Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

13 January 2010

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

13 January 2010
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, everybody.

Welcome to this briefing, our noon briefing.  As you can see we have with us the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes.  As you know, we had a stakeout this morning.  This is a chance to update you.  We will be trying to update you throughout the day with further briefings.

With that, I’ll hand over to Mr. Holmes.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

Thank you very much, Martin.  And good afternoon, everybody.

Forgive me if I go through some of the things that you’ve heard already.  But just so we try and get some of the facts out on what we’re doing.  The main point to make, obviously, is that we’re extremely concerned about the human and humanitarian impact of what has obviously been a devastating earthquake in Haiti, particularly in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas.

I think you know the basic facts that the earthquake was 7.0 on the Richter scale; struck at approximately 16.53 hours local time yesterday, some 17 kilometres from Port-au-Prince and at a depth of less than 10 kilometres, which helps to explain why it’s been so devastating for the capital.  There have been many aftershocks and those are continuing.

Just to give you some of the basics again, the population of Port-au-Prince is around 2.8 million people.  And the population of Haiti altogether is just over 9 million.  We believe that there are something like 3 to 3.5 million people who live in areas which have been affected by strong shaking from the earthquake.  We have limited information about the impact of the earthquake not only in Port-au-Prince, but also in surrounding areas.  But we know that, for example, in the city of Jacmel, which I think is north-west of Port-au-Prince, there are many buildings down there, too.  And the town of Carrefour, which is not far from Port-au-Prince, has also been significantly affected, while the town of Gonaïves, which is farther away, which was very badly affected by the cyclones a couple of years ago, or a year ago I should say, has not been so badly affected, as far as we know.

Initial reports suggest a high number of casualties and, of course, widespread damage.  But, I don’t have any figures that I can give you of any reliability about what the number of casualties will be or indeed the full extent of the damage.  But, we’re still trying to get good information about that.  As you know, the UN has been part of the victims of this earthquake.  The main MINUSTAH [UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti] headquarters in the Hotel Christopher collapsed, and there are still some 50 to 100 MINUSTAH staff who are trapped in there, and I don’t have any more news to give you about that or about the SRSG or his Deputy at the moment, I’m afraid.

Other UN installations were also affected, particularly UNDP, which had a smaller building destroyed, and we believe there were 10 staff of them trapped in the rubble as well.  The other UN agencies, as I said to some of you this morning, seem to be in relatively better shape.  UNICEF, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization ‑‑ through their Pan American Health Organization ‑‑ and others seem to be less affected and, therefore, hopefully should be able to be operational reasonably soon.

Such information as we do have, including a helicopter reconnaissance of the city by MINUSTAH early this morning, show a lot of damage to the downtown area and other parts of Port-au-Prince and some damage to the port.  The airport is working.  To some extent, I think the control tower is damaged or destroyed, but the runway seems to be operating, which is helpful.  So, aircraft are beginning to come and go from there.

There has been a lot of damage to infrastructure, particularly to hospitals, as well as to homes.  There is no electricity for the moment; the water supply is also cut off in most of the city.  Communications, as many of you will have found for yourself, are also extremely difficult for normal lines and most mobile lines, as well.  Some of the main roads are now open and functioning, but others are obviously blocked.

The main immediate need, as I said this morning, is for search and rescue; urgent search and rescue.  There is some progress to report on that, in the sense that I believe a Chinese search and rescue team has already arrived at the airport at least in Port-au-Prince.  I believe two US teams will arrive this afternoon, and perhaps two more tomorrow; hopefully with heavy equipment, as well as experts and dogs and so on.  Others are on the way from many countries, including France, and Iceland and elsewhere, and not least also from the Dominican Republic.  So, that kind of help is beginning to arrive.  But, of course, it is desperately needed, and as you’re all aware, every hour counts in this kind of situation, where people are trapped under the rubble and desperately in need of being rescued.

