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Revived street market helps relieve Haiti food crisis

Looting is rife as gas fetches $20 a gallon in quake-devastated country left without an effective government.


A U.N. official said the organization is working on a massive distribution program, but it has to be done with the correct preparation and security.

“If you don’t do this properly, it will just be chaos and everyone fighting over the food,” said the official, who asked his name not be used as he is not authorized to give statements.

Officials say distribution has also been hampered by the collapse of the Haitian authorities and destruction of the U.N.’s own local headquarters, which imploded killing mission leader Hedi Annabi and dozens of other workers.

“Do you think if any media organization had its central headquarters destroyed it would be acting with the same efficiency?” asked the official.

The degenerating security situation also hampers the efforts of aid workers.

While looters began clearing out stores of any food and drink they soon moved on to lift stereos, cell phones and any other goods. Police have hit back firing tear gas and shooting several alleged thieves dead.

Violence has also erupted among the hungry and desperate, with various reported shootings and machete killings around the city center. On Sunday night, shots from rifles and pistols cracked out near a central hotel packed with journalists and aid workers.

The U.S. military has promised thousands more soldiers to provide security and help with the aid operation. However, it is unclear how many forces will come in and exactly what their mandate will be in the unwieldy urban sprawl.

Most of the desperate residents appear to be keen on intervention of American troops, at least for the immediate future.

“We need Obama to take over,” said Franz Dejean, an English teacher who had his house reduced to dust and was now holed up in a refugee camp.

The informal economy keeping Dejean and millions of others going is certainly precarious. The few vegetables available are selling at five times their normal price, while hawkers sell gasoline on the street at $20 a gallon.

The port, which brought the biggest source of food into the city, was devastated by the quake. One worker there estimated it would take several months to get operational.

Much of the food moving around had been stored before the quake and as it dries out completely, greater violence and unrest could be unleashed.

But Dejean argues that with the help of the United States and others countries, Haiti will be able to pull out of the crisis.

“You’ve got to be optimistic,” he said. “We have hit bottom. Things cannot get any worse than this. They have to get better.”