PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Last week, the price of a small can of rice cost US$2. Tuesday, it costs Haitian US$3.50. A gallon of cooking oil that cost $10 only days ago now fetches US$20.
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 tenebrous. The economy is at a standstill. There is no electricity, no running water, and no functioning business in and out of the capital. It is not known when banks and other businesses will reopen.
As the prices of goods continue to surge, tons 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 about telling 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,” said one irate vendor. “Why do you want to know theses 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 reserve with caution. As soon as word spreads that a station is open, a line nearly a mile long is created, chocking 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. Defense officials last week ruled out airdrops directly into unsecured populated areas to avoid setting off street rioting.
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 restless. Then, violence would ensue.
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