Aid begins to reach desperate Haitians

A US military helicopter taking off after unloading humanitarian aid for the Haitian city of Jeremie, which was left devastated by Hurricane Matthew.
A US military helicopter taking off after unloading humanitarian aid for the Haitian city of Jeremie, which was left devastated by Hurricane Matthew.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

But many remote communities still waiting for help to arrive a week after hurricane hit

ZOANGER (Haiti) • New tin roofs gleaming in the Caribbean sun and the appearance of UN and US charity teams driving along now-cleared roads showed that southern Haiti is finally getting some of the aid it desperately needs.

But a week after Hurricane Matthew tore through the country, many remote communities are still being left to their own devices.

Families with destroyed homes and shattered livelihoods wait and pray for help. Food and clean water are scarce to non-existent.

"We haven't seen anybody at all," said Mr Jean Nelson, a 68-year-old resident of Groteaux, half an hour from the major city of Les Cayes where many aid groups and relief stores are located. For the past week, coconuts from the stripped and fallen trees have been sustaining villagers, many too poor to afford sacks of rice that have doubled in price since the disaster.

"People are hungry. Why haven't people come to help?" Mr Nelson asked.

But in Les Cayes and on the main road leading west from it, new roofs shine bright silver on most homes, a stark difference to previous days when they were open to the sky.

The price for the tin needed has risen 50 per cent - from US$3 (S$4.15) a sheet to US$4.60 - but many found the money to protect their families from the scorching sun, tropical showers and mosquitoes.

As well, the cellphone network which was cut by the storm is now mostly up and running.

But farther along the road, devastation on an apocalyptic scale is only just starting to be addressed in the beach villages where tourists once enjoyed the white-pebble beaches and light-green sea.

A United Nations peacekeeping team of Brazilian soldiers was at work on Tuesday with mechanical diggers to clear the road. The landscape is one of cracked and broken trees and houses ripped open by the worst of the storm, which packed winds of 230kmh.

The soldiers also filled in water hazards that residents had been forced to use for drinking water despite the risk of disease.

"Our mission here is to clear the way to allow the passage of humanitarian convoys," a soldier said.

Haitian Red Cross vehicles, UN police units and other official four- wheel-drive vehicles form part of the increasing traffic on the road.

But so far most aid handouts have been from US Christian groups. One of them, Samaritan Purse, gave out boxes of hygienic products - soap, shampoo, toilet paper - and white buckets with water-purifying chlorine pellets in them.

Desperate Haitians jostled, shoved and punched one another to get the boxes and buckets despite Haitian police officers trying to keep order. Many were left empty-handed when stocks ran out.

UN agencies including the World Health Organisation and the World Food Programme were expected to begin distributing their own bigger stocks of aid yesterday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2016, with the headline 'Aid begins to reach desperate Haitians'. Print Edition | Subscribe