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Haiti's President Urges Better Aid Coordination as People Wait in Hunger

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Haitian President Rene Preval Wednesday called for better coordination of relief efforts, as many in the country are still suffering from hunger more than two weeks after the January 12 devastating quake.

Most of the 3 million Haitians injured or homeless by the magnitude-7.3 temblor have to rely solely on outside assistance for survival.

With a lot of aid cargoes piled up in Port-au-Prince's airport waiting to be distributed and more kept on hold in the donating countries due to limited logistic capacity in the quake-shattered capital, Haitians are now in severe shortage of food and drinkable water.

"I am not in a position to criticize anybody, not in the least people who have come here to help me," Preval said at a press conference.

"What I am saying is, what everybody is saying is, that we need a better coordination," he said.

Preval said nearly 170,000 bodies had now been counted. "The National Equipment Company (NEC) has made great efforts in removing the nearly 170,000 dead from the streets and clearing the roadways to facilitate traffic," he said.

The situation in Haiti has got better as dead bodies have been removed from the streets and more and more makeshift camps have been set up to shelter the homeless.

However, food related riots occur now and then. UN peacekeepers on Tuesday were forced to use tear gas to disperse jostling crowds who became uncontrollable at a food distribution site.

A similar incident happened on Monday, when the Uruguayan troops had to form human walls to keep thousands of hungry Haitians in check before calling them one by one for rice and water distribution outside the presidential building.

The masses broke the cordon and stormed trucks loaded with relief materials. A man managed to dump the rice bags on the ground, and many were injured trying to grab them.

Apart from food shortage at the early stage of relief efforts after the shock, the impoverished Caribbean nation could face other long-term challenges in efforts to take care of its people.

Children, the most vulnerable group in the wake of the catastrophe, could fall victims to traffickers that may come under the disguise of adopters, officials warned.

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is focusing on reuniting Haitian children with family members as a first option, and will spend several months actively seeking each child's parents before considering adoption, said Roshan Khadivi, a UNICEF press official.

"We are taking photos and filling in forms to get the children's full details on file," Khadivi told Xinhua at an improvised camp near the Toussaint L'Ouverture Airport in Port-au-Prince.

"Experience has shown us that there is at least one family member left usually," she said. "UNICEF does not believe in institutionalization in orphanages. Children need to be connected with their communities."

(Xinhua News Agency January 28, 2010)