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One in a million

Her name is Wideline Fils Amie. She is nine years old. Both her parents are dead, and her only possession is the red tartan dress on her back.

For the past week, she's been living and sleeping in the indescribably filthy back-yard of the Foyer de Sion orphanage in Petionville. When you ask how she is feeling, Wideline whispers two words, through her broken teeth: "hungry" and "scared".

Eighteen boys and girls, aged two to 15, are holed-up behind the tattered two-storey building in the hills just outside Port-au-Prince.

Their food reserves consist of three bags of rice, three bags of beans, a few yams, and half a bottle of orange cordial. As of yesterday morning, they hadn't a single drop of drinking water left. And a week after the earthquake that flattened their city, the orphanage has not received a single batch of aid.

"I don't know why," says Pascale Mardy, the orphanage's manager. "We have almost nothing left. When the earthquake happened, I had $100 in my pocket to buy food. Now I have spent the last dollar, so we are down to one meal a day. We are in trouble."

Marooned

It's the same story across Port-au-Prince, where a dysfunctional aid effort is still only slowly creaking into action.

Huge reserves of supplies sit on the runway of the city's airport. Cargo ships are marooned at sea, unable to reach its damaged harbour. Haiti's death toll was yesterday being estimated at 200,000.

The capital no longer has piles of bodies on the streets. But you can smell corpses everywhere beneath the rubble. Almost everyone you meet has lost their home and several relatives.

The scale of the bereavement is so massive that your sympathies become numb. I barely flinched when Ms Mardy told me she was mourning both her sister and mother-in-law, and is sleeping with the children, in the yard of her orphanage.

Wideline grew up with loss, but the earthquake turned a bad situation worse. She never knew her father. Her mother died when she was six, and she has lived at the orphanage ever since. When the quake struck, she was playing with friends at school. Now, she seems deeply traumatised.

"Some children ran out, but I stayed inside. I saw them get very hurt," she whispers. "Now, I am afraid to stay in Haiti. There are many, many people dead; bad things are happening. I am afraid to die too." Has she lost any friends? "Many," she replies.

The state of the Foyer de Sion has to be seen to be believed. A mixture of mud and faeces covers the floor. There is no electricity. Children, usually eight to a room, are now too scared to go inside the building, in case of aftershocks, so have been dossing down on mattresses in the yard outside.

The toilets haven't been flushed for a week. Their one meal a day comes from a cauldron of rice and beans, plus a small ration of vegetables. In the absence of proper drinking water, they will soon be forced to drink from a filthy water main outside.

Astonishing

All 28 of Ms Mardy's children survived last Tuesday's quake. Since then, many more parentless children have been arriving at her gates.

Haiti had an astonishing 380,000 orphans even before this disaster, from a population of nine million. Now the figure could be twice that or higher.

Some aid agencies reckon the island may soon have up to a million children to look after. But like many care institutions Foyer de Sion is unable to take any more: Ms Mardy says she cannot spare her food reserves.

hnews@herald.ie