source of insecurity because it attracts big crowds and there can be disorder around food distribution."

Speaking in Jacmel, a ruined town near the capital Port-au-Prince, Banbury said that it was "absolutely necessary that we get enough food, enough water, enough shelter for the people, and enough security".

"I don't think any of us are anywhere near being close to being satisfied, because so much more needs to be done," he added.

The occasional ray of hope does penetrate the gloom - a 16-year-old girl was pulled alive from the ruins on Wednesday after surviving 15 days without any food or water.

Girls raped under tents

But for many others, life remains a struggle for survival.

Because of the lack of electricity in Port-au-Prince, "bandits are taking advantage to harass and rape women and young girls under the tents," national police chief Mario Andresol said.

He said more than 7 000 prisoners had escaped on the day of the quake. "It took us five years to apprehend them. Today they are running wild."

Security was already tenuous in Haiti before the 7.0-magnitude quake, but the police force has been crippled with hundreds of members dead or missing.

"At night, people take things," said Omen Cola, as she washed a blouse in a basin made from a cut-off plastic container.

"But I don't have a problem. I don't have anything to steal."

Not co-ordinated

The United Nations says international aid pledges and funding for Haiti now top $2bn, but the task of getting the country back on its feet remains huge.

Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Ewing, commander of Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team, said he worried there was insufficient management.

"Everyone is trying to help, but it's not as co-ordinated as it should be," he told AFP. "We're not getting aid to where it needs to go as effectively as it should be."

Banbury said the UN did not want huge tent cities later turning into slums where there was poor sanitation, no security and child abuse.

Hurricane season

The UN, along with aid agencies and security forces, must "do things smart, as well as fast, and that's a big challenge for us now".

The start of the hurricane season in May could make the situation in Haiti even worse, with some 200 000 families without a roof, warned Margareta Wahlstrom, the UN representative for disaster risk reduction.

In a setback, the US military said engineers would need up to 10 weeks to repair one of the two main piers at the capital's port after it was jolted by aftershocks following earlier repairs.

The US has spearheaded relief efforts, sending in 20 000 troops, 23 ships and more than 90 aircraft to help deliver aid and medical care, said General Douglas Fraser, head of the US Southern Command.

The State Department said the United States was spearheading a co-ordinated effort together with Unicef, the Haitian government, the Red Cross and other agencies to combat the potential trafficking of children.

A plane carrying 60 orphan children landed in Germany where they are being adopted under procedures already largely finalised before the quake.

Six were treated in hospital after arrival for dehydration and fatigue.