29 January 2010
Press Conference

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

Press Conference on Haiti by United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator


While the overall relief operation in Haiti was making solid progress, “there’s a long way to go before we can feel satisfied about reaching all the people who need aid,” the United Nations humanitarian chief told reporters today, as he provided a snapshot of the massive relief effort underway some two weeks after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the tiny nation, flattening much of its infrastructure and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without food and shelter.


During press conference at New York Headquarters, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, also told reporters that the United Nations had received some 82 per cent of the $575 million it had called for to help the Haitian people in the wake of the devastating quake.  


He estimated that, thus far, close to $2 billion in donations had poured in from all across the globe.  And while that was “very, very generous,” some targeted sectors such as early recovery, agriculture, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) “cash-for-work” initiative, and education remained under-funded.


Mr. Holmes said now that the initial emergency phase, including rescue and trauma activities, was winding down, the United Nations was keeping a close eye out for cases of measles and tetanus, though signs seemed to indicate that no such diseases were cropping up.


The Organization was also “very conscious” of ensuring that plans were in place for the long-term care of potentially large numbers of amputees, including artificial limbs and rehabilitation.  He also said that concerns in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake about the lack of access to, and availability of, clean water had been addressed and that, for the most part, potable water was reaching those who needed it.


The World Food Programme (WFP) “is working night and day” to surmount the logistical hurdles that had first hampered food distribution, he continued.  And while “there are still some concerns,” WFP had been able to reach about 600,000 people to date, with the equivalent of 16 million meals.  That effort would be considerably scaled up to reach 2 million people in the next two weeks through some 16 food distribution sites.  Food deliveries were also set to be trucked directly to around 400 orphanages and hospitals over that 14 day period, he added.


Turning to other issues, Mr. Holmes said the United Nations was not aiming to create large-scale camps to house persons displaced by the quake, but rather to provide shelter where people were or where they had gathered in an around the capital, Port-au-Prince, or other large cities.  While some 500 informal camps had sprung up in the capital, he said many people were living and sleeping in the streets near their collapsed homes.


The United Nations had agreed with the Haitian Government not to create camps that could become permanent features, but to “help people right where they were, which is often where they want to stay”.  With that in mind, the world body was making sure people had either tents or other materials, including plastic sheeting, tarpaulins and wood, to help create temporary shelters.  “We’re trying to use our imagination” he told one reporter, saying the world body was working with architects, non-governmental organizations and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) to find transition housing solutions.


“In this context, sanitation is also a particular concern at the moment,” he continued, stressing that:  “There is a need to provide sanitation, particularly to these informal camps around Port-au-Prince and elsewhere.”  He also underscored the need to boost child protection.  “This is a huge concern at the moment with so many children involved -- so many orphaned and separated or otherwise isolated -- and the risks to them from unauthorized attempts to get them out of the country.”


Looking forward, he said that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was aiming to put in place plans to deal with the coming rainy season and to bolster Haiti’s own early warning systems.  There was a tremendous awareness of the need to “build Haiti back better” and to help the already-impoverished nation improve its disaster management and disaster risk reduction strategies, including through constructing quake-proof buildings.


Responding to questions, Mr. Holmes highlighted for one reporter the various assessments that were being carried out in Haiti.  Noting that the complete immediate humanitarian needs assessment would be ready in a few days, he said that survey would provide a better and more accurate picture of the current situation on the ground.  That information would feed into a revision of the earlier United Nations aid appeal.  “That will be ready, hopefully, by mid-February and will no longer be called a ‘flash’ [emergency] appeal, but will be for a full 12 months,” he added.


Continuing, he said that a post-disaster disaster assessment -- co-led by the United Nations, the European Commission, Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank -- would examine the earthquake’s damage to the Haitian economy and the projected recovery costs.  He hoped that key elements would have been identified in time for the major donors’ conference, set to be hosted by the United States at Headquarters in March.


Further to the effort to bolster the socio-economic situation, he noted that some $70 million already on hand for Haiti would be used for early recovery and the UNDP cash-for-work programme.  Thus far, that initiative had put some 12,000 people to work at about $5 a day. That number was expected to reach 20,000 over the weekend, and eventually some 200,000. 


In addition, he said the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had announced a long-term interest free loan for Haiti’s recovery and, among other efforts, the United Nations and United States were discussing plans to help the Government get up and running, given that all its main buildings and key Ministries had been levelled by the quake.


Turning to the ongoing logistical issues, he said the challenges posed by the lack of infrastructure and impassable roads were now being compounded by increased vehicle traffic.  While more cars on the roads were a sign that life was retuning to normal, it was also clogging delivery routes.  The United Nations was also contracting for more delivery trucks, he added.


As for security matters, the focus of several questions, Mr. Holmes stressed that the ultimate objective was to make sure no one got injured at any of the food distribution points and that such operations were carried out in an orderly fashion.  The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), along with troops from the United States and Canada, were coordinating to secure most sites before major food distribution occurred.  At those that were not secure, he said, the situation tended to deteriorate.


“We’re trying to make sure that the food doesn’t go to the same strong young men who fight their way to the front every time,” he said, adding that the vast majority of the food drops went ahead with long, but orderly queues.


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For information media • not an official record