Haitian leadership vital to post-quake response – UN relief officials

Survivors are now able to cook with WFP deliveries of rice, beans, oil and sugar

26 January 2010 – Haitians must have leadership of the post-earthquake recovery process, top United Nations humanitarian officials stressed today as they reported that aid agencies are making important progress in reaching people affected by the disaster.

Significant steps forward are being made in the areas of water and food distribution, among others, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told reporters in New York.

But he added that “we are conscious it's a very long way to go to get to all the people in need with basic items.”

The World Food Programme (WFP) said that it has reached almost 450,000 people with nearly 10 million meals since the 12 January earthquake, with more food set to arrive.

Mr. Holmes, who also serves as UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, pointed out that the availability of medical supplies remains a problem, even as emergency health operations are starting to slow down. “There is an issue of where people are going to go to recover from their injuries,” especially given the large number of amputees.

Shelter remains a major priority, he stressed. Haitian President René Préval has estimated that 200,000 family-sized tents may be needed to shelter those made homeless from the quake, and the UN official stressed today that talks are under way today to determine what kinds of camps should be set up where.

Currently, there are 40,000 tents already in Haiti , but many more are needed, with some 800,000 to 1 million people already having organized themselves into temporary shelters.

The $575 million UN flash appeal for Haiti launched on 15 January, three days after the quake, is only 49 per cent funded, Mr. Holmes announced, expressing concern that certain crucial sectors – including early recovery – remain underfunded.

Senior UN officials and foreign ministers from over one dozen nations converged in Montreal yesterday for a “Friends of Haiti” meeting to discuss Haiti 's future.

There was wide agreement among the participants “on the kind of process we now need to start” before a donors' conference slated to be held in March at UN Headquarters in New York , said Mr. Holmes, who attended yesterday's meeting.

Those taking part underscored the importance of Haitian ownership of the recovery process, as well as the need to plan ahead for the post-recovery stage of rebuilding the impoverished country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

Also identified as vital at the Montreal summit is “the restoration of national authority after the disruption by the earthquake,” as well as “getting people back to work as quickly as possible,” Jordan Ryan, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery for the UN Development Programme (UNDP), said today.

The agency has launched a cash-for-work programme to provide Haitians with an independent source of income – $5 a day – in return for such work as rubble removal, street repairs and aid distribution.

By the end of this week, UNDP hopes that 10,000 people will be involved the scheme, ultimately being scaled up to include 220,000 people, indirectly benefiting 1 million others.

The scheme “builds security” as well as “a sense of hope,” Mr. Ryan underscored.

Prior to the catastrophic earthquake, Haiti was making tremendous strides and now the country has the opportunity to “build back better” and push ahead with the democratic renewal that was already under way prior to the tremors, he said.

Lessons learned from the international response to previous disasters have been applied in Haiti, the UNDP official said, adding that “there is the sense that we have an opportunity to be ruthless in terms of rooting out duplication by having a much more coordinated effort” on the ground.

Edmond Mulet, the Secretary-General's acting Special Representative to Haiti , proposed a new way to coordinate relief efforts in Haiti to ensure that aid reaches those who need it at yesterday's Montreal gathering.

The plan seeks to coordinate and integrate the political, humanitarian and military facets of the international response to the quake – which has killed more than 100,000 people and severely affected an estimated 3 million others – and the Joint Operation and Tasking Centre started operating today, bringing together the UN, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the US Army and the Canadian Army.

“There is a lot of talk about coordination, but the fact that there's a need for it and a lot of talk for it doesn't make it easy to accomplish on the ground,” Anthony Banbury, acting Principal Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for MINUSTAH, told reporters in New York via videolink from the capital, Port-au-Prince, yesterday.

Coordination is complicated by the number of people working on the ground, many new to the country, who have different backgrounds, priorities and perspectives, he said.

“While I think everyone wants to do what's best for the Haitian people and the Haitian Government, really being committed to coordination and being willing to all move in the same direction, that's a true challenge,” Mr. Banbury stressed.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Top UN envoy stresses need for global coordination in post-quake Haiti

Related Stories





USG John Holmes briefs the media - 26 Jan. '10

More videos »


In-depth Interviews