Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fake Food Coupons Spread in Haiti


Haitian women lined up for a food distribution in Port au Prince, Haiti.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The United Nations said Monday that counterfeiters had begun printing fake tickets to gain access to free rice distributions, complicating giveaways that are meant for the hungriest Haitians.

David Orr, a spokesman for the World Food Program, said counterfeiters, active in Haiti even during ordinary times, had become more sophisticated since relief authorities began to distribute emergency food to those with special tickets. The ticket system was put in place last week to quell the sometimes-violent jockeying that took place during food giveaways in the first days after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.

A secondary market has developed for relief food, which is common in such disasters, as well as for the tickets that allow displaced people access to the food lines. On top of that, scam artists have tried to copy the tickets just as they used to reproduce currency, passports and other official documents before the quake hit.

To stymie the counterfeiters, the United Nations changes the color of the food tickets daily and prints on them the official logos of the World Food Program, the Haitian government and the aid agency actually giving out the food. The fake tickets discovered Sunday in the Pétionville area were yellow when they should have been green, alerting the authorities to the scam. Otherwise, they were well-made copies, Mr. Orr said.

Distributions went ahead Monday in 15 fixed sites across Port-au-Prince. A 16th distribution was canceled in the center of Pétionville, an upscale neighborhood where thousands of displaced people are camping in squalid public parks. Mr. Orr initially said that the counterfeit tickets prompted the suspension of that giveaway, but he later said that the delay was caused by a more general problem of getting the food to the most vulnerable of Haitians.

“The distribution partners wanted to improve the coupon distribution mechanism to safeguard the needs of priority beneficiaries — for example, families which have lost members in the earthquake and women with a large number of children to feed,” said a statement by the World Food Program, which has distributed enough food for 1.9 million people since the quake.

The Pétionville site has been a particular problem. In recent days, protesters have surrounded the mayor’s office there demanding that local officials stop hoarding food and give it to residents. City officials say that there is a misunderstanding and that they have no food to give away.

“The population is hungry, and they are quick to get angry,” said Dr. Marlene Dorismond Adrien, a advocate for the hungry who has a radio program on health issues. “They have been waiting days and days. Rumors are flying. The situation is very fragile.”

In a sign of the desperation that many Haitians feel, Bahamian authorities intercepted a boat carrying 62 Haitians over the weekend, the Bahamian prime minister, Hubert Ingraham, told The Associated Press. Since the earthquake, other vessels loaded with Haitians have been stopped trying to reach the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, both popular migration stops for Haiti.

The United States Coast Guard has not reported intercepting any fleeing Haitians since the earthquake.

Source: NYTimes

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