PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Hundreds of Haitians stood in long lines Saturday, just as others had walked for hours throughout the week to receive the U.N. and regional food aid pouring into the country after a spate of deadly riots.
But amid the tenuous calm, aid groups say they are just buying time — and long-term solutions seem remote in the desperately poor nation.
"The beans might last four days," said Jervais Rodman, an unemployed carpenter with three children who emerged from a churchyard Friday with small bags of food. "The rice will be gone as soon as I get home."
Rodman was one of the lucky ones. Luis Elaine, 48, clutched an empty sack after being told at the same church that there was no food left. Many distribution centers simply ran out.
"I just hope God will provide something," Elaine said.
More than half of Haiti's nearly 9-million people live on less than $2 a day, but the sharp rise in prices has thrown some of those who could barely support themselves into the throngs of the utterly destitute.
Market stalls are piled with papayas and small bags of pasta, even in poor areas, but vast numbers of people simply lack money to buy them because global food and commodity prices have risen 40 percent over the past year.
At least seven people were killed in the food riots this month that cost Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis his job.
The United Nations says it will distribute 8,000 tons of food and other aid in the next two months. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has pledged more than 350 tons of food. And President Bush has ordered the release of $200-million in emergency aid to nations hit hardest by surging food prices — though it was not immediately clear how much Haiti would get.
Relief group World Vision said food distribution last week in Haiti's Central Plateau, north of the capital, drew about 800 people over two days, some who had walked more than three hours.
Rodman said he was so desperate to feed his family that he pawned the tools he used to make furniture and now has no way to earn an income. The 38-year-old said his wife is angry and frustrated.
"She tells me to go out and get a job, buy some food," he said, drying his tears with his dusty, blue Puma T-shirt. "This is the first time I've had to lower myself and come get this food."
Since the riots a little more than a week ago, the U.N. multinational force of about 9,000 soldiers and police and Haitian police have increased patrols and checkpoints, hoping to catch gang members and confiscate their weapons. Many fear that violence could easily return.
"Things are back to normal but it's precarious, it's fragile," said Fred Blaise, the spokesman for the U.N. police force.
But most agree the short-term situation is bleak. Haiti's economy has been shattered by years of political turmoil. The nation's infrastructure is in a shambles and its agricultural sector has been devastated by inefficiency, cheaper imports — primarily from the United States — and a shortage of arable land.
World Vision, which is distributing $80-million of U.S. aid in Haiti over five years, says it is trying to raise private donations to buy more food and will distribute seeds and tools in the countryside, where the poverty is most extreme.
Aid groups are also struggling with higher prices and say they do not have huge stocks that they can easily divert from one needy group to another.
"We are dealing with a very fluid situation," said Rose Kimeu of World Vision. "People are getting angrier and angrier."