– The Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. – More violence in Haiti is slowing emergency deliveries of food and water to hundreds of thousands of flooding victims, spreading desperation in the storm-ravaged nation seven months into an uneasy change of government.

Gunmen calling for the return of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have shut down shipping facilities in Port-au-Prince and blocked roads north to devastated Gonaives, leaving containers of food stranded at the country’s main port while Haitians in the northwest grow hungrier.

Frustrated aid organizations, many relying now on United Nations forces to guard warehouses and escort convoys, are plotting arduous new supply routes – and calling for more troops.

“As we distribute less, because there’s fewer points through which to do it, the population is getting more desperate and more angry,” Abby Maxman, country director for CARE in Haiti, said from Port-au-Prince. “It’s a Catch-22.”

At least 55 Haitians have been killed in more than three weeks of attacks by armed supporters of Aristide against the poorly equipped police forces of the interim government. The U.S.-backed government took power after an uprising by former soldiers chased Aristide from the country in February.

Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has accused Aristide of orchestrating the violence from exile in South Africa. Aristide, who still considers himself the rightful president of Haiti, has rejected the accusation, blaming repression by Latortue against the remnants and supporters of Aristide’s Lavalas party for triggering the unrest.

The violence follows the torrential flooding unleashed last month by Tropical Storm Jeanne, which killed more than 3,000 Haitians and left some 300,000 in Gonaives homeless.

“As the waters recede, it’s still a meter of mud,” Maxman said of Haiti’s fourth-largest city, 60 miles north of the capital. “People are still living on their rooftops. The cleanup hasn’t really been able to begin.”

Those conditions have increased the need in a nation already dependent on international handouts for survival. Aid organizations have been able to deliver some food and water to the affected areas, but not in the amounts needed.

“We’re extremely concerned about the situation,” said Guy Gauvreau, country director for the World Food Programme in Haiti.

In normal conditions, he said, the U.N. agency is able to move 10 to 15 containers through the port daily. But with the facility located in a section of the city prone to violence, and gunmen warning dock workers and customs officials away, the agency in the last three weeks has managed to clear only 15 to 18 containers.

“What we worry about is we’ve got 120 containers sitting in the port,” Gauvreau said. “We’re unable to remove them. Our warehouse is getting exhausted. The food that we have, we send it to Gonaives, it goes only for a few more days.”

The World Food Programme was seeking alternate supply routes into Port-au-Prince, including trucking in fortified cornmeal from the neighboring Dominican Republic and flying fortified biscuits in from Cuba.

Food for the Poor, meanwhile, was avoiding the capital altogether. The Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based organization shipped 1,000 pallets of food and supplies this week to the northern port of Cap-Haitien.

“Every time there is violence (in Port-au-Prince) the port just basically closes down,” said Ann Briere, spokeswoman for the relief organization based in Deerfield Beach. “To get things cleared through there has just been very, very difficult.”

CARE’s Maxman said the instability was slowing the transition from emergency aid after the floods to reconstruction and, eventually, development – a long-term project in the best of circumstances.

“The need and the scope and the breadth and the depth is huge,” she said. “It’s going to take one to two years for them to recover from this, not to mention to rebuild the safety net to keep the damage of something like this from being so significant when it happens again.”

For now, CARE has called on member states of the United Nations to send more troops to the Brazil-led stabilization mission in Haiti. Little more than 3,000 of the planned 8,000 peacekeepers have arrived.

“They are very, very stretched,” Maxman said. “They get called up to Gonaives and then get called back down to Port-au-Prince as things get hot in each place.

“You have a blanket and you pull it up to cover your shoulders, and your knees and your toes are exposed. Even the five or six thousand they’re aiming for by the end of December, in an environment like this with so much uncertainty, might not be enough.”

(c) 2004, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).

Visit the Sentinel on the World Wide Web at http://www.orlandosentinel.com/. On America Online, use keyword: OSO.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-10-22-04 0622EDT

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