Death toll in Haiti rises amid troubled relief efforts

14:16, January 25, 2010      

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With the official end to all search-and-rescue work due to troubled relief efforts, the confirmed death toll from the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake has surpassed 150,000, Haitian government officials said on Sunday.

Haitian Communication Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said that by counting bodies collected and buried in a mass grave located in the north of the Haitian capital, more than 150,000 people have been killed by the earthquake.

The newly confirmed data have been raised by nearly 40,000 compared to the figure of 111,481 released on Saturday by the Haitian government.

The minister added that the statistics are incomplete as they do not include the deaths in other affected cities outside the capital city or bodies buried by families.

"Nobody knows how many bodies are buried in the rubble, 200,000, 300,000?" Lassegue said, "Who knows the overall death toll?

In order to facilitate the distribution of relief goods, the Haitian government on Friday announced a conclusion to searching for survivors buried deep down in debris.

Ever since the international rescue efforts started on the ground, 132 persons have been pulled out alive from the tangled mass of crumbled walls and roofs, and the hopes to find more are fading every day.

In the wake of the calamity, the official figures of victims have been revised many times, yet the government has disclosed no information on how they have made the counts, raising concerns over the figures' authenticity.

As complex and time-demanding as the death-toll calculation is due to disrupted communications and traffic services, it's understandable that the figures might be incoherent.

Edmond Mulet, the new UN chief of mission in Haiti on Sunday called for more manpower and vehicles to help quake relief efforts, and said that clearing rubble and counting victims could take years.

"I need manpower. I need soldiers," said Mulet, whose predecessor was killed when the UN headquarters in Port-au-Prince collapsed in the Jan. 12 quake.

Due to a lack of assistance, the current goods distribution in Haiti is rather ineffective.

Italy's top disaster official Guido Bertolaso said the United Nations and powerful countries need to craft international procedures to follow when such catastrophes occur.

"I think it has truly been a pathetic situation," Bertolaso said, "It could have been run a lot better, and instead of being the first time that the world came together to do something good, it's instead been the latest time that the world has done it this way."

"No one came here with the idea of running the emergency," he said. "They came here thinking this was just a humanitarian catastrophe ... so they came with the idea of bringing them a bit to eat, some water, and the problem is resolved."

The massive U.S. military presence has also caused disputes, with former Cuban top leader Fidel Castro writing an article criticizing the U.S. military involvement in the relief efforts as mere occupation instead of helping international cooperation.

The post-quake disease control is also a major concern that deserves much attention both from the Haitian government and the international relief workers.

It is feared that infectious diseases could be spread among the survived 3 million homeless Haitians living in unsanitary conditions of the refugee camps, pleading for food, medicine and water.

"We are talking about thousands of amputations and maybe half of the people who have been amputated have several limbs amputated," Dr. Mirta Roses, director of the Pan American Health Organization, told a news conference at Haiti's airport.

Besides that, hospitals are so crowded that many Haitians who have been treated would not vacate their beds because they have no other places to go to as shelters.

To reinforce the exhausted and stretched-thin assistance personnel on the ground, a 40-member Chinese medical relief team on Sunday embarked on their journey to the ravaged Caribbean nation.

The situation in Haiti remains unpredictable and dangerous. A 4.7-magnitude aftershock rocked the island country on Sunday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data.

The aftershock's epicenter was 30 km (20 miles) west of the capital, at a depth of 4.1 km (2.5 miles), the USGS said on its website. It struck at 4:51 pm local time, or 2151 GMT.

Source: Xinhua
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