There is also, again, as I said this morning at the stakeout, a desperate need for medical help, medical teams, medical supplies.  The hospitals have been very badly affected.  I think such hospitals as are working are being overwhelmed by the number of injured and their injuries.  So, that’s another very urgent need.  Otherwise clean water will be or it is, I think, an urgent need, too, in the absence of a properly functioning water supply.  Food is needed, shelter will be needed, because many people are on the streets and are unable to return to their homes.  So, there will be many needs there which we’re trying to assess as best we can at the moment.  Obviously, we have very limited information.  We expect those needs to increase, and we’re making a major effort in the UN system; of course the NGOs [non-governmental organizations] as well; the humanitarian NGOs, to gear up, to mobilize to give as much help as we can, as quickly as we can.  And, of course, many countries are also offering help bilaterally.  The US, France, Canada, the UK, the European Union ‑‑ many others also in Latin America have already offered help or help is already on the way in terms of planes.  We don’t have all the details yet, but there is a very significant and generous international response already under way, and I welcome that very much, because as I said, I think this is a major humanitarian crisis and the needs are going to be extremely great.

And the advantage we have in this particular case is that we do have humanitarian agencies on the ground already; they’re functioning, and they’ve been there from previous crises, not least the cyclones of 2008, so that we have a head-start.  But, obviously all the agencies, including OCHA, ourselves, including the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF, the NGOs are mobilizing extra staff, extra teams and relief supplies as fast as they possibly can.  And we’re trying to coordinate that in the usual way as best we can.  As I said this morning, we’re hoping to issue a flash appeal very quickly; indeed, in the next two or three days.  I don’t know how much that will be for, or what the breakdown of that will be; that really is too early to say.  But, we’ll issue that as quickly as we can on the basis of whatever knowledge we have.  We have already committed, as the Secretary-General announced this morning, $10 million as a kick-start from the Central Emergency Response Fund, and we’re ready to release more as required by the situation.

So, assistance is already under way from the World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization on the medical side and other ‑‑ obviously, UNICEF and NGOs.  The World Food Programme is already responding; they’re airlifting, I think, 86 metric tonnes of food from their emergency harbour in El Salvador already in the form of energy biscuits, which will feed 30,000 people for up to seven days.  But, also a lot more will be on the way very shortly, together with extra emergency staff, and UNICEF is taking a particular interest, apart from the medical side, in water and sanitation, which is going to be a particular problem, as I said.

So, I think, as I said, there is a significant international effort already under way.  Inevitably, it takes a little time to get everything on the ground, but we’re working as hard as we possibly can in the UN system, in the humanitarian community more widely, and in the international community beyond that.  Of course, Haiti is a very poor country, as you’re all very well aware, which has been struck by many disasters in its past and, therefore, has relatively little capacity to tackle these issues itself and, therefore, will be particularly in need of international aid at this time around.

So, let me stop there and respond to your questions.

Questions and Answers

Question:  Do you have any figure, even now, of the death of the UN personnel there; the disappearance of the Head of the Mission, for example?  Any news about him?

Under-Secretary-General:  As I said, we don’t have any news about him at the moment.  We believe that he and his deputy and many others are under the rubble of the Hotel Christopher.  We don’t have any news of whether they’re dead or alive or what their situation is.  We’re hoping for the best, but obviously extremely concerned about them.  And we don’t really have any very reliable figures we can give you for other deaths either, even of the peacekeepers.  I think individual peacekeeping countries have been releasing their figures.  We can’t necessarily confirm them.  We’re not disputing them, but we can’t necessarily confirm them, and we don’t have a consolidated figure to give you at the moment.  I hope as the day runs we’ll be in a better position to answer that question.

Question:  Just follow-up on that.  I remember this morning the Secretary-General said 100 to 150 unaccounted for.  Has that been revised?

Under-Secretary-General:  I think 50 to 100 are in that building.  But if you add the number who were also unaccounted for from UNDP who were not in that building, were in another building, I think the figure rises to near 150; so that’s the difference between those two figures.

Question:  What about the hotel, the hotel where UN staffers, how many people are under the rubble there?

Under-Secretary-General:  I don’t think we have any exact… You mean the Hotel Montana?

Question:  Yes, the Montana.

Under-Secretary-General:  I’m not aware of any exact figure of how many people.  We know that some UN staff live there.  I, at least, haven’t got any exact figures to give you on how many they are or how many are unaccounted for at the moment.

