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In Haiti, UN feeds thousands more with new food scheme aimed at women

By UN

1 February - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is “cautiously optimistic” about a newly launched scheme that could provide rice to some 2 million Haitians over the next two weeks, and promises to cut down on the recent chaotic scrambles around food trucks as men, women and children pushed to obtain supplies.

“We have been very encouraged by how things have gone yesterday and today. There are a couple of small glitches like fraudulent coupons which are easy to identify. Nothing that cannot be improved,” Natasha Scripture, public information officer with WFP in Port-au-Prince, told the UN News Centre. “We are cautiously optimistic.”

The programme, launched yesterday, provides women with coloured and dated vouchers that can be exchanged for a 25-kilogram (55-pound) rice ration at one of 16 centres in Port-au-Prince – including at the Sylvio Cator Stadium, which before the earthquake was the country's national soccer stadium and now houses a tent-city of displaced Haitians.

The rice ration is expected to feed a family of six for up to three weeks. So far, some 100,000 people picked up their rations, nearly all of them women.

“WFP generally targets female heads of household with food assistance. Distribution to women tends of be more orderly and calm. Women are often the first ones pushed out of line,” explained Ms. Scripture.

While women are prioritized, men are encouraged to accompany their families and help them carry the food home. WFP is working with its partners to assist men in need of aid.

“Two people were coming to carry the bags. The population was very orderly,” described Edmond Mulet, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and interim head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), speaking via teleconference to journalists in New York.

Mr. Mulet noted that four of the 16 food distribution centres were closed today but are expected to be opened in coming days.

The closed sites include a distribution centre in Cité Soleil, one of the poorest and most troubled neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince. The first WFP delivery arrived there on 24 January, but since then “gang activity has been on the rise” said Ms. Scripture.

Even in safer areas, armed national Haitian police work alongside military troops from MINUSTAH, and from Canada and the United States to maintain order at the food distribution centres and to protect food trucks.

“It's a joint effort,” said Ms. Scripture. She was speaking from a satellite telephone while zigzagging between the centres. Her phone dropped the connection four times, and getting her back was impossible even after six tries. It's a reminder that the situation on the ground is improving only slowly.

WFP has said that the food distribution programme is a trial for the next two weeks. If it works, the system could be implemented for distribution of other necessities, such as tents or medicines.

With the additional numbers reached this weekend, WFP estimates that it has delivered the equivalent of more than 22 million meals to nearly 750,000 people since the earthquake struck.