Haiti devastation slows aid effort


US military helicopters ramped up aid deliveries to Haiti’s storm-hit south on Monday, but cut roads and communications, and blockades by some starving locals, hampered efforts to get it to the needy population.

The anger of many Haitians at seeing no relief a week after Hurricane Matthew hammered the southern Tiburon Peninsula, levelling homes, fouling water sources and killing livestock, was evident, with pleas mounting for aid to arrive quickly.

“I understand of course the frustration,” Jean-Luc Poncelet, the country representative for the UN’s World Health Organization, said after arriving at the airport outside Jeremie, one of the worst-hit cities.

But, he said, the storm’s impact in the south and west of the peninsula had been “really catastrophic.”

“When you have no means of communication, no radio, no telephone, no roads and even a helicopter can’t land — this is what explains the massive delay,” he told AFP.

Civil defense officials said Monday the death toll from the hurricane stood at 372.

– Tons of supplies –

At the airport, US military helicopters unloaded boxes of USAid supplies to be stored by the UN in Jeremie before being taken to other parts of the south for distribution.

An official at the airport who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media said nearly 20 tons of supplies — tarpaulins, rice, cooking oil and hygiene kits — were being brought in.

That added to 47 tons already brought in by US military helicopters from the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince over the preceding two days.

But getting that and other aid to starving Haitians reduced to drinking unclean water and living in roofless houses will be challenging.

On a main road crossing the mountainous center of the peninsula, residents of some smashed villages had stacked trees, rocks and other storm debris in an effort to stop aid convoys from passing through without delivering any supplies.

“Indeed, there are blockades on the road and we’ve been able to discuss with the local community” to be allowed through, Poncelet said.

The WHO representative said one of the priorities of his agency was to sift through the rumors accumulating since the storm.

– ‘Anxious’ population –

A priority was to verify reported cases of cholera, a potentially fatal waterborne disease that has killed thousands of people in Haiti since 2010, when it was inadvertently introduced by UN peacekeepers.

While some towns and villages reported an apparent spike in infections since the storm, Poncelet said “the number of cases of cholera that we have confirmed are low.”

He declined to give a number, but said there were “tens” of cases in one area of the peninsula.

Still, he said WHO had to “be careful” about cholera — and about other diseases that caused diarrhea that could lead to big fluid loss.

Though evaluation teams were still working to get a precise picture of the health situation, medical supplies were being brought in for quicker distribution, he said.

“The population is very anxious,” Poncelet said. “They haven’t had any systematic support over the last days,” he said.

“It is indeed a very, very long time.”

© 2016 AFP

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