JEFFREY BROWN: Ten days after Tropical Storm Jeanne tore through this impoverished island nation, Haitians face overwhelming challenges in picking up their lives. The massive storm system killed at least 1,500 people, and more than a thousand others remain missing. With morgues overflowing, many of the dead have been buried in mass graves. Some 300,000 people have been left homeless.
Hardest hit was the northwest port of Gonaive, Haiti's third largest city, with 250,000 residents. Low-lying and ringed by bare, de-forested mountains, the city was vulnerable to massive flooding after the deluge of rain from Jeanne. More than 13 inches fell in one day. The city is without electricity or running water, and hospitals and cling clinics have run short of the most basic medical supplies. And hunger has led to desperation and fear as residents scramble for whatever aid is available.
RESIDENT (Translated): I have no money. I have nothing for food. I haven't received any aid. I am waiting for food.
JEFFREY BROWN: Planeloads of aid continue to arrive in the capital, Port-au-Prince, but getting it to Gonaive is a dangerous nine-hour drive, the final leg of the journey covered in a lake of mud. Aid workers, backed by armed U.N. peacekeepers, have worked to increase the number of food distribution points around the city.
JUAN GABRIEL VADLEZ, U.N. Special Delegate: The dimension of the tragedy is enormous. And I think that the contingent of the United Nations is doing a very big effort in the distribution of food and water. Yet, people are very understandably nervous and anxious. Therefore, the level of pressure over the posts of food distribution is tremendous. (Gunfire)
JEFFREY BROWN: Earlier this week, U.N. troops fired guns into the air to disperse rioting crowds anxious to get their hands on food. And a new problem has arisen: Armed gangs have looted aid shipments and robbed people of the food they've been given. The hemisphere's poorest nation of more than seven million people was already recovering from devastating floods in May and political instability after a rebellion last February forced Haiti's president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, out of office.
JEFFREY BROWN: For more on the situation, I'm joined by two relief workers who've just returned from Haiti last night: Peter Bell, president and CEO of CARE; and Jared Hoffman, regional director for Latin America and Caribbean operations for Catholic Relief Services.
Welcome to you both.
Mr. Bell, starting with you, tell us a little bit about what you saw during your time in Haiti.
PETER BELL: I guess first the suffering is tremendous. It's almost unbelievable. What brings it all to life for me was one woman with whom I talked standing in line waiting for food. She's three months pregnant. She had lost her... all six of her children and her husband and was completely traumatized. She had borrowed, she told me, $500 just before the hurricane hit, in order... because she sold goods in the market, to buy those goods and she had lost absolutely everything and had no idea where to turn. She was at least looking for food and water. And that story in one form another has been replicated thousands upon thousands of times over.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Hoffman, this is natural catastrophe on top of tremendous poverty. So in light of that, what have you been able to do?
JARED HOFFMAN: Well, CRS, Catholic Relief Services, has been focusing on about 4,000 families, both in the north in Cape Haitian and Port-au-Pey and Gonaive to get immediate assistance, basically nonfood items like personal hygiene items, food and water.
In some ways, the best strategy is to get cash into the hands of the first responders so they can go out and find what's on the market and get it to the people. We have, for example, a number of... approximately 500 families that are actually housed in church buildings in Gonaive and the church with CRS's help and the network's help is providing basic necessities.
We're also bringing in food and medicines from the United States. We got a medicine shipment yesterday and we are distributing basic medicines like antibiotics, anti-fungals, skin creams and so forth because the health situation is quite serious and could get quite worse.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Bell, give us more sense of what you're able to do and some of the obstacles that you face.
PETER BELL: CARE has been in Gonaive for the last 40 years. We have provided food thus far to 80,000 people and water to more people still. And we continue to increase the number of distribution points. We do face all kinds of obstacles. One is that the surrounding... much of the surrounding area is just filled with mud so that the women who come for the food in behalf of their families often have to wade up to their thighs in mud. The phones, electricity are not working. ... and people are not at their addresses because their homes have often disappeared. So it's hard to establish the networks of communication.
