ACT Relief Efforts Begin in Haiti

Nearly two weeks after the flooding from Tropical Storm Jeanne, more than 1,550 bodies have been recovered in Haiti and some 900 are missing, according to government officials. Meanwhile, a member of Action by Churches Together (ACT) International is beginning its initial relief efforts in the northwestern city of Gonaives, which was most affected by the floods.

“Goniaves is a completely unstructured situation,” said Michael Kuehn, director of Lutheran World Federation’s program in Haiti, who confirmed media reports of a chaotic situation in Gonaives.

He said gangs are attacking vehicles carrying relief supplies and personnel distributing them. As a result of security concerns, LWF, which began the first transports of 500 buckets of food and water to Gonaives today, is organizing the transport of the supplies in collaboration with MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

The buckets, which are worth $35 each and will support a family of five for a week, will be stored in a warehouse belonging to CARE, an international humanitarian organization, and will be distributed to church leaders who will in turn distribute them to the communities where the churches are working.

Each bucket contains rice, beans, vegetable oil, water, tomato paste, spaghetti, milk powder and some hygiene items. LWF is working on a similar bucket containing kitchen tools, but is finding it difficult to obtain these items locally.

LWF has also hired an emergency officer to be based in St. Marc, one hour from Gonaives, and who will be responsible for the operation to and in the city.

Despite the uncertainty and insecure nature of the situation, Kuehn said, “This is the least we can do,” regarding the initial part of its response. LWF will conduct further assessments of the affected areas around Gonaives next week to find additional places where it can respond.

An ACT appeal for the wider LWF response will be issued soon.

An estimated 200,000 people are homeless in Gonaives, many living on sidewalks and rooftops. A thunderstorm soaked the city Thursday and returned slick mud to streets.

The United Nations launched an appeal Thursday for $30 million in emergency aid. The U.N. World Food Program also said a cargo plane carrying 100 metric tons (110 U.S. tons) of biscuits was arriving today from Italy in Port-au-Prince.

Relief workers now have four food distribution centers in Gonaives, giving out some 80 tons of food a day, said Ricardo Mena, of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.