Haitian relief effort needs strong international coordination, stress UN officials

Workers load UNICEF aid for earthquake survivors in Haiti

18 January 2010 – United Nations officials have stressed the need for a strongly coordinated effort to bring vital assistance to the roughly 3 million people affected by last week’s earthquake in Haiti, amid the devastated infrastructure and logistical challenges in the wake of the disaster.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who travelled to the quake-struck capital of Port-au-Prince yesterday, stressed the need to unplug any bottlenecks in the aid operation to ensure that the relief reaches people in need as quickly as possible.

“Help has been arriving. More is coming in. But for those who have lost everything, I know that aid cannot come soon enough,” he told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York today, adding that the most important challenge is coordination of the relief effort.

Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude quake has levelled buildings, including homes, schools and hospitals, damaged roads and other vital infrastructure, and left one third of the country’s 9 million people in need of food, water, shelter, medical assistance and other urgent aid.

“This disaster ranks among the most devastating and logistically challenging in recent history,” Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said today. “We are seeing the difficulties that arise when disaster strikes an already disastrous public health situation.”

She noted that many of the problems that agencies try to prevent after a disaster were already present in Haiti, including diseases associated with poor water and sanitation systems, low immunization coverage and widespread malnutrition.

The first priorities are to assess the nature and magnitude of emergency health needs, to treat the injured, to recover bodies, and to set up surveillance for infectious diseases. “Offers of help continue to pour in. But aid must closely match urgent health needs and be tightly coordinated,” stressed Ms. Chan.

With the hospitals that are functioning already overcrowded with victims, many with crushed limbs or fractured bones, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is warning of the emergency that can occur when pregnant women are forced to give birth in unsanitary conditions and without access to medical care.

“Giving birth under such conditions can quickly turn deadly if complications such as bleeding, obstructed delivery or high blood pressure occur. Everyday hygiene supplies, including sanitary napkins and soap, are also necessary, but often forgotten in emergencies,” said the agency, which estimates there are 37,000 pregnant women among those affected by the quake who need maternal health services.

The head of the World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that the agency is streaming humanitarian assistance into Haiti, opening up air, sea and land corridors, and rehabilitating emergency telecommunications systems for the humanitarian community.

“It is vital that the response from the global humanitarian community matches the immense needs of the people of Haiti,” said Executive Director Josette Sheeran. “Within the next week, WFP aims to move the equivalent of 10 million ready-to-eat meals so that people whose homes have been destroyed, and who have no access to cooking facilities can feed their families.”

To achieve this, WFP is establishing four humanitarian hubs to deliver food assistance in Port-au-Prince, and at least 30 others at locations across Haiti.

Since the earthquake struck, more than 250,000 ready-to-eat food rations have been distributed by WFP and the United States military. With immediate food needs so great, WFP appealed to military leaders worldwide to donate 100 million ready-to-eat meals to sustain this vital lifeline.

To support this massive operation, Ms. Sheeran said the agency is utilising five humanitarian corridors into Haiti. Food assistance and relief supplies will move by road from the neighbouring Dominican Republic, by air into the main airport at Port-au-Prince, and another airstrip at Barahonas, through the main port in the Haitian capital, and into another seaport at Cap Haïtien.

“An agreement on guaranteed landing slots for aircraft carrying humanitarian assistance means that the flow of aid to the people of Haiti will increase dramatically in the coming days,” she said.

Meanwhile, the UN Special Envoy for Haiti, former US President Bill Clinton, is en route to the University Hospital in Port-au-Prince today, bringing with him food and water, medical supplies, generators, gas cans and solar flash lights.

Also today, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) announced that, in the wake of the devastation that struck Haiti, the organizers and football players of the 2010 Match Against Poverty, taking place in Lisbon on 25 January, have decided to dedicate the proceeds to support relief efforts in the impoverished Caribbean nation.

“Donating the proceedings from the match lends deeper meaning to our cause against poverty,” said French footballer and UNDP Goodwill Ambassador Zinédine Zidane, who will lead the Ronaldo, Zidane & Friends team against the Benfica All Stars.

UN humanitarian agencies and their partners have appealed for $562 million to assist the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 per cent of the population living under the poverty line.

“This is a humanitarian emergency which requires an internationally coordinated relief effort,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. “The United Nations is working closely with governments around the world to meet immediate humanitarian needs, and to coordinate early recovery consistent with addressing longer-term development goals.

“Haiti will need tremendous support to recover from this terrible disaster,” she added.


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