ROME - A giant Antonov-124 cargo plane took off from the United Nations Humanitarian Depot in Brindisi today carrying 100 metric tons of High Energy Biscuits provided by the UN World Food Programme for the thousands of victims of last week's devastating floods in northwest Haiti. The flight is expected to arrive in Port au Prince on Friday.
The highly nutritious biscuits, which require no preparation before eating, are particularly beneficial in emergencies when people have no access to cooking facilities, as is the case for those washed out of their homes in the city of Gonaives, which was hit hardest when Tropical Storm Jeanne struck Haiti. At least 1,500 people are known to have died.
"This delivery is crucial for our aid effort here," said Guy Gauvreau, WFP Haiti Country Director. "For the most vulnerable people, these biscuits could mean the difference between life and death, especially as so many of them no longer have the means to heat and prepare food."
Since the beginning of the emergency on 18 September, WFP has sent 226 tons of food to Gonaives, enough to feed almost 70,000 people for one week. The food included 37,000 loaves of bread, supplied for the first time in Haiti by WFP, which co-opted bakeries to work around the clock. Food distribution to the flood victims is by CARE, WFP's partner organisation in Gonaives.
To cover the localities north of Gonaives, some of them left isolated after floods washed away the roads, an additional 39 tons of food have been sent from the WFP warehouse in Cap Haitien. At one point, eight tons of food had to be unloaded from WFP trucks onto mules and donkeys in order to reach the villages near Passe Reine, northeast of Gonaives.
Access to and security in the affected areas have been of key concern. The situation has been tense with crowds pushing and endangering those queuing for food. There have also been reports of criminal activity.
But thanks to the assistance provided by the MINUSTAH peacekeepers - whose numbers are expected to be boosted over the coming days - the violence has been largely contained. While images of angry crowds attacking various trucks have been shown across the world, none of WFP's trucks or warehouses has been looted and distributions have gone ahead as planned.
Access to many of the affected areas remains difficult, although the floodwaters are now receding. However, deliveries this week have been speeded up considerably by using 20-ton trucks for the more accessible areas.
Over the next five months, WFP plans to assist a total of 100,000 people affected by the floods. For the first month, the agency will organise general distributions for everyone in the affected areas and then focus assistance on the most vulnerable groups, including women, pregnant and nursing mothers and children, over the following four months.
Before this latest emergency, WFP was already assisting 500,000 people in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, still struggling to recover from months of civil and political unrest and a series of floods and landslides.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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