In pockets of Haiti accessible only by donkey or foot, children are dying of malnutrition - their already meager food supply cut by a series of devastating storms that destroyed crops, wiped out livestock and sent food prices spiraling.
At least 26 severely malnourished children have died in the past four weeks in the remote region of Baie d'Orange in Haiti's southeast, aid workers said Thursday, and there are fears the toll will rise much higher if help does not come quickly to the impoverished Caribbean nation.
Another 65 severely malnourished children are being treated in makeshift tent clinics in the mountainous area, or at hospitals where they were evacuated in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere, said Max Cosci, who heads the Belgian contingent of Doctors Without Borders in Haiti.
One evacuee, a 7-year-old girl, died while being treated, Cosci said, adding: "The situation is extremely, extremely fragile and dangerous."
At a makeshift malnutrition ward at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the capital, 10 emaciated children were under emergency care Thursday, their stomachs swollen and hair faded by pigmentation loss caused by malnutrition. Several had the puffy faces typical of kwashiorkor, a protein-deficiency disorder.
Five-year-old Mackenson Duclair, his ribs protruding and his legs little more than skin stretched over bones, weighed in at 19.8 pounds, even after days of drinking milk enriched with potassium and salt. Doctors said he needed to gain another five pounds before he could go home.
Dangling from a scale mounted from the ceiling, 4-year-old Venecia Lonis looked as limp as a rag doll as doctors weighed her, her huge brown eyes expressionless, her hair tied with bright yellow bows.
Mackenson's grandmother, who has raised him since his mother died, said she barely has a can of corn grits to feed herself, the boy and her 8-year-old granddaughter each day.
"These things did not happen when I was growing up," 72-year-old Ticouloute Fortune said.
Rural families already struggling with soaring food prices in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest country, lost their safety nets when fields were destroyed and livestock wiped out by the storms, which killed nearly 800 people and caused $1 billion worth of damage in August and September.
U.N. World Food Program country director Myrta Kaulard said she fears more deaths from malnutrition in other isolated parts of Haiti, and search and medical teams were fanning out in the northwest and along the southwestern peninsula to check.
The World Food Program has sent more than 30 tons of food aid - enough to feed 5,800 people for two weeks - into the remote southeastern region since September, and other groups funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development have sent food as well, she said.
But the steep, narrow paths and poor visibility make it difficult to deliver the food to the mountain communities where hunger is worsening. In one case, a WFP truck flipped over while struggling up a hill and slid into a ravine, killing an aid worker.