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Hunger, Disease Threaten Aid Efforts in Haiti

January 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Aid workers' ranks are swiftly growing in Haiti, where 12,000 U.S. forces are now stationed off the country's coast and on the ground. But the scene in Port-au-Prince continues to deteriorate as people fight off hunger and disease.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: U.S. Marines landed on this Haitian beach west of the capital this morning. The Americans are not just protecting convoys, but distributing food and water in the capital and beyond.

And though the Haitians and the U.N. are officially in charge of this crisis, a new reality has dawned, that only a full scale-army can lift Haiti off its knees. At the main airport today, U.S. Army doctors were heading out to a hospital ship anchored offshore.

All this effort is one part altruism and one part insuring that Haiti doesn’t become a failed state in America’s own backyard. But it’s the altruism you hear.

Are these troops going to be delivering aid or just protecting those who are delivering aid?

COMMANDER CHRIS LOUNDERMAN, navy, U.S.: I think it will be a mix of both, but I would say the majority of their operations will be delivering aid themselves.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: So, it’s a classic combination of a humanitarian aid effort where really only an army can be big enough and have the scale to do it properly?

COMMANDER CHRIS LOUNDERMAN: Well, again, because this is disaster relief, we want to be able to get rapid relief to the Haitian people.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Gangs armed with machetes are bypassing the bodies, scouring the ruins in search of anything they can eat or sell. And though the looting has not turned to widespread violence, that is still the fear.

The number of Haiti’s homeless can only be guessed at, hundreds of thousands crammed in refugee camps, where sanitation is almost non-existent. But most Haitians are still living in small pockets on their own streets.

American doctors have opened this field hospital in Port-au-Prince, and it’s an oasis of relative comfort, when doctors outside are still operating without anesthetics on infected wounds.

JUDY WOODRUFF: More than a week after the earthquake, Haitians are trying to get back to the business of living. But they’re doing it amid the ruins, the desperate need and the constant presence of death.

Jon Snow of Independent Television News has that report.

JON SNOW: Ice in Port-au-Prince, the first swallow of some tiny sense of revival. Suddenly, commerce, too, on the street. Adalene’s first day out with bags of breadfruit. She makes a sale. She’s lucky.

For the rest, old produce piles high. Hyperinflation is at large, water up 300 percent, rice up 60 percent, cooking oil $10 a gallon last week, $20 this. Where once the mini-market stood, there is nothing. Ninety percent of such places in the city are destroyed or closed.

Is anybody buying?

MAN: Haven’t sold yet.

WOMAN: Come on. Come on to see that. Come on.

JON SNOW: It is at this moment that Nadia appears, to urge us into her devastated community.

You need toilet. You need food. You need water. Has nobody been here, no person?

WOMAN: Nobody. Nobody. Nobody. Nobody come. There’s only — only you.

JON SNOW: Jean Rodrig Ansena joins the group, and he becomes our instant narrator.

MAN: Well, personally, we were interpreters. That’s what we do for a living. I work for the U.N.

JON SNOW: Ah, right. So, I struck lucky.

MAN: Yes, you did. I speak nine languages.

JON SNOW: You work for the U.N.?

MAN: Yes.


MAN: And so does he.

JON SNOW: And are your houses destroyed?

MAN: My house is completely down. It’s actually…Underneath of this house, we still have two dead bodies from six dead bodies we had all together.

JON SNOW: Oh, I’m sorry.

MAN: And we’re the ones that managed to — we made a hole right here.

And the reason why we buried them there, it’s because the bodies got so decomposed, so, you know, nasty, that there was no other way to take them nowhere else.

JON SNOW: Yes. Yes.

MAN: So we made a big hole.

JON SNOW: Right.

MAN: A wife and her husband. The husband is a U.S. citizen. The U.S. citizen here died. We just buried him.

JON SNOW: Now, are you going to try to stay here, or are you going to try to move somewhere?

MAN: Well, moving somewhere, the big question mark is where, because, actually, nowhere in Port-au-Prince is safe.


MAN: Nowhere in Port-au-Prince is safe. Like, I have a pregnant wife.


MAN: My wife is nine months pregnant, you know? There she is. My wife is nine months pregnant. And she pulled herself out of the debris.


MAN: My house fell. And when it fell, everyone was in it…


MAN: … including my pregnant wife…


MAN: … my mom, that’s a U.S. citizen…


MAN: … and my brother.


MAN: All right? And number two is like — now, this is the top floor you’re looking at, right there.

JON SNOW: Yes. Yes.

MAN: This is the top floor you’re looking at.

JON SNOW: This is the top floor?

MAN: Yes.


MAN: Now, the top floor turned out to be the bottom floor.


MAN: And thanks God, nobody died.

JON SNOW: How incredible.

MAN: There were six people underneath…


MAN: … and all my family upstairs.

MAN: My wife got out from underneath of these debris right here you’re looking at.

JON SNOW: Yes. Yes.

MAN: All right? And we had to take my mom…

JON SNOW: There is your washing machine.

MAN: Yes, there was my washing machine, refrigerator.

JON SNOW: Refrigerator, washing machine.

MAN: The stove. Everything is gone, sir, everything.

JON SNOW: My God. How do you begin again?

MAN: My wife is due. She’s just counting days.


MAN: Maybe — maybe within a couple more days.

JON SNOW: Where will she have the baby?

MAN: We don’t know yet, sir.

JON SNOW: Jean Rodrig and some 60 neighbors now sleep in the open here — a solitary cooker, but, all around them, the stench of death.

Jean Rodrig’s family is still looking for remnants in the house. But, for them, nothing will be enough to replace the world the earthquake left behind.