Question:  The President of Haiti has said that the death toll will be in the thousands.  Do you agree with that?  Or do you think it’s possible it could rise to the tens of thousands?

Under-Secretary-General:  Well, you know, I really don’t have any good idea.  I mean, I think it’s perfectly possible that it will be in the thousands; the damage is obviously very significant both of infrastructure, large public buildings and individual homes.  So, it wouldn’t be surprising, but I really don’t have anything reliable to say on exactly where it will fix up.

Question:  The Secretary-General spoke of his Special [Envoy] Bill Clinton this morning; what is his role going to be, especially in the flash appeal, and also, how are you going to compute the flash appeal?  How does it work?  I mean, how do you come up with a number?

Under-Secretary-General:  Well, on the first point, we’re talking to President Clinton and his staff about exactly what role he can play.  I mean, he’s an extremely valuable asset in these circumstances, I’m sure he’ll want to be part of any flash appeal we launch, and also part of longer-term reconstruction efforts that will be very much consistent with the mandate that he has at the moment as the Special Envoy.  For the flash appeal, what we try to do is to get the best fix we can on the extent of the damage and the extent of the needs.  In two or three days it will be very rough and ready.  But we also try to have not only an overall figure that we can arrive at, which will need to be revised later; that’s part of the process, hundreds of millions of dollars, whatever it may be; and also a breakdown between the basic needs of food, water and sanitation, shelter, medical aid, and so on.  So, that’s how it’s put together.  Working with all the agencies and the NGOs who come to us with what they think they need, we then make an overall assessment of that and come up with the best that we can do in the circumstances.

Question:  [inaudible]

Under-Secretary-General:  I have, honestly, no idea.

Question:  Nothing yet?

Under-Secretary-General:  No.

Question:  A question about the airport.  Is it being administered now by the UN peacekeeping force or anything?  And also, is aid going to be flown into Haiti or going via the Dominican Republic?

Under-Secretary-General:  As I understand it at the moment, the airport is functioning, but not really being controlled by anybody in the sense that the normal civilian controls have been damaged or destroyed.  There is obviously a question about whether MINUSTAH, the peacekeeping mission, can take over in some form; at least temporarily to provide some basic kind of air traffic control.  But, at the moment it’s a bit wild, I think, it’s perhaps the best way of putting it; but it is operating under [inaudible] between arrivals is being done as best as we can.  And what was the second part of your question?

Question:  The second part was: is aid going to be flown in directly, because I know that air traffic control was damaged and I didn’t know…

Under-Secretary-General:  Well, we assume that that can be replaced in some way by some system or other as fast as possible.  And we’ll obviously want to use the airport, particularly for search and rescue teams to enable them to get in as fast as possible.  But, also for aid arriving and that’s sometimes a problem about channelling that and controlling it.  But, I think that we’ll need to use the Dominican Republic, as well.  So, we’ll be exploring all these possibilities, as well as the possibility of aid arriving by sea; although, as I say, I think there are reports that the port is at least partly damaged, too.

Question:  [inaudible]…State Department a half an hour ago, and the General, I don’t remember, Frazer from CentCom said, was talking about the situation at the airport and he said that the tower was being actually fixed by the American, I understand, military.  Do you have any confirmation of this?

Under-Secretary-General:  I don’t have confirmation.  I think there was a discussion about whether the US military should take over air traffic control, whether the UN could do it.  It’s a little bit unclear at this moment as I speak.  I’m not an expert on that, obviously, but that’s the discussion going on.

Question:  Given the nature of the UN forces on the ground, is there any concern that there is going to be a deterioration in security and make the situation worse?  And that MINUSTAH is so damaged right now, is there concern that security can break down even further?

Under-Secretary-General:  Well, there obviously is concern about security, as there is in any situation like this.  I mean, it’s not just a question of MINUSTAH; it’s obviously the local law and order forces are in a state of a degree of disorder, because they’re all personally affected, no doubt, and the command structure has been affected.  MINUSTAH, itself, obviously has been, is lacking its top leadership at the moment, because of those who were trapped under the rubble in the Hotel Christopher.  There is another Deputy Special Representative to the Secretary-General who is also the Resident Coordinator, humanitarian coordinator who is in control.  Edmond Mulet will be getting there, as you know, as soon as possible to take over there.  But, as I understand it, the military part of MINUSTAH is still functional, still operating, the contingents are working as hard as they can; they’re trying to secure some of the main infrastructure, the main routes and so on.  And I think security will be an issue.  I hope very much not.  But, clearly people will be looking for help quickly and so maintaining security will be an important part of the response, at some point.

