|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Situation in Haiti
The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was ready to resume full responsibility for security in the earthquake-devastated country, as non-Mission troops began withdrawing, the top United Nations official there said at a Headquarters press conference today.
Edmond Mulet, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of MINUSTAH, said that despite its heavy losses and additional tasks, the Mission’s military, police and civilian staff, augmented by volunteers from other missions, had worked tirelessly to maintain the ability to handle all their required tasks since the day after the earthquake.
Speaking during his first visit to New York in the eight weeks since the 12 January earthquake, he praised as “exemplary” MINUSTAH’s coordination with troops from the United States, Canada, France, Spain, Jamaica and elsewhere that had arrived in Haiti soon after the disaster. Now that United States troops were drawing down, and with Canadians beginning their withdrawal on 15 March, the handover of their responsibilities for securing food and water convoys had also been orderly, he added.
All additional contingents that the Security Council had authorized for MINUSTAH should soon be in place, he said, noting that residents of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, had begun patrolling to help maintain order. The Haitian National Police were re-establishing a wider presence, and their training would resume once new facilities had been acquired.
He said Government plans to group many of the homeless from some 900 settlements in five well-laid-out camps should make it easier to protect women and other vulnerable people from violence, besides making the distribution of aid easier and more comprehensive. Initially, the Government had rightly opposed such large camps, but the settlements now proposed would have the spacing, facilities and management necessary to help ensure they did not turn into permanent slums.
Regarding relief, recovery and reconstruction, he said coordination had improved greatly, but the initial phase of humanitarian relief would have to be maintained for the next 12 months, even as recovery and reconstruction activities got going. “Shelter, shelter, shelter and with it sanitation”, were the top humanitarian priorities, he stressed, adding that some 120,000 tents had been provided, with tens of thousands on the way, but canvas and plastic housing would not withstand heavy storms.
However, there was no chance of providing solid-walled shelter for everyone in time for the hurricane season, he warned, adding that one solution under consideration was providing settlements with steel-structured buildings to serve as places of refuge in the event of a hurricane or other extreme weather event.
He said water distribution had been going well since two weeks after the disaster, and the World Food Programme (WFP) was now regularly able to cover all needs, though it was being careful not to overwhelm the economy with imported food. He said that, out of the 10,000 tons of rice brought in since the earthquake, 4,000 tons had been procured locally and WFP was now trying to buy more from local producers. The health sector was in good shape after effective vaccination programmes, he added.
The Government was getting back on its feet and participating in relief clusters, he said, noting that the President or Vice-President would present its post-disaster needs assessment at the donors’ conference on 31 March. The assessment would include immediate needs as well as the mid- and long-term vision. A technical, preparatory meeting for the conference being held in Santo Domingo, capital of the neighbouring Dominican Republic, was going well, he added.
He said the Government wanted to use the tragedy to decentralize the country and de-concentrate the population from Port-au-Prince, pointing out that some 646,000 people had already left the capital for the provinces. Many were staying with families, but others had nowhere to go and would return unless they received assistance, he warned, adding that MINUSTAH and United Nations agencies were therefore planning to spread their support programmes more evenly around the country.
Regarding the restoration of infrastructure, he said the Government had very effectively cleared most streets in Port-au-Prince of rubble, and the Canadians had opened one lane of the road from Léogâne to Jacmel. Brazilian, Korean and Japanese units were also clearing roads, but engineering units were always needed, he stressed.
Expressing hope that the remaining 130 personnel slots authorized under the new Security Council resolution were filled by engineering units, he noted, however, that they were difficult for donors to provide, since they required expensive equipment. A request that the United States military leave behind some engineering assets was still under discussion.
Asked why work on camps for the displaced had not progressed when some of the sites were the same as those originally identified by the Government immediately after the disaster, Mr. Mulet said he had been under the impression that they were different sites, but did not know if work had begun and stopped on those sites or others. Right now, two sites were Government-owned and negotiations were continuing on the others.
Reiterating that the exact death toll might never be known as Haiti lacked a proper birth registry, he said he believed not less than 220,000 people had been killed. He promised to find out how many of the United Nations staff of the 101 now thought dead had been killed at the Christopher Hotel, adding that most had probably died either there or in surrounding buildings.
Regarding an updated mandate for MINUSTAH, he said he was consulting with the Government on areas that could be enhanced, and emphasized his opinion that the Mission should work more closely with the Government, with a priority on building its capacity.
Asked about possible executions of escaped gang leaders, he said it had been confirmed that two had been killed in inter-gang battles to regain control over neighbourhoods in Cité Soleil, which the populace was trying to prevent. The Haitian National Police were investigating other deaths, he added.
Responding to criticism that he might have focused too much on security after the earthquake, Mr. Mulet said security was a primary and necessary part of MINUSTAH’s mandate, to which had been added humanitarian assistance, which it had handled well. As for other areas of the mandate, he said another priority was constitutional reform, which would regularize five-year terms for lawmakers and legalize dual citizenship. A national referendum on that subject, to be conducted before the elections, was under MINUSTAH’s mandate but would require additional resources, he said.
Asked about the adoption of orphaned children, he said the process had been stopped for now pending better controls from Government institutions. Such problems plagued multiple sectors because of the enormous devastation, but they would be dealt with in time, he stressed. “The capacity to deal with everything at the same time is just not there.”
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