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Fuel shortages are bringing Haiti to a halt

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Haiti has another crisis on its hands. After the assassination of the president, an earthquake, a tropical storm and the kidnapping of 16 American missionaries and one Canadian, now a fuel shortage is crippling the country. Gangs are blocking fuel shipments - gangs that have become increasingly powerful in Haiti, filling the power vacuum created by all that recent turmoil. Everything from hospitals to cellphone towers are running out of gas.

Linda Thelemaque is country director of the nonprofit Hope for Haiti. That's an aid organization. Thelemaque is currently in New York City. She travels to Haiti often. She was just there. She had to cut her trip short because of the situation there.

Linda, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

LINDA THELEMAQUE: Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Can we start there? What was the situation that you found on this most recent trip to Haiti? And why did you have to cut your visit short and return to New York?

THELEMAQUE: So, yeah, leading up to my trip, finding fuel was difficult. However, it was something that we were still managing. But as I got there, it was pretty dismal trying to find fuel at that point. And I had to close our office because just...

KELLY: Yeah.

THELEMAQUE: ...Driving to and from - it was a misutilization of the resources that we had that could better be used in keeping our clinic open or providing care in mobile clinics.

KELLY: Yeah. So how are they operating? Can they operate? What has been the impact there in terms of all these fuel shortages?

THELEMAQUE: So, before, we would run our generator eight, nine hours out of the day. Now, you know, to conserve our fuel that we have left, we are running it only four hours a day. We were running our mobile clinics five days a week. We dropped down to one mobile clinic a week.

KELLY: Can you give me a specific example? Can you tell us a story about somebody who you were not able to treat in the way that you would like to treat because of all this?

THELEMAQUE: Yeah. So our mobile clinic team, which is over 30 medical professionals, they would see upwards of 1,500 to 2,000 patients in the rural areas of the south on any given week. And now, we're down to barely seeing 300 people. These are community members who, due to the earthquake there, clinics are no longer functioning or certain areas they never had a clinic or a dispensary in that area. So this is medical care that is so dire. And, you know, these are people who may have wound care that they need or medication that they need to sustain because, you know, high blood pressure and diabetes - those are extremely prevalent.

KELLY: I'm trying to understand the motive here. I said the fuel shortage is due in large part to gangs, which are blocking fuel shipments. Why? Why is it in anyone's interest to block fuel shipments and make fuel so short in Haiti?

THELEMAQUE: I mean, ultimately, you're crippling the country. Government-issued energy is almost nonexistent, so you have to have fuel. Communication - there is over 30 towers that no longer have fuel. You're cutting off certain areas of the country to communication completely, or even getting water. Water - it's delivered to your house. So now, lack of fuel, lack of water.

KELLY: So this is a way of creating more chaos by further crippling the government because the government can't provide any of those very basic services you just described.

THELEMAQUE: Exactly. It creates complete chaos, and it pretty much stalls the country.

KELLY: Now that you're back in New York, where, of course, there's a pretty big Haitian diaspora, what is the conversation there? How are people there watching events in Haiti?

THELEMAQUE: I mean, ultimately, they're trying to understand. I mean, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who is Haitian American. And she was like, Linda, you left because of insecurity. And I was like, no, I didn't leave because of insecurity. I left because there was lack of fuel. So having - they want to have these conversations to understand, what can they do, you know? And at this point, for the fuel crisis that we have, there's nothing that you can do. This is just something that has to be handled within the country.

KELLY: Linda Thelemaque, thank you.

THELEMAQUE: Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: She is country director of the nonprofit Hope for Haiti. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.