Monday, January 25, 2010

Exodus as Haiti Toll Passes 150,000

More than 100,000 people are traveling north and southwest to escape the capital's devastation (AFP)

More than 150,000 people have been confirmed dead in the Port-au-Prince area alone following Haiti's devastating earthquake, the country's communications minister says.

The death toll given by Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue on Sunday comes amid an exodus of residents from the shattered capital Port-au-Prince.

Lassegue said that the 150,000 figure was compiled by CNE, a state company that has been collecting corpses from around the capital and burying them in a mass grave north of the capital.

But many thousands more people could be dead in the rest of the country while others have been buried or cremated by relatives or remain trapped under collapsed buildings, she said.

"Nobody knows how many bodies are buried in the rubble; 200,000 ... 300,000?" she said. "Who knows the overall death toll?"


Nearly two weeks after the 7.0 magnitude quake on January 12, survivors are still being hit by aftershocks.

A magnitude 5.5 one struck on Sunday, about 41km west of the capital Port-au-Prince, the US Geological Survey reported, but there were no immediate reports of fresh damage.

Meanwhile, the international aid agency leading efforts to provide shelter for the hundreds of thousands of survivors appealed for thousands more tents and other forms of shelter.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said it had 10,000 family-sized tents in a warehouse in Port-au-Prince, but that "estimated needs stand at 100,000 to assist 500,000 persons".

Haiti's government estimated on Friday that around 609,000 people were without shelter in the Port-au-Prince area, according to the IOM.


Many of those leaving Port-au-Prince say they are tired of living on the streets (EPA)

Ten of thousands of people, many tired of living on the streets for so many nights, have begun pouring out of the city's crowded camps to find refuge elsewhere.

The United Nations says more than 130,000 people have already left the destroyed capital, and the Haitian authorities are encouraging the exodus, offering free bus rides to take them to the southwestern and northern parts of the country.

Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds, reporting from Saint Marc, a coastal city north of the capital, said buses packed with people had been heading north, which was less affected by the earthquake.

He said the total number of people in the urban exodus could reach around a million people.

Reporting from Port-au-Prince, Al Jazeera's Teresa Bo said people were leaving "because they have nothing here, no food, no water, nothing".

Most of the villages outside the capital are very poor, with almost no infrastructure, houses made of palm trees and subsistence agriculture.

But people were tired of living on the streets in the city and seeking temporary shelter elsewhere, she said.

"We'll have to see if the government will put a plan in place to help these people leaving," our correspondent said, adding that with fewer people in the capital, it would make the task of reconstructing the capital much easier.

Hundreds of Haitians gathered in the capital for a mass near the capital's Roman Catholic cathedral on Sunday, while others lined up to receive food packs, water and crackers from US and Brazilian troops in Cite du Soleil, a Port-au-Prince slum.

Lieutenant-General Ken Keen, the commander of the US military's operations in the capital, said: "We are at the beginning of the massive effort to sustain providing food, water and medical assistance throughout the city.

"What we have been doing thus far is in a crisis reaction, obviously, to the situation, pushing out as much as we can to address the immediate needs, but we are entering a phase where have to be able to sustain it takes estimated one million rations a day in order to sustain it."

Aid effort 'pathetic'

Bertolaso criticised the US military operation as well-meaning but ineffective (AFP/US Navy)

But the overall aid effort was criticised by Italy's top disaster official on Sunday.

Guido Bertolaso, Italy's civil protection chief, called the Haiti operation a "pathetic" failure.

What was needed, he said, was a single international civilian co-ordinator to take charge, and for individual countries and aid agencies to stop flying their flags and posing for TV cameras and get to work.

"Unfortunately there's this need to make a 'bella figura' before the TV cameras rather than focus on what's under the debris,'' said Bertolaso, who won praise for his handling of Italy's 2009 quake in Abruzzo.

In particular, he criticised what he called the well-meaning but ineffective US-run military operation.

Last week, respected medical journal The Lancet blamed the chaotic aid effort in Haiti on the corporate posturing and self-interest of major aid organisations.

Aid groups and governments were "rightly mobilising, but also jostling for position, each claiming that they are doing the best for earthquake survivors", the British journal said in an editorial on Friday.

"Perhaps worse of all, relief efforts in the field are sometimes competitive with little collaboration between agencies, including smaller, grass-roots charities that may have better networks in affected countries and so are well placed to immediately implement disaster relief."

Source: Aljazeera (English)

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