And then, as your report mentioned, there is also the problem of armed gangs and we've had to rely on the help of the U.N. peacekeepers. So these are some of the obstacles. And then there's one other, and that is that when the storm broke, one of our CARE workers was drowned trying to rescue others. And some 87 other colleagues have lost their homes in Gonaive. So they have to look after their own families even as they're trying to serve people in Gonaive. And we have now about 200 workers who are there.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Bell, tell us a little bit more, though, about the security situation. These armed gangs, do we know who they are and are they organized and in what way are they affecting what you're trying to do?
PETER BELL: I want to put this into some perspective, because it's not unusual for there to be looting in the aftermath of a disaster like this. We saw it... we've seen in our own country. We saw it in Miami, for example, not so long ago. And one has to remember that there were just six uniformed policemen left in Gonaive in the aftermath of the storm. Those other few policemen who were there had lost their uniforms because they'd lost everything.
But there are these gangs and they are problematic. We need the peacekeepers. Just the day before yesterday I saw... the women had lined up, we decided that women are the most effective and efficient ways to make sure food is distributed within families. But some of these gang members came forward in one community and pushed the women away and brandished their weapons. And then our staff, with the peacekeepers standing by, had to negotiate and finally convince these gangs to let the women come back. And it's a constant drama. You never know for sure what's going to happen. The amazing thing is that the distributions have gone forward and have increased with each succeeding day.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Hoffman, what can you add about the security situation? Does it appear to be organized?
JARED HOFFMAN: Well, at first we felt that this was... there are a lot of guns out there and the situation, of course, coming on the heels of the ouster of Aristide and all the fighting that took place in February, there are many guns out in the population and at first we felt this wasn't organized, that it was freelance by people who had guns and were trying to make a profit from the situation.
But the latest reports seem to indicate that the nature and the armament that's... the nature of the interventions, the armament that is being used suggests that perhaps there is some organization to it. As you know, there are two basic groups now in Haiti that have... were fighting over the ouster of Aristide - the group which is pro-Aristide group and the other group that was fighting to ouster Aristide. Both of them sort of are in a standoff and it's quite possible that they're looking to this emergency situation as an opportunity to score some points on the government and at the same time make some money. So what we're seeing is some of the relief supplies that are being looted are actually appearing on the markets but at a much inflated price.
So the real key here in our view is to link up the existing community and local organizations with the relief organization... or the relief effort that both CRS and CARE and the World Food Program and the U.N. force is trying to carry out so that we can actually get the supplies out to the people who really need it and not... and try to avoid the situation where we congregate groups of people and the most aggressive and sometimes the people with the arms actually end up taking the lion's share.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you mentioned Mr. Hoffman, earlier, the medical crisis. Is this the biggest problem looking ahead right now?
JARED HOFFMAN: Well, there are two big problems in the future. One is the immediate problem is to try to forestall a medical emergency, a health emergency. The streets and the houses are full of mud, contaminated water supplies, people are living in rubble and living on top of their houses. Everything is... the sanitary conditions are terrible. And this is a breeding ground for all sorts of infections.
We have reports of gangrene infections. There are, you know, respiratory, serious respiratory infections. So in the context of people who are malnourished and with no access to basic health care, it could be explosive. And then we can... the more serious diseases like typhoid and cholera and so forth are real possibilities. So getting the basic medical supplies out there into the hands of health service providers who were linked to the communities is the big challenge. The second challenge is to begin working and planning for and implementing a rehabilitation process, for instance. We're working on designing some wells, we're looking at housing rehabilitation and so forth and so on.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Bell, we just have a moment, but what do you see looking to the days ahead as the major concern?
PETER BELL: Well, I think it's important to look far ahead. The basic underlying problem in Haiti and Gonaive is extreme poverty and somehow Haitians and the international community, including the U.S., needs to... we need to get ourselves together and focus on reducing extreme poverty in Haiti. That's the underlying disaster. And we can do something about it in this, the 200th year of Haiti's independence. We need to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, increase access to education and basic health care and make... hope to make agriculture more productive in Haiti. That's going to take a long-term approach.
JEFFREY BROWN: Okay. Peter Bell of Care and Jared Hoffman, Catholic Relief Services, thank you both very much.