25 February 2010 A top United Nations official in Haiti says not enough media coverage has been devoted to the progress made by Haitians, humanitarian workers and their partners since the devastating earthquake struck nearly six weeks ago.
“It is very easy for example to be interviewed and asked the difficult question ‘why aren’t you doing more?’” Kim Bolduc, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti and UN Humanitarian Coordinator, told the UN News Centre as part of its Newsmaker profile series.
“It is very important to remind everyone that seldom in our history have we seen such a sizeable type of operation set up within days of the emergency. Everything that has been achieved has been achieved at great sacrifice for people who are still standing in the field and running the operations,” she added.
Ms. Bolduc arrived in Haiti just one and a half months before the 12 January earthquake, which killed an estimated 220,000 people, injured some 300,000 others and left 1.2 million homeless.
In the first 48 hours after the quake struck, as the search was underway for the top UN envoy in Haiti, Hedi Annabi, and his principal deputy, Luiz Carlos da Costa, she took temporary control of the UN mission, known as MINUSTAH, whose headquarters was reduced to rubble.
“We had to simultaneously take care of search and rescue operations while helping the Government in collecting the dead bodies out in the streets, and also to immediately try to organize relief support to provide food, water and medical care for all the people who were devastated by the earthquake,” she said.
The international relief effort has been criticized for being too slow, but Ms. Bolduc disagrees. “If you think about the number of people affected – three million people in a country like Haiti where the centre of the capacity – the capital – has been destroyed, managing after five or six weeks to feed over two million people is an accomplishment.”
The team in Haiti celebrates every small victory, she added, recalling how during the first week it would check daily to see how many people were fed through the World Food Programme (WFP).
“At first we found out that only 10 per cent of the people were fed, and then 15, then 20, then 30, that sort of moment was very important,” she said.
Looking ahead to the country’s longer-term needs, she noted there is an opportunity to build back better and stronger in what was already the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere prior to the earthquake.
“I think everyone wants the same thing for Haiti – a strong Haiti, a sustainable Haiti and a Haiti that has a future for its children and the future generation. This is the dream of everyone that is currently struggling here on the ground and for others who are not here who are also supporting internationally,” she added.
Ms. Bolduc – a Canadian national born in Viet Nam – served with the UN in Brazil and Iraq before her post in Haiti. She was seriously injured during the 2003 bomb attack on the Canal Hotel in Baghdad that killed 22 UN staff, including top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.
She managed to escape unharmed from the Haiti quake, and started working right away to gather the capacity that was left to try to carry on the humanitarian work in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
“I think what has kept me going has always been the belief that if I struggled hard enough I would be able to help at least one person and that is not a chance that is given to everyone in all kinds of job,” stated Ms. Bolduc.
That is the beauty of working for the UN, she added.
News Tracker: past stories on this issue