Haiti: anger rises as food aid mired in bureaucracy

PORT-AU-PRINCE — More than 100 people were pressed against the iron gates of the mayor's office in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville. "When will we get that food?" voices called out to the mayor, Claire Lydia Parent, who stood behind the closed gates. The problem Parent faced was how to explain to the frustrated crowd that the food they just saw being delivered on Jan. 23 was intended for a neighboring community.

"There is not enough food for everyone; that food was not meant for us. The drivers stopped unloading when they realized their mistake," she told IRIN. The deliverymen confirmed that the bags of rice from USAID were intended for another district of the devastated city.

According to Parent, Petionville has two large camps hosting 30,000 homeless people, but had received no organized food aid since the 12 January earthquake. The World Food Programme (WFP) insisted it had made one delivery to the municipality, formerly one of the most affluent areas of the city, and had made another attempt on Jan. 22.

Chasing rumors
Local resident Weslener Moziere, 31, told IRIN that people were desperately pursuing any rumor of food handouts. "We cannot benefit from food distribution if we do not get the right information. Since we do not know what is true or not, we just run after every hint of food."

Long after Petionville's mayor delivered her bad news to the crowd outside her office, residents lingered on her steps.

Petionville resident Jean-Marc Duvert told IRIN people were simply exhausted and did not know where to turn. "We are hungry and tired of elected officials taking food intended for us."

Standing nearby in the crowd was the deputy mayor of Port-au-Prince, Guercy Mouscardy, who said he agreed with Duvert. "I cannot deny that some officials have repeatedly stolen food intended for their constituents. It does not happen everywhere like this, but it is true that this has happened in our country."

Nancy Exilas, who is tracking WFP's food distributions in Port-au-Prince, told IRIN the agency preferred to distribute food directly to the people whenever possible.

Boiling point?
When asked if he was concerned that hunger and frustration could escalate into violence, Mouscardy said he believed there was little risk of food riots. "People have suffered, but they will not do anything stupid."

Tears brimming, Gerta Augustin, who had overheard the deputy mayor's comment, said: "I lost my child, have no water or food, my house is destroyed and I have not been registered on any list of displaced. What makes you think I will not lose my mind?"

The Haitian government has identified some 250 "spontaneous gathering" points for those made homeless by the magnitude 7.0 earthquake.

WFP spokesman David Orr said the agency was delivering food to 20 locations a day. He added that more than four million meals had been provided to 250,000 people since the earthquake struck.

From IRIN, Jan. 24

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