Question:  Have you had any reports of any looting at this point?

Under-Secretary-General:  Not of any significance.  I have seen stories of very little bits of looting overnight, but nothing more serious than that so far.  So, I think it’s not a major phenomenon at this stage.

Question:  How many bodies from the UN staff have been already recovered?

Under-Secretary-General:  I honestly can’t give you an accurate figure, I’m sorry, that’s …

Question:  [inaudible]…any body have…

Under-Secretary-General:  No, I think we have recovered some bodies, I think from the Hotel Christopher.  I think Alain Le Roy mentioned five this morning, if I remember rightly, but we don’t have any very good accurate figures on that.  And of course, most of the people are still underneath the rubble, so that’s why the figures are very…[interrupted].

Question:  You said 10 were recovered; fewer than 5 were dead?

Under-Secretary-General:  Yeah.

Question:  That has not changed?

Under-Secretary-General:  That has not changed, as far as I know.

Question:  What about this…[French Foreign Minister Bernard] Kouchner saying on radio in France that he knew that Mr. [Hédi] Annabi was lost.  Have you contacted the French on how he knows that?

Spokesperson:  He said probably.

Question:  Probably?

Spokesperson:  But we cannot confirm that.  As Mr. Holmes has said, these people are unaccounted for.

Question:  Can you confirm it?

Under-Secretary-General:  Well, no, I can’t.

Question:  Don’t you think that the situation right now deserves that Mr. Mulet goes right away to Port-au-Prince?  I mean, there are already teams heading there, why wait for two days or…?

Under-Secretary-General:  Well, he’ll be leaving this evening, I think, and should be there early tomorrow.

Question:  I thought he was going on Friday.

Under-Secretary-General:  Well, I think he’s getting there faster than that because the situation does need that sort of control.

Question:  [inaudible]…and do you think the supplies they have in Haiti [inaudible]

Under-Secretary-General:  I don’t think they’re good enough.  I think we have some supplies on hand in the agencies and the NGOs in Haiti itself.  I think there are some limited supplies also in the Dominican Republic.  There are others in El Salvador; there is, what do they call it, a depot there.  There are others in Panama, as well.  So, you know, we’ll be mobilizing all those and from Brindisi and all other depots all around the world as fast as we can.  But, what’s on the spot will not last very long, frankly.

Question:  [inaudible]…as past experience has proven that communication is vital in such situation.  You didn’t mention that if there was a need of any satellite, functioning satellites to support mobile phones, and I guess that is a must, as previous experience has shown.  Consideration has been to security and stability, but I do think that, especially in relation to the function of the peacekeeping cost, first of all, I mean they have to rescue themselves, because I know that certain officers, as well as the members, have been held in the buildings, which has collapsed already.  But, certainly I do think they have double-folded even, I mean multi-folded functions like rescuing themselves, as well as maintaining the stability, as well as security, so that there won’t be any serious cases or violence against others happening, as well as opening blockage of the roads so that the efficiency of other rescue work can be done efficiently.  So, my question is:  have we worked out a strategy or a scheme to make it more efficient?  Is there a plan or is there a plan being discussed?  Thank you.

Under-Secretary-General:  On the first point you make about communications; they clearly are vital.  We have some satellite links ourselves, obviously, with the MINUSTAH Mission, which as I said this morning, we’d been using.  So, we’re in touch on a constant basis with the people there and the Mission and the military.  And, of course, also with our agencies, when we can get through to them.  But, there is a major problem there; until the phone lines get back up there, I think Telecom sans Frontiers, which is an emergency telecommunications organization which works with us, is already deploying their people there.  The World Food Programme has a logistics and communications responsibility on the humanitarian side, so they’ll be looking at what they can do.  And no doubt others will be working on that, too.  So, I think there are plenty of efforts to get communications back up as much as possible, because they are vital, as you say.

