Haiti looters threaten new strife

Security forces struggled on Tuesday to control looters in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, but a week after the earthquake that devastated the country rescuers still pulled miracle survivors from the rubble and said more could be found.

With the stench of urine and decomposing bodies still hanging over Port-au-Prince, the United States military presence grew and UN chief Ban Ki-moon asked for 3 500 extra international troops and police to help protect relief supplies.

Thousands of homeless Haitians were prey to bands of looters swarming through the ruins, with the police and international peacekeepers tasked with protecting the homeless nowhere to be found.

Haitian police in combat gear fired off rounds and hauled some people to the ground to try to stop the worst of the pillaging.

Approximately 1 700 US troops were on the ground overseeing the aid effort and trying to provide security.

More than 2 200 Marines arrived on the USS Bataan, boosting overall US troop numbers to 7 000, either in Haiti or offshore. US commanders have promised more than 10 000 personnel would be in the disaster zone in coming weeks.

The UN Security Council was expected to approve on Tuesday Ban’s request for 3, 00 more troops and police for the battered UN mission in Haiti.

The UN peacekeeping mission had its headquarters destroyed in the 7-magnitude earthquake that hit on January 12 and is feared to have killed up to 200 000 people.

While the scope of the disaster is still not clear, extraordinary stories of children and adults surviving several days under collapsed buildings keep emerging.

An 18-month-old child was found alive six days after the quake and rescuers are clinging to hopes that more can be found.

The child, now at Port-au-Prince General Hospital, was covered with dust but otherwise appeared healthy. No one knew her name and rescuers believe her family died when their home collapsed.

Medics at an Israeli field hospital outside the capital also treated Jean-Louis Brahms, an eight-month-old boy trapped for five days under his family’s house.

The baby’s father and older brother escaped in time with just minor injuries, but Jean-Louis remained trapped until a neighbour heard him crying and contacted UN peacekeepers.

Hope
Figures provided by the UN indicated that about 20 of the more than 90 people hauled out in the past week had been found on Sunday or Monday.

“Hope persists.
There is still hope,” said Elisabeth Byrs, spokesperson of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“The problem is dehydration, but for the moment there is still a chance,” she added.

Relief efforts are now focusing on the estimated quarter-of-a-million injured and 1,5-million homeless, many of them orphans who lost their parents in the disaster.

Officials have expressed fears the final death toll may top 200 000 and a government minister said on Sunday that 70 000 bodies had already been buried.

The US military started airdrops of food and water to survivors on Monday, the US Defence Department said.

A US Air Force C-17 plane dropped 14 500 meals and 15 000l of water to a site just outside Port-au-Prince, the Pentagon said in a statement.

The US military had been reluctant to make aid airdrops out of concern of starting troubles on the ground, but said the airdrop was made to a “controlled drop zone” where no people on the ground were endangered.

US President Barack Obama proposed a joint US-Brazilian-Canadian leadership for relief efforts as the scale of the disaster overwhelmed the international humanitarian operation.

Obama suggested to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva that the three countries “should lead and coordinate efforts by the international community of Haiti donors and other parties”, a Brazilian government official said.

EU nations promised more than $600-million in aid and reconstruction funds, but Dominican President Leonel Fernandez estimated $10-billion over five years would be needed to help Haiti recover.

The disaster has started to cause diplomatic fallout around the world.

China angrily denied accusations that its rescue team there was only searching for missing Chinese nationals.

“Concerning the comments that Chinese rescuers only rescue Chinese, these comments are false and are made out of ulterior motives,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu told reporters.

France was forced on the defensive after Development Minister Alain Joyandet called on the United Nations to clarify the US role in Haiti and said the priority should be “helping Haiti, not occupying Haiti”.—AFP

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