Death Tolls Surpasses 1,500 as Food Distribution Continues

Due to the delays in transportation of relief items from Port-au-Prince to Gonaives—the most affected city—the situation in Gonaives is very tense.
( [email protected] ) Sep 28, 2004 08:06 PM EDT

Devastating floods unleashed in northern Haiti by tropical storm Jeanne is feared to have killed more than 2,000 people as death tolls continue to rise. As of Tuesday, the government estimates have put the death toll at 1,650, with about 800 missing after torrential rain from Jeanne engulfed much of the port city of 200,000 people last week. Meanwhile aid workers continue in their struggle to feed thousands of desperate people.

During what the United Nations has warned as a "critical" situation in the badly hit city, Calixte Valentin, mayor of Gonaives said bodies were still being found, 10 days after the storm, while relief workers say food is still not getting to people quickly enough, amid problems with security and logistical problems caused by the storm.

In a recent update, Action by Churches Together—a global alliance of churches and related agencies—reported that due to the delays in transportation of relief items from Port-au-Prince to Gonaives—the most affected city—the situation in Gonaives is very tense. There have been angry scenes at some relief centers as large crowds gather, desperate to get hold of food and water. The United Nations reports that food and water have been distributed over the weekend under the protection of the Argentinean peacekeepers present in the city.

However, ACT reported that the health situation is under control and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has dismissed reports that dead bodies pose a serious health threat. They have warned that this type of misleading information often results in authorities taking misguided action such as mass burials, which can add to the burden of suffering already experienced by survivors.

Meanwhile, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), one ACT member in Haiti, reports that they will distribute food and other relief items through 20 churches - members of their partner the Protestant Federation of Haiti (FPH). They have sent a FPH volunteer to Gonaives to assess the capacity of the churches and to co-ordinate the distribution. LWF will also provide medical assistance through Hospital Pere Payen, Hospital Beraca and one health center in Gonaive, members of the FPH.

The Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) has sent two water purification units and a water and sanitation engineer to assist the communities in the installation of the units and provide training. And the Church World Service (CWS) will send a container of medical equipment.

Diakonie Emergency Aid (DEA), another ACT member in Haiti, is still assessing the situation in co-ordination with their partner in Gonaïves, World Neighbors. Meanwhile, the Church of Sweden (CSA), Finchurchaid (FCA), ACT Netherlands/ICCO and Norwegian Church Aid have already announced their commitment to supporting the forthcoming ACT appeal. The German Embassy in Haiti has also pledged support to the activities of ACT members, while the ACT CO has sent a Rapid Response Fund of $50,000 USD to support initial activities.

In the meantime, several relief agencies are working to set up more food distribution centers as soon as they establish secure sites.