PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - U.S. soldiers and Brazilian U.N. troops handed out food and water in one of Haiti’s largest slums on Sunday amid criticism that aid was not getting to earthquake victims fast enough.
The Pan American Health Organization said there had so far been no sign of a feared outbreak of contagious disease among survivors camped out in filthy conditions in about 300 makeshift shelters across Haiti’s shattered capital, Port-au-Prince.
But some complained they were not getting enough aid 12 days after a massive earthquake hit the Caribbean country, despite a huge, U.S.-led international relief effort.
In the capital’s gang-ridden Cite Soleil slum, U.S. Army Humvees formed a corridor alongside cinder-block houses, and hundreds of Haitians lined up to receive food packs, water and crackers. The slum has long been a flashpoint for violence, but there were no reports of disturbances as food delivery began.
Creole speakers standing on trucks gave out instructions through loudspeakers, and bags of rice, beans, corn flour and plaster were handed out.
”The aid we have available ... is being pushed out,“ said Lieutenant General Ken Keen, commander of the U.S. military operation in Haiti. ”But the need is tremendous.
“Every day is a better day than yesterday. Tomorrow will be better than the day before.”
Countries that are major aid donors to Haiti will plot how to move from immediate humanitarian relief to long-term rebuilding at a conference in Montreal on Monday.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner are among those attending the one-day meeting, which Canadian officials said would not likely emerge with a total of pledged aid but rather a clearer idea of what the needs are.
A magnitude 4.7 aftershock rattled nerves in the capital on Sunday evening, but there were no immediate reports of new damage. Haiti has been hit by a number of aftershocks since the big quake struck on January 12.
In Port-au-Prince, survivors at a large camp in the Delmas section said the rice and cooking oil handed out there were far from enough to go around.
“If you cannot fight, you cannot get anything,” said a petite 19-year-old named Darling.
The magnitude 7 quake killed up to 200,000 people, Haitian authorities said, and left up to 3 million hurt or homeless and pleading for medical aid, food and water in nightmarish conditions in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.
In addition to the logistic 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.
U.N. troops brandished sticks to try to control an unruly crowd jostling for food at a hand-out near the seaport on Sunday. But when a truck of armed soldiers arrived, the sight of their guns was enough to persuade the crowd to form two lines, and the distribution proceeded with no shots fired.
World Food Program officials estimated some aid had reached more than two-thirds of the survivor camps.
Haiti’s government reported 609,000 persons without shelter in the wider Port-au-Prince area, though the number of people leaving the capital was increasing daily.
More than 130,000 people have taken advantage of the government’s offer of free transportation to cities in the north and southwest.
The International Organization for Migration said tents were urgently needed in order to move people out of the makeshift encampments and into orderly tent cities once sanitation and security can be provided.
The group had 10,000 family-size tents in its warehouse in Port-au-Prince, but needed 10 times that many, it said.
More solid shelter will be needed as Haiti’s rainy season starts in May and hurricane season begins in June.
“The temporary tent settlements will provide a clean and safe environment for the displaced, but they are a short-term solution. Tent settlements are not sustainable,” said Vincent Houver, the migration group’s Haiti mission chief..
Additional reporting by Patrick Markey, Jackie Frank and Joseph Guyler Delva in Port-au-Prince, and Randall Palmer in Montreal; Writing by Jane Sutton and Eric Beech; Editing by Eric Walsh