PRESS CONFERENCE ON HAITI HUMANITARIAN AID

23 March 2004

PRESS CONFERENCE ON HAITI HUMANITARIAN AID

23/03/2004
Press Briefing

PRESS CONFERENCE ON HAITI HUMANITARIAN AID

Only $35 million had been pledged for Haiti’s reconstruction, which was nowhere near the amount needed to respond to the crisis, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press conference today.

Present at the press conference, sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations, were:  Laurence Konmla Bropleh, Permanent Representative of the World Council of Churches to the United Nations; Wilfred Grey, Chairman, NGO Committee on Africa and the Caribbean; Harvey Dupiton, member, NGO Committee on Africa and the Caribbean; and Orlando Requeijo Gual, the Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations.

What was needed in Haiti -- what had always been needed in Haiti -- was an immediate, massive humanitarian intervention, Mr. Dupiton said, urging that “we must put peace to work in Haiti”.  That would not be achieved through military intervention or solely through United Nations peacekeeping intervention.  Until a young mother, for example, was able to provide for her child, it was not possible to have peace.  Until people in the streets were able to find some relief, it was not possible to tell them to keep the peace.  Civil society was doing everything possible to support that effort.  Today, a number of initiatives were under way, involving both Haitian and Cuban doctors and many volunteers.   But, that mobilization could not succeed solely through the efforts of the non-governmental organizations, but must start from grass-roots organizations and the Haitian community.

The Chairman of the NGO Committee, Mr. Grey, insisted that much more needed to be done for the people of Haiti, who were suffering from lack of food, clean water and basic services.  The present situation required a “completely new scale of activity”, as the country moved from a period of crisis towards a period of nation-building.  He was hoping this morning to publicize the still unmet need and to note the fact that publicity of the Haitian crisis had suddenly declined to almost nothing.  As a friend had pointed out, humanitarian aid could not be human if it was only publicized for 15 days.  Yet, that was the present grim situation.  One example of an activity that could be developed was to link up organizations and schools in Haiti, particularly in the rural areas, with refurbished computers, as had been done in Ghana and Madagascar.

The Permanent Representative of the World Council of Churches to the United Nations, Dr. Bropleh noted that the Council reached out to nations across the globe.  It had been working through ACT, or Action for Churches Together, which was housed in the World Council’s headquarters in Geneva.  ACT had been on the ground in Haiti prior to the escalation of the recent major violence there.  Working through the churches in Haiti, it had been possible to continue to send major amounts of supplies of medicines, food and clothing to quell the immediate need.

He said that the World Council was aware that no nation could rebuild until its people rebuilt.  To help Haiti towards restoration, democratization, and true peace and justice, the people’s basic survival needs had to be ensured.  That was the first order of business.  The World Council had been concerned with Haiti for some time, and had been stressing since last September that the covenant with the

Organization of American States should be honoured.  His presence here today was to affirm the activities of the Cubans, the NGO Committee on Africa and the Caribbean, and also inform correspondents that the World Council was also present to assist the disadvantaged and disenfranchised within the country.

Achieving reconciliation and building a new social contract in Haiti would not work by importing ideas and concepts that were neither pragmatic nor culturally relevant, he said.  The locals needed to own the activities and determine their own destiny.  They must be brought to the table as true partners.  Meanwhile, the violence should be condemned under all circumstances, and the World Council continued to do that.  It also stood ready to do more, he added.

Mr. Requeijo Gual said his delegation was joining the initiative because of the real need of the Haitian people for help.  In the past five years, Cuba had devised a comprehensive plan of humanitarian aid for the Haitian people.  Information about it had not been included in the recent humanitarian flash appeal by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) or in official United Nations documents.  Cuba had a medical brigade in Haiti composed of 525 members, of which 332 were doctors.  Scattered throughout the country, they provided health care for 75 per cent of the 8.3 million Haitians.  There were fewer than 2,000 physicians overall in the country, concentrated mainly in the capital, at the expense of the rest of the country.

In the last five years, he said, Cuban doctors had treated nearly 5 million Haitians, and infant and maternal mortality rates had declined.  Indeed, nearly 86,000 human lives had been saved by the Cuban medical efforts in Haiti.  Through 4 March, and for five days, the Cuban medical team had set up a canvas hospital next to the UniversityHospital, and assisted 406 patients, 33 of which had firearm wounds.  On 11 February, Cuba sent a shipment of 12.2 tons of medicines so that the Cuban medical personnel –- all the while abiding by the principle of not interfering in Haiti’s internal affairs -- could fulfil its tasks.  In addition, Cuban technicians repaired more than 2,000 medical devices.

In the educational field, 20 Cuban professors were providing advisory services for a radio-based literacy programme designed by Cuban specialists, he went on.  Some 110,000 Haitians had already become literate, and the programme was continuing to grow.  Cuba also donated teaching materials, and some 247 Haitian youths were currently studying in the medical school founded by Cuban professors.  Another 372 were enrolled under medical scholarships in Cuba, whose universities currently accommodated more than 3,000 Caribbean youths.

He noted that Cuban technical assistance had been instrumental in the reconstruction of the sugar mill in Darbonne, which was currently in its fourth sugar harvest, with the support of 30 Cuban specialists.  The sugar mill generated employment for 2,000 people and guaranteed electricity supply during the harvest period for a population of 5,000 families in the area.  Also, 20 Cuban veterinarians and technicians were putting in place a sanitary control programme and training Haitian staff.  Another 10 technicians were helping to consolidate the national aquaculture programme, for which Cuba had delivered 42 million larvae already planted in Haiti’s dams.  Another 11 Cuban agricultural specialists were working in Haiti as part of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s Food Security Programme.  Cuba was also cooperating in other areas, such as road construction.

Asked to elaborate on the lack of a mention of Cuba’s help in Haiti, the Ambassador said the paper provided by OCHA had only two lines about that in the English version and one and one-half lines in the French version.  Cuban doctors were not hiding; they were very present and working and he did not know why OCHA was ignoring that fact.

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For information media. Not an official record.