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Haiti: black market in food aid emerges

In Haiti's capital, street vendors are openly selling rice by the cup from bags stamped with US flags.

A US soldier helps a woman carry a bag of rice during a distribution of food in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday.

Eliana Aponte/Reuters

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Blocks from where US and UN soldiers distribute sacks of rice to Haitian women in earthquake-shattered Port-au-Prince, street vendors are openly selling rice by the cup from bags stamped with US flags.

In the early days after the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed up to 200,000 people and left more than a million homeless, food handouts were often chaotic in the capital. On a couple of occasions, U.N. soldiers fired tear gas into hungry crowds jostling for a limited amount of goods.

To ensure a more orderly distribution where food gets to families who need it, international donors last weekend began a system where soldiers hand out 55-pound bags of rice to women only in exchange for ration cards.

Food handouts have become calmer, but the new policy has not stopped badly needed food aid from falling into the hands of black-market sellers.

In one Port-au-Prince neighborhood where 12,000 people live in tents made of bedsheets in a valley below their collapsed hillside slum, vendors at makeshift stands sell cups of rice from food-aid bags for about 22 gourdes (55 cents) each.

Marcus Prior, a spokesman for the World Food Program, said it was inevitable some of the aid would end up being sold.
“It is too early to say how much ends up on the black market. We never like to see it happen. The object of this scale-up is far-reaching to help stabilize the food situation in the city,” Prior told Reuters.

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