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Chaos prevails, aid reaches only strongest

world Updated: Jan 18, 2010 01:29 IST
Andrew Cawthorne

“Help, Ayuda, Aide.” The handwritten, multilingual sign stands in the middle of a Port-au-Prince street, nailed to a post, with an arrow underneath pointing up to a yard packed with refugees.

Signs like that are springing up in roads, and on walls, around the Haitian capital as survivors of one of the world’s worst earthquakes wait for aid that is not arriving in the quantities needed — or just not at all.

Assistance that is trickling through comes in such a chaotic fashion that there seems to be little central planning or targeting of the most vulnerable.

Western aid-workers handing out packets of biscuits in one street give up on any sort of orderly distribution, scrambling atop a wall to throw the food high in the air -- like sweets at a kids’ party -- to be grabbed by the tallest and strongest.

A fire-engine wheels into a slum and opens its tap, the first time many there have received drinking water since the earthquake. Within a minute, 50 people rush to the truck and hundreds more come surging forward as word spreads.

Women push and shove to reach the tap, allowing precious water to slop on the floor instead of into their empty buckets.

“This is the first time since the tragedy that I have seen any water,” said Dedette Saint-Ville, beaming as she emerged triumphant with the first bucket-full of water. “Now where can we get food? We have nothing to eat.”