UN scales up assistance to Haiti's tremor victims

People in Cité Soleil, Haiti, struggle to get water from a broken pipe

16 January 2010 – The United Nations is continuing to rush urgently-needed relief to Haiti, which was struck on Tuesday by a devastating earthquake that is estimated to have impacted one third of the people of the Caribbean nation.

Since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has reached 20,000 people with ready-to-eat food, aiming to feed nearly 40,000 people today in the capital, Port-au-Prince, the worst-hit city.

As part of its emergency operation, the agency plans to assist 2 million with one-week food rations, while also planning for food-for-work schemes to jump-start reconstruction and rehabilitation.

A plane carrying over 20 metric tons of high-energy biscuits landed in neighbouring Dominican Republic from El Salvador yesterday. They are set to reach the capital this evening via trucks. Another plane is scheduled to leave El Salvador today bearing more biscuits.

Information technology experts are en route to Haiti to fix communication capacities for WFP and the entire humanitarian community operating in the country, while solar panels, generators, laptops and wireless equipment is being flown in from Dubai.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported today that another planed carrying oral rehydration salts, water purification tablets and jerry cans touched down in Port-au-Prince this morning, the second load of UNICEF water and sanitation supplies to arrive in Haiti – where children comprise half of the population – in the past 24 hours.

“Providing access to clean water and sanitation is essential in the immediate aftermath of disasters, to avoid a second wave of deaths caused by diarrheal diseases such as cholera and dysentery,” the agency said in a press release. “Children are particularly susceptible to diarrheal diseases.”

Two more planes loaded with UNICEF materials – including tents and medicines – will take off for the Dominican Republic as soon as they are cleared to fly.

The UN and its partners yesterday launched an appeal for $562 million to help the victims of the earthquake, which has left basic services on the brink of collapse in Port-au-Prince. The UN estimates that 10 per cent of the buildings in the city have been destroyed, leaving 300,000 people homeless, and many are fleeing the destruction.

The funds are intended to assist an estimated 3 million affected people over a period of six months, with half of the funds being earmarked for emergency food aid, with the rest targeted at health, water, sanitation, nutrition, early recovery, emergency education and other key needs.

The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated $25 million towards the appeal.

“There is not a moment to lose. Lives are on the line. The coming days can make a critical difference in caring for the acutely injured, preventing the spread of disease, and providing essential food, water and shelter to tens of thousands of families who have been left with little but the clothes on their back,” UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said, launching the appeal in New York yesterday.

Because of the lack of detailed information from the ground, the appeal will be revised in the coming weeks, he added.

Mr. Holmes told a news conference that the UN is working to overcome serious obstacles to providing aid posed by lack of infrastructure and other issues, and underscored the need to recognize the reality that “inevitably and despite everyone's enormous efforts,” it will take some time to scale up the pace of the operations.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned today that unless fuel supplies are not replenished, humanitarian operations may be forced to shut down in the next few days.

Nearly 60 people have been pulled out of rubble alive by 27 search-and-rescue teams, comprising some 1,500 rescue workers and 115 dogs. So far, more than half of the worst-hit areas of Port-au-Prince have been covered.

OCHA said that the favourable climate and building structures have enhanced the chance of survival for those pinned by debris, indicating that the search-and-rescue phase can be prolonged.

The Office stressed that assistance priorities continue to also include medical services, shelter, food and water.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced with deep sadness tonight that the top UN officials in Haiti perished in Tuesday's tremors.


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