Bands of looters on Monday swarmed across earthquake-stricken Port-au-Prince, pillaging whatever they could find among the ruins of shops, factories and even homes in the capital. Local police, like the Haitian government, were conspicuous by their absence, raising international concerns over the security situation in the aftermath of the killer quake.
Quake survivors scavenged for much-needed food and water, as the unrest across the region was stoked by a delay in relief supplies. But others roving the lawless streets were simply in search of whatever goods they might be able to use or sell at a later time.
Occasionally, one or two police officers fired shots into the air in an effort to stop the looting in the city centre, but they were vastly outnumbered by the masses of looters, who scattered briefly, if at all, before returning to their plundering.
A brief incident at the capital’s airport, where aid stocks were being dispatched, pitted UN security forces and US soldiers against a crowd of Haitians nearing the compound. Tear gas was used to disperse the desperate young men, who said they were only looking for jobs.
Widespread looting on Sunday led Haitian police to open fire on a crowd in the capital, killing at least one man who was shot in the head, as others ransacked a supermarket.
"Incidents of violence and looting are on the rise as the desperation grows," the International Committee of the Red Cross told the AFP news agency.
UN requests additional troop presence
The mounting lawlessness that is framing the international relief and rescue operations has put international officials on alert. UN chief Ban Ki-moon has requested 3,500 extra troops and police to boost his battered mission in Haiti.
“I recommend that the Security Council boost the number of troops by 2,000, nearly 33 percent increase for six months and increase the number of UN police officers in the mission by 1,500, up 67 percent,” Ban told reporters on Monday.
Vital aid and a surge in US military personnel to Haiti brought on Monday a drip of hope to despairing survivors still seeking basic supplies nearly a week after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake.
US troops were already on the ground leading the international humanitarian response, while more than 2,200 marines arrived aboard the amphibious ship USS Bataan, boosting overall US troop numbers to 7,000 either in Haiti or offshore.
Lieutenant-General Ken Keen, US commander of the joint task force in Haiti, said there would be 10,000 US troops in the area in coming weeks. They need "as many troops on the ground as (possible)," he told AFP.
Relief versus sovereignty
Haitian President René Preval has been mostly silent since the quake struck. He has given no official orders and has yet to address his people. A state of emergency was declared only on Sunday, five days after the earthquake.
After the collapse of the presidential palace and most other state buildings, authorities that survived the quake have been meeting in the offices of the Criminal Investigation Department, close to the airport.
“They’re trying to organise a response and coordinate international aid, but what they are doing is having only minimal impact on the ground,” explains Philomé Robert, reporting from Port-au-Prince for FRANCE 24.
The situation in Haiti is leading some experts to wonder how Haiti, lacking effective leadership and political institutions, will be rebuilt once the emergency has passed.
According to Pascal Buleon, research director at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, the country lacks an effective power structure.
“Today there is a power vacuum, but that’s almost what the usual situation is. There is no state,” Buleon told FRANCE 24. “There are no short-term solutions. The horizon will not be bleak for another generation at least.”
Several world leaders have suggested placing Haiti under a transitional UN administration, as was done with Kosovo in 1999.
A Jan. 25 conference in Montreal will consider the future administration of the impoverished and grief-stricken nation.