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UN Warns of Impending Humanitarian Crisis in Haiti - 2004-02-14

U.N. officials are warning of an impending humanitarian crisis in Haiti if violence in the northern part of the country does not end soon. Armed gangs continue to control Haiti's fourth largest city cutting off much of northern Haiti to food delivery supplies.

Food And medicine are in short supplies in the town of Gonaives, where armed gangs seized control last week. The International Committee of the Red Cross warned on Friday of acute shortages of both food and medicine in the city and said the situation is becoming desperate for more than 150,000 people trapped in Gonaives

Haiti's main north south highways runs through Gonaives and because of violence in the region, the road is now closed, making food delivery supplies to hundreds of thousands of people impossible.

Guy Gauvreau, the U.N.'s World Food Program Director in Haiti says Haiti's three northern provinces are effectively cut off from food delivery supplies.

"In the last three weeks we were unable to get the food north," he explained. "We have been attacked in fact eight times since November on that road. We have lost a total of 60 tons of food through armed attacks or mobs and so that is why we could not take any more risk in sending food through that road."

U.N. officials say they have chartered a ship that will deliver more than 1,000 metric tons of cereals to the northern port city of Cap Haitian early next week. The food is to feed nearly 268,000 at risk people affected by malnutrition in northern and northwestern Haiti.

U.N. officials say they are confident they can avoid a humanitarian disaster but they say they are concerned food deliveries from the relief ship could be slowed down by the unclear security situation in Cap Haitian and surrounding areas.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. Most people live on less than one U.S. dollar a day and the U.N. says chronic malnutrition rates are as high as 33 percent in some parts of the country.