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30 September 2004

GONAIVES, Haiti (AFP) - Looters staged new attacks on food aid stores in northern Haiti, forcing stretched UN forces to step up efforts to protect humanitarian aid after devastating floods.

Several dozen people stormed a food depot containing international aid in Gonaives, snatching boxes of milk and bags of rice before the arrival of troops from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

On Tuesday, a truck carrying bottled drinking water was pillaged in downtown Gonaives shortly after exiting an international aid depot.

This city of 250,000 people remains without clean water since Tropical Storm Jeanne devastated the region more than a week ago, unleashing fierce floods that have left at least 1,554 people dead and 904 missing.

MINUSTAH officials said 700 blue-helmet troops were protecting international aid convoys distributing donations from four depots in Gonaives.

The UN mission said it will make a “flash appeal” to the international community to come to the aid of Haiti’s disaster victims.

Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew, who visited Haiti on Wednesday, said security for convoys has improved.

“I am very reassured about the government’s ability ... to bring the food,” Pettigrew said.

Trucks are no longer traveling alone and are leaving in two convoys escorted by UN troops every day, he added.

“There was a real improvement on the ground,” he said, but “the situation remains fragile,” he said.

The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Tuesday called for more international forces to protect emergency aid in northern Haiti.

The World Food Program (WFP) said Haiti needs 5.9 million dollars to feed 100,000 people over five months. The organization has distributed 254 tonnes of food, medicine and emergency material since the natural disaster occurred.

Eighty percent of Haiti’s population lives under the minimum poverty threshold of 150 dollars a month, according to WFP.

“The food needs, after the storm, will continue for months and months,” Anne Poulsen, a WFP spokeswoman, told AFP.

The WFP had to distribute 175 tonnes of rice, lentils, bread and cooking oil in the Gonaives region in the first eight days after the floods, she said.

Farms were devastated by the storm, possibly deepening Haiti’s food shortage.

In Mapou-Chevalier, some 10 kilometers (six miles) north of Gonaives, 28-year-old Laguerre Ifody said the floods took the lives of his wife and six children and destroyed his house and millet field.

Haitians are still finding bodies. Along National Route 1, which links the capital to Gonaives, people were seen using shovels to dig for bodies buried under branches covered with mud.

Several rice and corn fields and banana plantations flanking the major road some 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Gonaives were destroyed.

Corn and rice farmers say the harvest will be pushed back by six to seven months, and they complain that little aid has come their way.


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