Haitian chaos eases as aid groups shift fo­cus to women

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY BEN FOX

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The 79-yearold woman with a 25-kilo­gram bag of rice perched on her head gin­gerly de­scended con­crete steps Sun­day and passed it off to her daugh­ter-in-law — who quickly dis­ap­peared be­hind the faded leop­ard-print sheets that are the walls of their makeshift home on the crowded turf of Haiti’s Na­tional Sta­dium.

That per­sonal victory for Rosedithe Menelas and her hun­gry fam­ily was a leap for­ward as well for the United Na­tions and aid groups that have strug­gled to help two mil­lion peo­ple who need food aid af­ter the Jan. 12 earth­quake.

Un­der a new tar­geted ap­proach to aid, Menelas and thou­sands of other women across Haiti’s cap­i­tal no longer have to bat­tle with men at food hand­outs that in re­cent days have been chaotic and danger­ous scrums.

“Ev­ery time they give out food there’s too much trou­ble,” said Menelas, col­laps­ing into a small wooden chair as two grand­chil­dren quickly scram­bled into her lap. “ To­day, we fi­nally got some­thing.”

UN of­fi­cials say they are still far short of reach­ing all of the quake vic­tims es­ti­mated to need food.

The UN World Food Pro­gram and its part­ners, in­clud­ing World Vi­sion, bor­rowed an ap­proach that has worked in other dis­as­ter zones. The agen­cies fanned out across Port-au-Prince, dis­tribut­ing coupons to be re­deemed for bags of rice at 16 sites. The coupons were given mainly to women, the el­derly and the dis­abled.

Men could re­deem coupons for women who were busy tak­ing care of chil­dren or who oth­er­wise could not make it.

“Our ex­pe­ri­ence around the world is that food is more likely to be eq­ui­tably shared in the house­hold if it is given to women,” WFP spokesman Mar­cus Prior said at the sta­dium, now a sprawl­ing en­camp­ment of fam­i­lies left home­less by the quake.

Of­fi­cials tar­geted women be­cause they are pri­mary care­givers in most house­holds and are less likely to be ag­gres­sive on aid lines. Many Haitians agreed. Ch­ery Frantz, a 35-year-old fa­ther of four who lives in a ravine near one dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tre, said men are more likely to try to sell the do­nated rice.

“ Women won’t do that be­cause they’re more re­spon­si­ble,” Frantz said.

Bags of rice will be given out daily for the next two weeks to hold the city un­til longer-term food ef­forts can take hold. Work­ers are hand­ing out 1,700 ra­tions daily at each lo­ca­tion. Each bag is in­tended to help feed a fam­ily of six for two weeks with about half the calo­ries they need each day.

Also Sun­day, doc­tors skirted the U.S. mil­i­tary’s sus­pen­sion of med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion flights by fly­ing three crit­i­cally ill child vic­tims of Haiti’s earth­quake to U.S. hos­pi­tals on a pri­vate jet.

A five-year-old tetanus vic­tim, a 14-month-old boy with pneu­mo­nia and a baby boy with third­de­gree burns were sent to Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal in Philadel­phia by the Bos­ton-based aid group Part­ners in Health.

The U.S. mil­i­tary had stopped med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion flights Wed­nes­day be­cause of ap­par­ent con­cerns over where to put the pa­tients and per­haps over how to pay for them. Hun­dreds of other pa­tients need treat­ment abroad, doc­tors here say.

The U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers has been asked to build a 250-bed tent hospi­tal to re­lieve pres­sure on the U.S. navy hospi­tal ship Com­fort and on Haitian fa­cil­i­ties where earth­quake vic­tims are be­ing treated un­der tar­pau­lins in hospi­tal grounds. Sev­eral Port-au-Prince hos­pi­tals were dam­aged or de­stroyed.

An ef­fort to help other Haitian chil­dren led 10 U.S. Bap­tists into the arms of po­lice when they were caught try­ing to bus 33 chil­dren to the Do­mini­can Repub­lic. They ac­knowl­edged they had not got­ten any per­mis­sions from Haitian au­thor­i­ties. They were be­ing held without charges on Sun­day.

The church mem­bers, most from Idaho, called it a “Haitian Or­phan Res­cue Mis­sion” to save aban­doned chil­dren in the dis­as­ter zone. But they put them­selves in the mid­dle of a po­lit­i­cal firestorm over fears that overly quick adop­tions could per­ma­nently sep­a­rate chil­dren from miss­ing par­ents — or that traf­fick­ers may be ex­ploit­ing the quake to seize and sell chil­dren.

There were some glitches in Sun­day’s food cam­paign.

At least a dozen peo­ple didn’t make it into the sta­dium be­fore UN peace­keep­ers from Brazil shut the gates. They an­grily waved their coupons out­side.

In­side, the Brazil­ians dis­trib­uted sar­dines, corned beef and wa­ter when the rice ran out to sep­a­rate lines of men and women. The crowd surged for­ward, prompt­ing the peace­keep­ers to fire sev­eral vol­leys of pep­per spray.

Chris Web­ster, a World Vi­sion spokesman, said his group needed more se­cu­rity be­fore it could open two sites in the sea­side slum of Cite Soleil.

But a tour of sev­eral sites showed the project was largely suc­cess­ful. Peo­ple hauled away their rice, of­ten di­vid­ing it up among friends and fam­ily. Some women quickly turned their bags over to husbands and broth­ers, but most took it them­selves to the refugee camps they call home.

“Bring­ing food into a sit­u­a­tion where peo­ple are des­per­ate is al­ways chaotic,” Web­ster said at one site on the city’s Rue J. Poupelard. “But this seems like it’s go­ing well.”

Aid work­ers worked with com­mu­nity groups and oth­ers to make the op­er­a­tion as smooth as pos­si­ble. UN of­fi­cials even sought the help of Voodoo priests, who urged peo­ple to stay calm, said Max Beau­voir, head of Haiti’s Voodoo Priest As­so­ci­a­tion. “ Voodoo con­sti­tutes a large part of our cul­ture and priests of­ten help mo­bi­lize com­mu­ni­ties,” Beau­voir said.

Some re­cip­i­ents said it was their first aid since the quake.

“I have a big fam­ily and we have noth­ing,” said Na­dia St. Eloi, 32, a mother of six who car­ried her rice bag on her head while hold­ing her two-year-old son by the arm. She said she still needs cook­ing oil and beans to make a meal but will make the rice last as long as pos­si­ble.

“ We have no meat, so this is all we’ll eat,” she said.

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