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Looting, Violence Rise In Haiti Amid Aid 'Frustration'

A child injured by the earthquake receives medical treatment at a makeshift hospital in Port-au-Prince on January 18.

A child injured by the earthquake receives medical treatment at a makeshift hospital in Port-au-Prince on January 18.

International security forces are struggling to control looters and rising violence in Haiti's ruined capital of Port-au-Prince, amid urgent efforts to speed up aid deliveries to survivors of last week's earthquake.

Where available, UN police have been trying to keep looters from plundering food from damaged stores.

Reuters interviewed one Haitian man who says he was doing what any other person would do in the same situation -- taking food to feed his homeless family after waiting a week for promised food aid that he has yet to see.

"We were over there looking for something to eat because up until now, help hasn't arrived," he said. "There are many, many people waiting for water, food, and a mat to sleep on."

Amid the ruins of Port-au-Prince, thousands of homeless Haitians are susceptible to roving bands of looters. Correspondents say that in many cases, police and troops tasked with protecting the vulnerable population were nowhere to be found.

Pierre Gotson, a Haitian journalist, described the situation to RFE/RL's Russian Service.

"Security is a real problem," Gotson says. "About 5,000 prisoners have escaped from [a local prison]. According to a report I received yesterday morning, they are starting to organize themselves in gangs to be able to cause problems. For example, to settle scores, to take revenge on police, or to carry out assaults such as armed robbery."

Health Crisis Looming

U.S. military officials say the violence has been isolated so far and is not impeding the humanitarian aid mission.

But medical workers warn that a health crisis also is looming a week after the 7.0-magnitude quake. Officials now express fears the final death toll may top 200,000 -- if it is ever known at all. A Haitian government minister says 70,000 bodies have been buried so far, many of them in mass graves.

Meanwhile, aid workers face enormous difficulties tending to the homeless and injured amid deteriorating security. Tens of thousands of children have been orphaned by the earthquake. Advocacy groups are trying to speed up adoptions or sending relief workers who could evacuate thousands of orphans to the United States or other countries.

UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy says the violence and looting is mostly due to "frustration" among survivors who are not getting food and water quickly enough.

Congestion at the airport in Port-au-Prince has been hampering aid distribution, preventing at least two cargo planes of the World Food Program from landing during the weekend. Correspondents say insecurity along Haiti's roads -- as well as gasoline shortages -- also are hampering overland deliveries of food, water, and medical supplies.

The Haitian capital's main port also was heavily damaged by the quake. It requires weeks or months of repairs.