|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative
to Mark Six-Month Anniversary of Haiti Earthquake
Debris removal, freeing up funds for economic development and bolstering education were among the priority areas facing the Haitian people and the United Nations Mission in that country, Nigel Fisher, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, ad interim, said today.
While the challenges were multipronged, jobs and schools were what people wanted most and those areas would be addressed, said Mr. Fisher, who is also United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, ad interim, speaking by video link from Port-au-Prince to a Headquarters press conference to mark the six-month anniversary of the earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January.
Describing other challenges, he said those included the complicated task of coordinating temporary shelter camps and tackling complex land laws and regulations. The replacement of camps with transitional shelter was moving ahead, with more than 5,000 shelters built to date, he said, adding that 100,000 more shelters were expected to be have been completed by August 2011.
Recalling that two thirds of Haiti’s population had lived in deep poverty before the earthquake, and that many residents of Port-au-Prince lived in slums, he said there had been a significant humanitarian response following the disaster. Millions of people were being fed regularly, 1 million were receiving clean water, and tents were now being replaced with transitional shelter. There had been no major epidemic of measles or cholera, due to prompt health care, the construction of latrines and access to clean water.
One of the most significant elements was the relative calm pervading the 1,300 camps in the area, he said, attributing it to the response by police and military support units. Things could have been much worse, given Haiti’s history of violence, but hundreds of thousands of people had access to cash-for-work programmes, including terracing, dam-building and reconstruction.
Regarding Government records destroyed in the quake, he said the United Nations had registered half a million people whose identity cards had been lost, in addition to assessing thousands of houses for reinforcement or repair. Reconstruction would continue to make homes safe for about 300,000 people, he said, pointing out that 100,000 had returned to date.
Mr. Fisher estimated that several thousand cubic metres of debris had already been removed and a clear strategy to accelerate that programme was under discussion. As for the status of health and nutrition, he said the situation had not worsened, adding that the needs of poor areas, including the capital’s Cité de Soleil, were being addressed.
Pointing out that the 12 January earthquake was one of the biggest urban disasters in living memory, he cautioned that tent cities would not disappear in the near future, recalling that the city of Kobe, in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, had taken seven years to recover from the Great Hanshin earthquake of 17 January 1995.
Asked about the build-up of debris awaiting removal, he said the biggest challenge was the absence of resources and a clear strategy, adding that studies were being conducted on the best ways to remove it.
Responding to a question about failures in working with the private sector, he said online bidding was available, including for projects run by the World Food Programme (WFP). Given the overwhelming initial response to the disaster, Haitian entrepreneurs could have been given the support needed to supply materials, but many had lost their resources, and a special recapitalization fund was needed for the local private sector.
Asked about a report in The New York Times that 28,000 had returned, while figures from today’s press indicated that 100,000 had returned, Mr. Fisher said that, out of an assessment of 170,000 homes, about 125,000 were structurally safe, thus the estimate of about 100,000 people able to return home.
In response to a question about Action Aid’s report claiming that the wishes of donor countries were being addressed instead those of the Haitian people, he said a coordinating body was moving forward and the national plan agreed upon in March 2010 was based on targets to be achieved. The Prime Minister had said he wanted targets for the end of the year, and about $2.6 billion in support had been committed for 2010. Meanwhile, humanitarian relief funds and individual donations were being used, he added.
Mr. Fisher replied to another question by saying he could not comment on whether or not Bernard Ouellette, Chief of Staff of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), had resigned.
Replying to questions about the $2.6 billion allocated this year, and reports of the Government withholding material deliveries with high customs charges, Mr. Fisher said that discussions on the customs charges were continuing.
Much more was needed in order to continue those efforts, he said, noting that there was a need for resources for debris removal, and a response by the Haitian private sector beyond the efforts of non-governmental organizations. Urban reconstruction was another important element, he said, emphasizing the importance of rebuilding better, rather than rebuilding the pre-earthquake chaos in Port-au-Prince. Resolving land-tenure issues was also a critical priority, he stressed in conclusion.
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