|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Situation in Haiti
The situation around Port-au-Prince remained calm despite continuing precarious conditions, and assistance was needed to prepare for the approaching hurricane season, Kim Bolduc, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) said today.
Addressing a Headquarters press conference by video link, Ms. Bolduc said a new element in the situation was the departure from the capital of some 500,000 people who had either returned to their places of origin or simply moved out of Port-au-Prince. That posed a new challenge as the places they were headed to had not been equipped to handle the influx of people, even before the earthquake.
Ms. Bolduc, who is also United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, Resident Coordinator and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in Haiti, said the ongoing food distribution had now given out a two-week rice supply to 95 per cent of the 2 million people in need. The two-week operation, started last week, would end by the end of the week.
Hospitals and orphanages had also been supplied and food distribution would resume after the operation ended, with enough food to last a few months, she said. Water tankers had been able to reach some 800,000 people, which was reasonable but not sufficient. The corresponding problem of sanitation was critical, as only 5 per cent of the people in need had been covered. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was appealing for more latrines, she added.
Turning to shelter, she said some 50,000 families, or some 250,000 people out of the 1 million in need, had been provided with either tents or plastic sheets. The approach of the rainy season –- which usually started in May but sometimes earlier –- and the July-September hurricane season was a concern. Although the provision of rain- and hurricane-resistant shelter was being considered, the port in the capital was not functioning and the cost of flying the materials in would be very high. Meanwhile, the humanitarian corridor from the Dominican Republic was becoming flooded at the crossing into Haiti due to rain and the rising water levels of an adjoining lake, she said, adding that discussions were being held with the United States Army to see whether a new road could be found and strengthened to carry heavy truck traffic.
She said the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) appeal for $27 million had only been 30 per cent funded and an updated appeal was forthcoming to take into account the population displaced to the rural areas. Agricultural inputs were urgently needed for the approaching May planting season, and if Haitians missed that season, they would need food assistance for a much longer time, as foreseen. Another issue was the immediate resumption of risk reduction and watershed-management projects disrupted by the earthquake. A higher level of risk-preparedness would help meet the needs of those displaced during the hurricane and rainy seasons.
An updated flash appeal would be launched on 17 February, she said, noting that key challenges included the Government’s limited capacity to reach vulnerable populations outside Port-au-Prince as assessment missions discovered new places where people needed shelter, food and water. The Government had launched an appeal for 200,000 tents, but support was also needed to get hazard-resistant shelter into the country, as people were now camping on slopes that were susceptible to mudslides during the rainy season. Early-recovery programmes were to reduce vulnerability and tensions, she said, adding that preparations were under way to carry out a post-disaster needs assessment.
In response to questions, Ms. Bolduc said that among the agricultural inputs required were seeds and fertilizer that would enable the population, including the displaced, to start producing their own food. The quality of the land had been an issue even before the earthquake.
Asked about protests over food distribution at Pétionville, she said it was taking place through the municipalities and was well organized, adding that MINUSTAH and United States troops were also providing protection in Pétionville, which was well served, as she had seen with her own eyes. There had been no reports of disturbances there, but there would always be political groups trying to influence the population, she noted.
Regarding landowners reportedly receiving payment for making their land available to shelter displaced people, she said she knew of no situation where the Government was offering landowners money. It was trying to negotiate land donations, she clarified, adding that, given the difficulty of locating available land, she would not be surprised if private landowners wanted to rent out their land for temporary shelters.
Asked about a landowner who claimed to have received money from the Inter-American Development Bank, she said the Bank might have offered money, but she was not aware of any money being channelled to landowners through the Government. Since the state of emergency would end on 15 February, the Government would then provide a report on how it had spent the money it had received. It was also considering what type of mechanisms would provide transparency while meeting immediate needs after the lifting of the state of emergency.
She went on to say it was true that the Inter-American Development Bank was working on a project to build tents on one part of a 10-hectares piece of privately owned land, and to build more permanent structures on the other part to serve people whose homes had been destroyed. The land was being prepared for the first part of the project.
Apart from flooding problems, she said, the road from the Dominican Republic into Haiti was also suffering damage from the heavy materials transported on it. Support was required for another road that could handle big trucks. MINUSTAH and its partners, including the United States Army, were looking into fortifying a road around the lake at the border, which had previously been used by smugglers.
Asked when the port would be reopened, she said an assessment had revealed serious structural damage, and the United States Government and Army were looking into rehabilitating port structures. However, it was not known when that could be completed. Meanwhile, a mobile pier with limited capacity was being used.
* *** *