Haiti: UN scaling up efforts to ensure shelter needs ahead of rainy season

Bracing for the rainy season in the Tabarre neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti

11 March 2010 – The main priority for post-quake Haiti remains emergency shelter, the top United Nations relief official said today, adding that the world body is scaling up efforts to ensure that everyone has a roof over their heads by the time the rainy season begins in May.

An estimated 1.2 million Haitians need emergency shelter, having been rendered homeless by the 12 January quake which devastated the small Caribbean nation.

“We will make sure that everybody we can reach has… proper, waterproof, makeshift shelter over their heads by the time the rainy season starts in earnest,” Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes told a news conference at UN Headquarters.

Mr. Holmes, who is also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that about 60 per cent of those that need shelter have been provided with tents or tarpaulins, and the aim is to have reached everyone with emergency shelter by 1 April.

“Beyond that, we have a strategy to try to encourage people who can return home, if their homes are safe, to do so to decongest some of the more dangerous sites in Haiti,” he stated.

At the same time, he noted that what is being provided now is only temporary, emergency shelter. “We know it’s not sufficient and it’s certainly not sufficient for the hurricane season.”

Ahead of the hurricane season, which begins in June, UN agencies and their partners intend to put in place as much ‘transitional shelter’ – more solidly built structures with roofs made of wood or metal that can better protect against hurricanes – as they can.

“We won’t do that for everybody… that’s the reality at the moment,” Mr. Holmes stated, adding that the intention is to put up about 120,000 of transitional shelters, which will cover about 600,000 people – or roughly 50 per cent of the homeless.

He added that some of the people that are currently homeless may be able to move back into their original houses and there is an exercise under way to assess the safety of those structures to determine whether they are safe to occupy now or whether they need to be repaired or demolished.

“We’re hoping with a combination of those things, contingency planning for the hurricane season about where people can go if there is the prospect of a direct hit by a hurricane, we will be able to somehow get through this season.”

Mr. Holmes said efforts are also under way on other priorities, including sanitation and agriculture, and stressed that it is essential to get the right inputs to farmers in Haiti to ensure they do not miss the planting season which takes place in March.

While the UN was successful in raising funds for the initial appeal for humanitarian aid launched in the wake of the earthquake, Mr. Holmes said it is “struggling” to raise resources for the revised $1.44 billion appeal, which is currently almost 50 per cent funded.

In a related development, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed Major General Luiz Guilherme Paul Cruz of Brazil as Force Commander of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Major General Cruz succeeds Major General Floriano Peixoto Vieira Neto, also from Brazil.


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Press briefing by John Holmes - 11 Mar. '10

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