PORT-AU-PRINCE — Food donated for Haitian storm victims was stolen and put up for sale, according to authorities who seized three storehouses full of illegally diverted food aid.
Carrefour Mayor Yvon Jerome said authorities acted after residents complained about the sale of donated rice.
“A lot of people were buying the rice because it was much cheaper compared to prices on the regular market,” Jerome said. “You can read on the bag ‘Donated by Taiwan’ and on some other bags we read ‘U.S. Rice.'”
The storehouses full of stolen food were placed under seal and the food will be redistributed to the needy, said Jerome, who called the diversion of desperately needed aid an outrage against humanity.
“There are so many people starving and desperate for that food,” said Jerome. “And to see people that are better off trying to steal it goes against all sense of humanity and charity.”
Haiti was hit by four tropical storms and hurricanes — Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike — in about a month. The storms triggered flooding and mudslides that killed at least 800 people, including 534 in the hardest-hit northern town of Gonaives, which was almost entirely submerged.
The Haitian government, donor countries and humanitarian groups are struggling to feed hundreds of thousands of flood victims in dire need of help.
Judicial authorities were looking for several suspects in connection with the depots in Carrefour, which neighbors the capital of Port-au-Prince, but it was unclear how widespread such thefts were.
As the theft was being reported, The World Food Program announced that it has resources to help flood victims in Haiti through November and needs more money, the director of the U.N. agency said.
While the WFP has the know-how to deal with the kind of disasters that have hit Haiti, inadequate funding prevents the WFP from getting the job done, Josette Sheeran said. “WFP knows how to do this. We do it in tsunamis, floods, earthquakes all over the world, and that’s why the world created us,” Sheeran said in an interview. “Our mission is to come in and help with the emergency team, but right now we don’t have the funding to get the job done.”
The United States, Japan, the European Community, Switzerland and Canada have stepped up with $11 million of $54 million needed, according to the WFP.
Haiti may have lost 3 percentage to 4 percentage points of gross domestic product after the storms ripped through an impoverished country denuded of forest because of logging and wood-burning to produce charcoal for fuel.
The WFP has distributed food to 500,000 people, including 300,000 in Gonaives. The agency plans to assist 800,000 people around the country within the next six months.
The storms set back Haiti’s economic development by several years, Haiti’s president, Rene Preval said last week.
“The damage caused by the passage of these four successive hurricanes in less than two months has set Haiti back several years,” Preval told the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
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