UN revamps Haiti’s aid system

Anna Mehler Paperny
Globe and Mail Update
Saturday, January 30, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE
New distribution program prioritizes women with families in effort to stop chaotic stampedes over food convoys

Port-au-Prince — The United Nations is revamping its aid mission in Haiti after two weeks of chaotic stampedes to reach disorganized food convoys.

The new system, which starts this weekend, will set up 16 fixed aid sites across Port-au-Prince, each of which aims to give rice to 10,000 people a day – about 1.1 million people a week in a metropolitan area of about 4 million.

“[At first] we had to do everything we could, to put as much food out to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible,“ said World Food Program spokesman Marcus Prior.

“But instead of using mobile, quick-and-dirty methods, we need a more organized response.”

It’s aid agencies’ attempt to come to terms with what Mr. Prior described as “the most complex situation we’ve ever faced” – a staggering need in a dense urban area whose infrastructure has been wiped out entirely. Humanitarian workers are used to providing aid to less dense, more rural spaces. In the crush of a devastated, tightly packed city, the logistics are entirely different.

“As part of the operation, we need to have more stable and robust distribution methods in place.”

On Saturday, aid workers are giving coupons to community leaders throughout the city, who will then distribute them among households. Starting Sunday, rice will be given out daily – but only to female heads-of-households who bring their coupons.

Haitians on the receiving end of aid have been arguing for weeks that they current system doesn’t work: Those who get in line fastest, or can most readily wrest supplies away, are most likely to get the rice, oil or water bring distributed. In some cases, one large bag would be given to multiple strangers expected to divide it among themselves.

Mr. Prior said this new system is something they’ve been working on since the post-quake aid mission began, and its rollout wasn’t affected by several aid convoys being mobbed.

On Friday evening, dozens of people swarmed an aid truck parked in a walled-off elementary school compound in an otherwise quiet neighbourhood. People emptied the truck of its cooking-oil cargo and the incident almost turned violent when police intervened and pinned one man to the ground.

Mr. Prior said that events like that one have been “isolated” and added that these fixed sites will provide greater security from both the UN’s MINUSTAH and Haiti’s national police.

Among the shacks and trash-choked gutters of Port-au-Prince’s Matissant neighbourhood, residents widened their eyes in disbelief when they heard the plan. Valcin Beniteau and the hundred-odd others living in the bedsheet lean-tos in an alley between what remains of their houses haven’t seen a single aid truck here since the quake. A coupon system would be welcome, Mr. Beniteau said.

“Of course – that would be much better organized. It feels as though we’ve been forgotten here.”

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