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HAITI: With Aid Slow to Arrive, Food Prices Skyrocket

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 21 2010 (IPS) - Last week, the price of a small can of rice was two dollars. On Tuesday, it cost Haitians 3.50 dollars. A gallon of cooking oil that cost 10 dollars only days ago now fetches 20 dollars.

Haitians displaced by the massive earthquake that devastated their country form a long line to wait for UN-distributed meals. Credit: UN Photo/Logan Abassi

Haitians displaced by the massive earthquake that devastated their country form a long line to wait for UN-distributed meals. Credit: UN Photo/Logan Abassi

What will they cost tomorrow? No one knows.

The price of food staples such as beans, flour, and pasta have skyrocketed since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti, leaving millions homeless and hungry.

And they are the lucky ones. Haitian government officials put the number of people they have buried at 70,000. Rushed burials by families saying “adieu” to loved ones continue to take place daily, adding untold numbers to the tally.

For the survivors, life here has become extremely difficult and tenuous. The economy is at a standstill. There is no electricity, no running water, and no functioning businesses in or near the capital. It is not known when banks and other businesses will reopen.

As the prices of goods continue to surge, tonnes of food aid remains in gridlock at the airport, victim of the Haitian government’s ineptness. Almost one week after the earthquake, the majority of people in dire need of food and water have not received any. As they await the distribution, prices skyrocket.

On a visit to several vending stands, merchants were hesitant to talk about the prices of goods a couple of days ago. Most of them would do so only if a reporter agreed to buy something.

“Who are you, C.I.A.?” asked one irate vendor. “Why do you want to know these things?”

The vendor then became somewhat defensive, saying that merchants were only passing down the prices that they had to pay to buy the goods. The dollar’s value has declined by at least 20 percent. Most gasoline stations are closed, selling their reserves with caution. As soon as word spreads that a station is open, a line nearly a mile long is created, choking traffic.

Some 800 U.S. Marines moved ashore Tuesday in Haiti, ferrying supplies on helicopters and Humvees as the U.S. military force swells to as many as 11,000.

The influx of troops comes as the military struggles to distribute aid throughout the country, without setting off street riots. Defence officials last week ruled out airdrops directly into unsecured populated areas to avoid a situation in which people would be scrambling for food.

But in some cases, large swarms of people have kept helicopters from landing, and troops were forced to drop water bottles into the populated areas instead of distributing them on the ground.

“If you’re trying to do it like this, you’re going to create chaos,” said Himler Rebu, a former Haitian Army colonel who ran unsuccessfully for president four years ago. “They have to establish a location and set up a distribution network.”

Still, many in Haiti fear that if the aid is not forthcoming and people can’t afford to buy the limited food available, then the population will become even more restless and violence could ensue.

*Special to IPS from The Haitian Times.

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