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Aid Workers Try To Ramp Up Haiti Relief Efforts


People line up to receive food at a UN distribution center last week.

People line up to receive food at a UN distribution center last week.

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) -- International aid workers looked to speed up relief efforts in Haiti after criticism that food, water, and medicine was not getting to victims 12 days after a devastating earthquake.

Survivors camped out in filthy conditions in about 300 makeshift camps across Haiti's shattered capital, Port-au-Prince. People complained they were not getting enough aid, despite a huge U.S.-led international relief campaign.

Responding to the criticisms, U.S. Agency for International Development chief Rajiv Shah said his organization was doing all it could under difficult circumstances.

"The scale of the destruction and the human consequence...is just unparalleled.... We're never going to meet the need as quickly as we'd like," Shah told Reuters. "We're going to be here providing the support for a long time."

The January 12, magnitude-7 quake killed up to 200,000 people, Haitian authorities said, and left up to 3 million people hurt or homeless and clamoring for medical assistance, food and water in nightmarish conditions in the hemisphere's poorest country.

Although the United Nations had announced that Haiti's government had halted search-and-rescue operations, international rescue teams managed on January 23 to free a man trapped in the rubble of Port-au-Prince.

After a four-hour rescue operation, the Haitian man was carefully extracted from the ruins of the Hotel Napoli Inn.

He was the latest of more than 130 people who have been pulled out alive from under wrecked buildings by rescue teams from around the world.

FOOD DISTRIBUTION

In addition to the logistical challenges, there were concerns about security for food distribution operations, following the widespread looting of wrecked buildings in Port-au-Prince in the days following the quake.

Brazilian UN peacekeepers and the U.S. Army planned to distribute food in Port-au-Prince's teeming Cite Soleil slum today.

At a camp in Port-au-Prince on January 23, people desperate for food swarmed bags of rice being off-loaded from a dump truck, even with U.S. and UN troops and Haitian police standing guard.

The chaos alarmed aid workers from Plan International, who stopped the food delivery until the crowd could be brought under control with the help of several warning shots from the guards.

Single bags, stamped with the U.S. flag, were handed to every four adults in line to divide among themselves later. The aid group estimated as many as 15,000 people were in line.

The World Food Program was forced to curtail some distribution activities following attacks on two of its relief convoys on January 22, said Thiry Benoit, the UN agency's deputy country director for Haiti.

Aid workers faced enormous challenges to get food and water distributed in a ruined city cluttered with rubble and overflowing with homeless and injured people. "No one can understand it until they're here," USAID's Gina Jackson said.

A maternity hospital in the Petionville suburb put out an urgent plea for food on January 23, saying it was overflowing with pregnant women and had nothing to feed them. Aid group Food for the Poor said it responded with a shipment of rice, beans and toaster pastries.

World Food Program officials estimated that some aid had reached more than two-thirds of the survivor camps.

Amid the devastation, there were some indications the Caribbean country was coming back to life. Haitians waited outside banks that reopened on January 23, eager to obtain cash to buy food and essential supplies.

"There's no work, there's no jobs, God only knows what's going to happen," teacher Myrtho Larco said.

Fruits and vegetables appeared plentiful in street stalls, but people said they they had little cash to buy them and prices were much higher than before the quake.

The "Hope for Haiti Now" telethon held on January 22, led by actor George Clooney and Haiti-born rapper Wyclef Jean, raised more than $57 million for relief, organizers said.

They said the amount was a record for public donations in a disaster-relief telethon and did not include donations by corporations and large private donors and sales figures on the website iTunes.
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