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Haitian president defends aid effort as anger mounts

By Makini Brice

By Makini Brice

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti's interimPresidentJocelermePrivertdefended a government-coordinated storm relief efforton Friday, saying aid had reached some 2 million victims of Hurricane Matthew, amid anger about uneven distribution of food and other materials.

The category-4 hurricane hit Haiti a month ago, killing as many as 1,000 people. It wiped out crops, led to a spike in cholera cases and left tens of thousands homeless in the already fragile country.

Privertsaid the storm cost Haiti $2 billion in damage, nearly a quarter of the annual GDP of the poorest country in the Americas.

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Haiti has been determined to avoid mistakes made after a devastating 2010 earthquake, when foreigners led the aid effort and billions of dollars were spent with disappointing results.

While United Nations officials and charity leaders publicly praise the government for leading the response to the disaster, critics and some victims say aid has been politicized, with disproportionatesupplies distributed to people close to political leaders.

Security forces shot dead at least one person and injured others in clashes over aid delivery in the hard-hit port town of LesCayes this week, while there have been instances ofroad blocks and looting in areas where trucks carrying food, hygiene kits, tarps, water and medical supplies pass through.

Privertadmitted aid distribution remained a challenge because many communities were still inaccessible. He also saidlooting and misappropriation of aid were partly to blamefor the problems, but said nowhere had been left behind.

“There is not a single community, accessible or inaccessible, that has not received assistance from the state,”Privertsaid, citing medical supplies delivered toRendel, a community grappling with a cholera outbreak, by helicopter.

Privertdid not specify what kind of assistance had reached the 2 million people, saying only that 788 tons of food and non-food items had been delivered. That represents a relatively small amount for each of the 2 million he said received aid.

All communities will be accessible byNov. 13, which is also the deadline for restoring functionality to some 300 voting centers before a scheduled presidential election onNov. 20,Privertsaid.

“No one can prevent theNov. 20elections from occurring,” the interim president said, rejecting a widely held view that it will be difficult to organize a vote with a largeswath of the country struggling to recover.

The first round of the presidential election was held on Oct. 25, but was ultimately scrapped after political leaders alleged widespread fraud.

Privertgave statistics that 546 people died and 128 disappeared in the storm, although local officials have told Reuters that 1,000 people died in the hurricane.

(Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Bill Rigby)