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Massive Aid Effort Underway in Haiti

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A massive international aid effort is underway in Haiti.  Non-government organizations and international bodies, including the United Nations, have launched an all-out program to vaccinate children and get food to Haitians displaced by the massive earthquake one month ago.  The aid is making a difference, but is still not reaching many of Haiti's neediest people.

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians are living in ramshackle tent communities.  They are seen in small clusters on people's property, and by the thousands in schoolyards and abandoned lots.  The tents are made of bed-sheets and sometimes plastic sheeting, and are a temporary refuge for people whose homes were destroyed and others who are afraid to sleep indoors in the wake of the earthquake.

Rain early Thursday morning drenched most of the tents in Port-au-Prince.

A Haitian man named Jerry says he is worried about more rains in coming months.  By March, the rainy season should arrive.

He says he is not the only one.  Everyone is worried about the rainy season because rain in Haiti is a big thing.  Whenever it rains, there is a lot of damage, and people are scared.

Aid organizations have distributed food, water and tents.  But it is not enough, and food distribution has been plagued with problems.

The aid effort is complicated by two things.  Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, and the intense earthquake wreaked havoc on Port-au-Prince, the capital city.  It killed an estimated 200,000 people or more, and displaced one million.

Many Haitians have suffered disabling injuries, and medical workers have come to help from many countries.  Doctors aboard the US Navy hospital ship Comfort have saved the lives of hundreds and children and adults.

Aid workers are also concerned about the plight of displaced children.  Some children find safe haven at international charity centers like SOS Children's Villages International.  But there are too few facilities like this one.

UNICEF's Kent Page calls the situation a children's emergency.

"Separated children, unaccompanied children, can be vulnerable to people who would exploit them, whether for the child sex trade, whether for domestic servitude, whether just violence or abuse, or whether for illegal trafficking," he said.

Many workers have lost their jobs, and business owners like Marc-Antoine Acra of Acra Industries says some companies may take months to reopen.  He hopes that some of his operations may be up and running in a few weeks.

"Now for the country to be up and running, I would say that's a million dollar question," said Acra.

International aid groups say the rebuilding process will take years, but they say it offers the opportunity for Haiti to build a working infrastructure that it never had.  They say it will take a coordinated international effort.

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