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Haiti earthquake relief scarce amid clamour for help

By Nick Davis
BBC News, Port-au-Prince

Despite losing their homes and many of their belongings people still turned out to church on Sunday dressed immaculately.

Haitians wait to be given UN food aid in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 17 January 2010
Aid is arriving, but many Haitians are still waiting

There were still songs of praise being sung, but also prayers for the dead and dying.

Relief has now started trickling through, with non-governmental organisations, the UN and the US military getting aid to some of those who need it.

But demand far outstrips supply as the food distribution and water points, as they are being called, quickly become overwhelmed by people clamouring for supplies.

Bottlenecks still exist between the large amounts of aid arriving and the people who so desperately need it.

At last there are convoys of aid making their way through the city.

But you have to search to find the limited foreign assistance on the street.

The most common "water points" are run by local people with hose pipes who have tapped into the occasional mains supplies.

Long and mostly patient queues of people with buckets and bottles wait their turn to fill up.

The most common "food distribution" consists of families and neighbours sharing their meagre resources with others.

Fuel shortage

And while many Haitians continue to fend for themselves the delays have cost lives, with vital medical supplies not getting to the injured.

"We're running out of supplies to treat serious injuries," said Martin Harrison, an engineer from the UK helping medical staff in a hospital above Port-au-Prince.

"The other complication is that we're on a diesel generator and we only have two days of fuel left," he said.

Ban Ki-moon visits the UN headquarters in Port-au-Prince, 17 January 2010
Ban Ki-moon visited the destroyed headquarters of the UN mission

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon came to see the full extent of what happened and why there have been delays in getting aid to the people of Haiti.

For Mr Ban this visit to a disaster zone was personal.

The headquarters of his organisation in Port-au-Prince was destroyed - the chief of the mission killed along with nearly 40 other members of staff, with hundreds more still missing.

Security is still a major concern for the aid agencies, with reports of looting and jostling at distribution points, and the fear is that if more people do not get food it could spread.

At a supermarket where workers have been called in to clear up the mess they cover their noses as they wheel out rotten meat from inside the shop.

As you enter there is food spilled across the aisles, shelves having been emptied by the force of the quake.

I ask the owner if she is worried about looters and she says no, "the people round here aren't like that".

But she does acknowledge that if more food aid does not arrive, supermarkets like hers could be a target.

The armed security guards with pump-action shotguns give some added reassurance.



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