Haiti quake relief effort must be part of wider focus on eliminating poverty, Ban says

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) stands beside the remains of UN headquarters in Port-au-Prince , Haiti.

19 January 2010 – Last week’s catastrophic earthquake in Haiti not only provides a symbol of extraordinary faith, enduring hope and international solidarity amid the worst devastation, it must also serve as a reminder of the global community’s wider responsibilities to help the poor worldwide, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an article published today.

“As we rush to Haiti's aid, let us keep in mind this larger picture,” he wrote in an opinion piece published in Washington Post, summarizing his weekend visit to the devastated country. “Those people on the streets of Port-au-Prince asked for jobs, dignity and a better future. That is the hope of all the world’s poor. Doing the right thing for Haiti in its hour of need will be a powerful message of hope for them as well.”

He underscored the importance of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted at the UN summit in 2000, which seek to slash a host of social ills ranging from extreme poverty and hunger to maternal and infant mortality to lack of access to education and health care, all by 2015.

“A decade ago, the international community began a new century by agreeing to act to eliminate extreme poverty by 2015. Great strides have been made toward some of these ambitious ‘Millennium Goals,’ variously targeting core sources of global poverty and obstacles to development – from maternal health and education to managing infectious disease,” he said.

“Yet progress in other critical areas lags badly. We are very far from delivering on our promises of a better future for the world’s poor.”

Referring specifically to the huge needs in Haiti in the aftermath of the quake, Mr. Ban stressed the importance of looking beyond immediate relief to longer-term development to put the most impoverished country in the Western hemisphere on the path to a more prosperous future.

“The urgency of the moment naturally dominates our planning,” he said. “But as (Haitian) President René Préval emphasized during my meeting with him, we must be thinking about tomorrow. Haiti, though desperately poor, had been making progress. It was enjoying a new stability; investors had returned.

“That will not be enough to rebuild the country as it was, nor is there any place for cosmetic improvements. We must help Haiti build back better, working with the Government so that today’s investments have lasting benefit, creating jobs and freeing Haitians from dependence on the world's generosity.”

He paid tribute, too, to the fortitude of the Haitian people. “As I moved around the stricken city, I saw horrific images like those we have all seen on television: collapsed buildings; bodies in the streets; people in dire need of food, water and shelter,” he said. “But I also saw people demonstrating extraordinary resilience despite having suffered the heaviest blows.”

Turning to the UN’s immediate tasks in the devastation, he noted that the UN the World Food Programme (WFP) is working with the United States army to distribute daily food rations to nearly 200,000 people, and expects to reach as many as 1 million in the coming weeks, building toward 2 million.

He underscored the UN’s lead role in effectively coordinating and channelling all the incoming international aid, grouping needs into well-defined ‘clusters,’ so that organizations complement rather than duplicate one another. A health cluster run by the UN World Health Organization (WHO), for example, is organizing medical assistance among 21 international agencies.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Haitian relief effort needs strong international coordination, stress UN officials

Related Stories





In-depth Interviews