Riot fears as Haiti relief efforts lag

As the security situation in Haiti deteriorates, United States authorities are preparing for the possibility of rioting.

The Haitian government is now saying that 40,000 people have already been buried in the wake of a massive earthquake which has wreaked devastation, with another 100,000 victims believed to be dead amongst the rubble.

The United Nations has launched an emergency appeal to provide food, water and shelter for millions of Haitians three days after the quake, particularly in the capital Port-au-Prince. Up to half the buildings in the Haitian capital have been damaged or destroyed.

The hope of finding life amid the rubble is fading and security experts have warned aid workers and members of the media may become targets as anger grows over the time it is taking to distribute aid on the streets of Haiti.

“Folks are upset out there – they’ve had no food or little food, little water over the last five, six, seven days,” said Colonel Ben McMullen from US Air Command.

“We expect that as a worst-case scenario, we’re prepared to handle that as best we can.”

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has acknowledged that Haitians are getting frustrated with the pace of relief efforts.

Fifteen food distribution centres are being set up in the city to provide high-energy biscuits and ready-to-eat meals, but Mr Ban says progress is slower than he would like.

“We are mobilising all resources as fast as we possibly can. We are with you,” he told Haitians.

“I ask your patience and salute your fortitude and courage in these terrible circumstances.”

Mr Ban says the search and rescue effort is also lagging.

“Heavy lifting equipment is still urgently needed,” he said.

Mr Ban says he hopes to travel shortly to Haiti, where more than 300 UN staffers are still missing, feared dead.

Obama offers help

Meanwhile US President Barack Obama has rung Haitian President Rene Preval for the first time since the quake to promise long-term help for the country’s recovery.

“It will take time to establish distribution points so that we can ensure that resources are delivered safely and effectively and in an orderly fashion,” Mr Obama said.

“But I want the people of Haiti to know that we will do what it takes to save lives and to help them get back on their feet.”

Mr Obama will meet former presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush tomorrow to discuss their role in spearheading the rebuilding efforts.

France is calling on the rest of the world to cancel Haiti’s international debt.

French finance minister Christine Lagarde has contacted other members of the Paris Club of sovereign creditors to discuss speeding up debt relief for Haiti.

They reached a deal in July to cancel $250 million worth of Haiti’s debt, but Ms Lagarde says it is not happening fast enough.

“To that program, there were various conditions attached and what I’m trying to do is making sure that all such conditions are waived,” she said.

Haiti received $1.2 billion in debt relief from the IMF and World Bank last June.

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