14 January 2010
Press Conference

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

Press Conference by Emergency Relief Coordinator on Situation in Haiti


Getting urgently needed search and rescue teams, medical aid and basic sustenance to areas of Haiti devastated by Tuesday’s earthquake was a huge task, but the response of the United Nations and the international community had been focused and swift, John Holmes, Emergency Relief Coordinator, said this afternoon.


“These are all enormous challenges,” Mr. Holmes, who is also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference.


“The encouraging thing is that both the international humanitarian community ‑‑ that is the United Nations agencies, the non-governmental organizations, the Red Cross ‑‑ and the wider international community ‑‑ the Member States ‑‑ are extremely focused, mobilizing with all possible speed to get the aid to Haiti as quickly as possible.”


The top priority at this time was still search and rescue, “to get people out from under the rubble and save those who can still be saved”, he said.  Some teams had arrived yesterday for that purpose, others were just arriving, despite the problems at the airport.


He explained that the runways at the facility were undamaged, but the control tower was not operating, forcing greater spacing between landings and making night-time landings dangerous.  The United Nations, with assistance from the United States, was doing all it could on that front.


Another urgent priority was on the medical front, he said, with the medical infrastructure both badly damaged and overwhelmed by the number of injuries.  For that reason, a great effort was being made to get doctors, more medical teams, field hospitals and supplies in place.


Basic necessities such as water and food, followed by emergency shelter, would also be needed in great quantities within a short period of time, he said.  Organizations like the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) have already gotten planes on the ground, with more coming, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is sending water and water purification supplies.


He warned that, no matter how fast the humanitarian community acted, however, it would not be fast enough for the people on the ground.  “That’s very frustrating, particularly for them, and of course it’s very frustrating for us, too.  If we could just snap our fingers and make these things arrive, we would do that, but that’s not possible.”


In regard to Member States, he said that the United States was “galvanizing” aid, but many countries had made generous offers, so he was confident that the necessary resources were available.


A humanitarian flash appeal would be released, he hoped, sometime tomorrow.  He could not specify the size of that appeal, but he said that “clearly, it would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars”.


He said that, in addition, many individuals, corporations and other entities had been offering aid, and he referred them to a mechanism that was being established for this kind of situation, through the coordination of the United Nations Global Compact.  It was designed to match donor offers with United Nations needs, and could be accessed through www.un.org or through business.un.org.  (See Press Release ECO/173.)


It was also extremely helpful for donors to contribute directly to United Nations agencies or non-governmental organizations with capacity on the ground, he said.  Contributions could also be directed to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) through the United Nations Foundation.


He said a mixed picture of donations by States was expected, including some directly bilateral, some through non-governmental organizations and some directed towards flash appeal projects.


In response to correspondents’ questions, he said that a reliable number for the amount of casualties would not be available for at least days, maybe even weeks.  For the humanitarian responders, a precise number was not all that important.  For now, they need to know it was going to be very large.


As for United Nations losses, Hédi Annabi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, was still unaccounted for, as was one Deputy Special Representative out of two.  Estimates of the other missing had not been refined concerning either international or national staff, many of which might have scattered to deal with their families.  Each agency was making efforts, however, to account for its personnel.


He said that the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) still had its police and military command structures intact, however, and was able to maintain law and order.  There was little unrest as yet; people had remained relatively calm and patient.  He hoped that would continue.  He confirmed that the main prison had collapsed, but that didn’t seem to be the greatest concern at this point.  In any case, the 3,000 troops in the capital, Port-au-Prince, which sustained the major part of the damage, might be reinforced with troops now stationed elsewhere in the country.


MINUSTAH was also helping to remove bodies and rubble, and provide some assistance with the distribution of supplies, though the small amounts of such distributions occurring now were also being done by local and international non-governmental organizations who were already on the ground and worked with the United Nations.


He said that, although the Government realized it had the ultimate responsibility for disaster recovery, its capabilities were severely affected.  The Minister of the Interior was meeting this afternoon with humanitarian actors, however.


In terms of opening up better transportation into Haiti, he said the United Nations and United States were looking into quick repairs that could be made to port facilities.  In addition, air-shuttle routes through Miami and Santo Domingo would probably be soon established.


Finally, he said that the acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Edmond Mulet, was expected to land as he spoke, though he had not received confirmation.


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For information media • not an official record