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Haiti: Aid agency struggles in face of chaos

27 February 2004

Haiti: Aid agency struggles in face of chaos

World Vision staff abandoned their office and retreated to their homes and a city hotel last night as Haiti's capital descended into chaos.

World Vision communications manager Kate Scannell Michel speaking today from the Hotel Montana in the capital Port au Prince, said rumours were rife in the city that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was making preparations to flee.

Meanwhile she said forces loyal to the president had formed road-blocks of burning tyres and abandoned trucks to keep an invading rebel force at bay.

She said some locals were throwing stones at vehicles around the roadblocks and it was contributing to the mayhem.

Ms Scannell said many businesses had failed to re-open today after the five day "Carvanal" celebrations finished yesterday because of the restrictions on movement.

Ms Scannell said the agency's staff have long-standing plans to evacuate if necessary but would endeavour to continue operations if possible.

"There's a feeling something big is about to happen and we are waiting to see what develops. We are always careful to pay close attention to our local networks so we can get an idea of what is going on," she said.

Ms Scannell made her comments after returning from a relief assessment in the northern town of Cap Haitian which fell to rebel forces on Sunday.

She said the town was relatively peaceful but food prices in the market had skyrocketed as fuel is scarce and it is increasingly difficult to transport goods to market. The present distress comes in the wake of flooding which destroyed crops late last year.

"People's usual survival mechanisms are breaking down. They are complaining they don't have enough food for their children," she said.

She added hospitals and health centres lacked basics such as antibiotics, vaccines and surgical gloves.

World Vision plans an airlift of basic medical supplies to Cap Haitian and the Central Plateau area should security permit.

Years of political violence have rendered Haiti the poorest country in the Americas. An estimated 50 per cent of the population are malnourished.


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