By Makini Brice
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Haiti’s interim President Jocelerme Privert defended a government-coordinated storm relief effort on Friday, saying aid had reached some 2 million victims of Hurricane Matthew, amid anger about uneven distribution of food and other materials.
The category-4 hurricane hit Haiti a month ago, killing as many as 1,000 people. It wiped out crops, led to a spike in cholera cases and left tens of thousands homeless in the already fragile country.
Privert said the storm cost Haiti $2 billion in damage, nearly a quarter of the annual GDP of the poorest country in the Americas.
Haiti has been determined to avoid mistakes made after a devastating 2010 earthquake, when foreigners led the aid effort and billions of dollars were spent with disappointing results.
While United Nations officials and charity leaders publicly praise the government for leading the response to the disaster, critics and some victims say aid has been politicized, with disproportionate supplies distributed to people close to political leaders.
Security forces shot dead at least one person and injured others in clashes over aid delivery in the hard-hit port town of Les Cayes this week, while there have been instances of road blocks and looting in areas where trucks carrying food, hygiene kits, tarps, water and medical supplies pass through.
Privert admitted aid distribution remained a challenge because many communities were still inaccessible. He also said looting and misappropriation of aid were partly to blame for the problems, but said nowhere had been left behind.
“There is not a single community, accessible or inaccessible, that has not received assistance from the state,” Privert said, citing medical supplies delivered to Rendel, a community grappling with a cholera outbreak, by helicopter.
Privert did not specify what kind of assistance had reached the 2 million people, saying only that 788 tons of food and non-food items had been delivered. That represents a relatively small amount for each of the 2 million he said received aid.
All communities will be accessible by Nov. 13, which is also the deadline for restoring functionality to some 300 voting centers before a scheduled presidential election on Nov. 20, Privert said.
“No one can prevent the Nov. 20 elections from occurring,” the interim president said, rejecting a widely held view that it will be difficult to organize a vote with a large swath of the country struggling to recover.
The first round of the presidential election was held on Oct. 25, but was ultimately scrapped after political leaders alleged widespread fraud.
Privert gave statistics that 546 people died and 128 disappeared in the storm, although local officials have told Reuters that 1,000 people died in the hurricane.
(Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Bill Rigby)