One year after Jeanne, Haiti still needs aid

A year after Hurricane Jeanne ravaged Gonaives in Haiti, killing 3 000 and leaving 300 000 homeless, residents still await emergency food aid and fear they have been forgotten.

At the sight of four-wheel-drive jeeps bearing the logo of the World Food Programme (WFP), women pour out of their ramshackle homes, their eyes full of hope.

In less than 10 minutes, the jeeps are surrounded by a throng of people from one of the areas hardest hit by the storm, which pummelled this north-western city with powerful winds and torrential rain on September 18 2004.

The children, scrawny and half-naked, never stray far from the WFP’s premises, where for six months last year more than 750 families were served free meals.

“Are they going to start the distribution of rations again?” asked an anxious Mariejean Sylverain, mother of four. She was waiting to feed her children, including a five-year-old who showed clear signs of malnutrition.

She described how aid workers after the storm used to hand out a sack of rice, cooking oil and beans regularly.

“Since they stopped this aid, we are living on close to nothing,” she said.

“We are trying to help ourselves,” said another storm survivor as she leaned against a picket fence amid corrugated metal shacks.

After Hurricane Jeanne struck, the WFP delivered food to more than 30 000 families, or about 160 000 people, for six months.

“We have completed this programme to resume our normal activity to deliver a daily meal to 300 000 school children,” said Anne Poulsen, spokesperson for the WFP.

At the moment, less than 10% of the eight million inhabitants of Haiti receive aid from the organisation.
The latest projects focus on development rather than direct assistance, Poulsen said.

Pierre Edner, who helped distribute emergency food aid to storm survivors, said people are desperate in this immense township on the coast.

“There is nothing for them to eat, there is no hope for them. Government officials have never set foot here. People fear hunger and disease,” Edner said. “Their wish is for the resumption of assistance.”

An octogenarian, Valbrum Valcius, raised a chair in a kind of salute to the WFP representative. Since the last visit, the old man wouldn’t have eaten except for the generosity of his neighbours.

When he saw Poulsen, he believed for a moment that the monthly rations had resumed. But he heard nothing that promised a return of the regular hand-outs.

A year after Hurricane Jeanne hit Haiti and despite extensive assistance from NGOs and generous donations from Western governments, the needs remain enormous. The populations of the affected areas of Gonaives live in the hope that fresh assistance from the outside world is on the way.

But now, the television cameras are gone. The international media have turned their attention to the southern coast of the United States, where Hurricane Katrina killed more than 880 people last month.

Poulsen fears that Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is no longer a priority.

“I want to say: don’t forget Haiti. Don’t forget Gonaives.”—Sapa-AFP

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