12 September 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today launched a United Nations appeal for more than $100 million to bolster the massive humanitarian relief effort being mobilized for Haiti, where washed out roads and bridges continue to hamper peacekeepers and aid workers trying to rush food, clothes and fresh water to nearly 800,000 people left destitute by a succession of tropical storms that have battered the nation since mid-July.

During a Headquarters press conference today, Mr. Holmes, who is also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that, after tropical storms Fay, Gustav and Hanna had earlier in August left nearly all agricultural land flooded, hurricane Ike, which clipped Haiti late Sunday, “has only made things worse” for the people of the Western hemisphere’s poorest country.  Close to 330 people have been killed by the storms, and some 80,000 people remain in temporary shelters in and around Gonaives, the most affected city.

While peacekeepers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) were pitching in to help relief agencies move people and goods “the best they can […] the situation is far from under control”, as rising floodwaters and storm-wrecked infrastructure continued to block access to many areas.  MINUSTAH’s limited helicopter capacity was being called into action to help reinforce air and sea aid delivery.  In addition, the World Food Programme (WFP) and other United Nations agencies were working hard to reach people, but the situation “was extremely difficult […] and we’re all aware that more needs to be done”, he added.

With those and other challenges in mind, including the lingering global food price spikes that had left thousands of desperately poor Haitians particularly exposed, the United Nations was appealing for nearly $108 million for recovery efforts over the six months.  The appeal specifically sought $34 million for emergency food assistance; $19 million for early recovery efforts; $18 million to address logistical issues; and $14 million for shelter and non-food items.

Noting that Haiti’s long underfunded agricultural sector would be in need of urgent and targeted rehabilitation, Mr. Holmes said the appeal also sought some $11 million for agriculture and irrigation projects; and some $3 million for water and sanitation.  Emphasizing that rapid action was necessary, he urged donors to be especially generous given Haiti’s historical disadvantages.  He added that his Office [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] was considering a grant from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) –- perhaps $5 million –- to get the entire process under way as soon as possible.  

Turning to the situation in the wider region, he said that Cuba had also been severely affected by both Gustav and then Ike.  Perhaps some 1.5 million people on that island needed some form of assistance, with many remaining in temporary shelters, but the Government’s evacuation procedures were “very effective and well organized”.  Only four people had been reported killed.

At the same time, the Government’s efforts had been stretched because the storms had been back-to-back.  In response, OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], which was consulting with Havana on the situation, was considering a CERF allocation of around $3 million.  Finally, he noted that Turks and Caicos had also been severely hit by Ike, and some 85 per cent of housing and infrastructure there had been swept away.  The United Nations teams on the ground were working with the British Government and monitoring the situation closely.

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For information media • not an official record