In a sign of the growing desperation of languishing Haitians, nearly 20 armed men tried to hijack a relief convoy carrying food through Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, the two-week anniversary of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that leveled much of the nation's capital and killed as many as 200,000 people. Haitian police scattered the crowd by spraying gunfire into the air.
One week earlier, when a group of 18 UN peacekeepers from Uruguay faced down 4,000 people outside the collapsed Presidential Palace in downtown Port-au-Prince, the scene grew ugly. The teeming crowd of starving Haitians swarmed the small force of troops trying to distribute rice and soy oil. The peacekeepers used pepper spray and rubber bullets to keep the crowd at bay before speeding off within minutes. The London Timesquoted one peacekeeper as saying, "Whatever we do, it doesn't matter-they are animals."
It's a cruel assessment of thousands of Haitians who have shown remarkable restraint in the face of degrading deprivation over the last two weeks. The UN estimates that as many as 1 million people are homeless, and UN emergency coordinator John Holmes acknowledged that aid delivery remains painfully slow.
But in other parts of town, private aid groups are quietly getting work done. Kelly Ponstler of The Salvation Army reported from Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, painting a very different picture than the scenes described by the UN: "At 2 p.m. local time today, the convoy of [relief] trucks arrived. Escorted by four vehicles carrying approximately 40 members of the US 82nd Airborne Division, The Salvation Army quickly took command of the access road. . . ."
Ponstler reported that the aid workers and soldiers were in place within minutes, and said the crowd followed an orderly process: "As smoke billowed from the ravine of smoldering rubbish which runs along the narrow road, family members followed in turn to present their food ration card for a stamp. . . . The [food] packages provide a family of five with a week's worth of nutrition."
The bottom line: "An estimated 552,000 meals were distributed this afternoon in less than four hours."
While the UN grapples with the maddening conditions of delivering aid in Haiti, groups like The Salvation Army are proving a point: Some of the best aid is coming from the groups with long-standing connections on the ground. The Salvation Army maintains headquarters in Port-au-Prince, though their buildings-like the UN headquarters-were significantly damaged in the quake.
Despite the damage, within days Salvation Army staffers formed a plan to be the lead group providing care for a crowd nearing 20,000 people near their compound. At a UN meeting last Monday, The Salvation Army was one of just five non-governmental organizations with a concrete plan for managing a camp. It was the only American group, and the only Christian group with an immediate plan. (The other four groups were Islamic Relief, Portuguese Civil Defense, Turkish Red Crescent, and the German Red Cross.)
As other Christian and secular groups make steady strides, officials from the Haitian government and the UN haggle over how many tents are needed for homeless residents. One thing they all agree on, according to the UN's Holmes, "We still have a significant way to go before reaching everybody who needs food, and on the shelter side as well."
'Still in shock' | Haiti is hit by a massive earthquake followed by aftershocks, with an epicenter near the capital, Port-au-Prince | Mindy Belz and Jamie Dean | Jan. 12, 2010
Helping Haiti | WORLD provides a list of relief organizations accepting donations to assist earthquake victims in Haiti | The Editors | Jan. 13, 2010
Search and rescue | U.S. disaster experts, the U.S. military, and private relief groups head to earthquake-devastated Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 13, 2010
In the dark | Haitian-Americans hope to contact loved ones and quickly send aid back home to family and friends | Alisa Harris | Jan. 13, 2010
Weeping and waiting | Haitian earthquake victims await help, but obstacles slow relief efforts | Jamie Dean | Jan. 14, 2010
Desperation | Too many Haitians are in a holding pattern awaiting aid, as relief organizations try to make progress | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Long night | With tens of thousands of casualties, Haitians weep and wait for morning | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Deliverance | A group of orphans arrive safely in Pittsburgh while relief organizations report progress in Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 19, 2010
Crying for help | Hard-pressed Haitians seek assistance as aid groups face logistical challenges | Jamie Dean | Jan. 21, 2010
Leaving Port | Beyond the capital city are rural communities equally devastated by the quake and in need of help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
The new normal | As life and death continue their morbid mingling, relief groups forge ahead to help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
Finding home | Now that search-and-rescue efforts have been called off, attention turns to providing shelter for survivors | Jamie Dean | Jan. 23, 2010
Chaotic aid | Relief groups attempt to help Haitians despite murky rules, government interference, and the lack of a cohesive plan | Jamie Dean | Jan. 28, 2010
Aftershock | Caregivers predict a second wave of death, as Haitians find moments of deliverance amid days of devastation from one of the modern world's worst natural disasters | Jamie Dean | Jan. 29, 2010
Homecoming | For Haitians orphaned before the quake, it means leaving home and starting over | Alisa Harris | Jan. 29, 2010
Crisis giving | Instant need calls for long-term strategy | Rusty Leonard | Jan. 29, 2010
An indecent grief | First lamentations, then comfort that strengthens more than soothes | Mindy Belz | Jan. 29, 2010
Hope for Haiti? (audio file) | Hear WORLD news editor Jamie Dean discuss her visit to the earthquake-ravaged country | Nick Eicher | Feb. 1, 2010
Crossing lines | Failing to heed sound advice, 10 Americans now find themselves facing kidnapping charges in Haiti | Jamie Dean | Feb. 4, 2010
Haiti's plight (audio file) | A discussion of the country's days of devastation and moments of deliverance | Jamie Dean | Feb. 5, 2010
Stress management | Helping Haitians recover takes zeal-with wisdom | Jamie Dean | Feb. 12, 2010
Taking charge | In quake aftermath, build new cities, says Haitian ambassador (and Bible translator) Raymond Joseph | Mindy Belz | Feb. 12, 2010
Houses of God | Grand-Goave, Haiti | The Editors | Feb. 12, 2010
Living water | Water Missions International offers long-term solutions for clean, drinkable water | Angela Lu | Feb. 13, 2010
Building blocks | While Christian Aid Ministries provides for the immediate needs of quake victims, it looks ahead to helping the country rebuild | Angela Lu | Feb. 16, 2010
Close quarters | ActionAid helps homeless Haitians deal with sanitation and security issues at camps set up in Port-au-Prince | Angela Lu | Feb. 23, 2010
Hardest hit | With nearly half a million orphaned children before the quake, Haiti's challenge to parent them just got bigger | Jamie Dean | Feb. 26, 2010
The search for miracles | Port-au-Prince is a city desperately seeking turnaround-and that's before the earthquake | Jamie Dean | March 12, 2010
Hope in the darkness | World Hope International offers Haitians practical assistance and spiritual guidance | Angela Lu | March 24, 2010
Night crawlers | A new disaster threatens defenseless women and children in Haitian tent cities: rape | Jamie Dean | March 25, 2010
Homecoming | Missionary Patrick Lataillade, who nearly died in the quake, returned to help Haitians this week | Angela Lu | March 27, 2010
Hashing out Haiti | As the UN makes recovery plans, Haitians struggle for the basic necessities for survival | Jamie Dean | March 31, 2010