On what MINUSTAH can do, clearly yes, they do some issues of looking after themselves and looking after the rest of the UN presence there.  But, to the maximum extent possible, they will be used to help the broader population, to help the broader situation, to maintain security and to keep major arteries open and the port and the airport.  That’s how we’re trying to use them.  I mean, it’s not my responsibility, my mandate, but we’re doing as much as we can, and of course there is an intensive discussion going on between the headquarters and the acting force commander who is there, the acting head of MINUSTAH, to decide exactly, and of course with the troop contributors as well, to decide in detail how they can best be used and how they can best be deployed.  But, this is very much a moving target; it’s not something where you can have an easy cut-and-dried plan.

Question:  Mr. Holmes, two questions.  First, has the United Nations been in touch with the leadership in Haiti, and actually, is anybody actually running the country at this point?  It appears from what the UN said that at least MINUSTAH, from what Mr. Le Roy said earlier today, has troops out at the port, the airport, patrolling.  So, is this the major extent of who is in control of the country?  And I’d also like you to double-check on the figures of how many people are actually missing, because it was quite clear from what Mr. Le Roy said this morning that there were over 100 people under the UN headquarters.  And then Helen Clark got up and talked about separately another 38 people missing.  And now that you’ve gone down to between 50 and 100, I think we really need some clarification.

Under-Secretary-General:  Okay.  Well, on the first point, I don’t have a lot to add to what we said this morning; that we have been in touch indirectly with President [René] Préval, we know he is alive.  I’m not sure of the exact current situation whether we’ve had any more contact with him and his ministers, but clearly the Government is beginning to get its act together and recover from this, and we’ll be in touch with them as soon as we can. I know that one of the intentions of Mr. Mulet, as soon as he arrives, is to be in touch with President Préval, if he can.  On the figures, there is not a lot more that I can add.  As far as I know, the right figure for those under the rubble is 50 to 100.  That’s what we believe, but, as you can see from that, it’s not an exact target.  And then there is the other 38 which are mentioned as missing from UNDP. Or unaccounted for from the UNDP, and there is another building of UNDP, annex building, which has also collapsed and they released 10 people under that.  They are part of the 38, just to be clear.  So, that’s the distinction between the 50 to 100 and the 100 to 150 that the Secretary-General mentioned.  Martin, have I got that right?  You want to refine it?

Spokesperson:  I think that’s right.  And clearly as Mr. Holmes has said, this is extremely fluid because there are some people who are simply not accounted for.  Local staff who may be at home and we can’t contact them or they may have been inside the building.  That’s the kind of challenge we face to figure out exactly how many people are trapped and how many in the UN building and how many people were already at home.

Question:  [inaudible]…last night Mr. Le Roy said that there were about 20 to 50 people who work in that building normally; therefore, you must know that some people are accounted for.

Under-Secretary-General:  We know that quite a number of them got out, particularly those who are in the lower floors; and that’s why we believe there about 50 to 100 who are still trapped there.  That’s what we’ve been told from the ground.

Question:  That’s what you’ve been from the ground.

Under-Secretary-General:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  Some people, of course, were able to escape and some of those people are at the logistics base that’s been mentioned which is near to the airport, and that’s why they’re accounted for.  At that time of day, shortly after 5 p.m., some people may already have been expected to have left the building and others, of course, were still in the building.  That’s why there is some uncertainty about some people.

Question:  What about the Force Commander?  What does he say?  The UN Force Commander over there.  Has he given you any [inaudible].

Under-Secretary-General:  Well, the Force Commander himself, I think, was out of the country at the time, and he’s getting back.  The Deputy Force Commander was there.

Question:  [inaudible]

Under-Secretary-General:  Well, these are all the figures we’re trying to compile, I’m sorry, you know, I can’t give you more accurate figures because I don’t want to give you inaccurate figures because that’s worse.  We’ll…

Question: What about the Chinese delegation?

Under-Secretary-General:  …do the best we can later in the day.

Question:  The Chinese delegation [inaudible]…

Spokesperson:  Unaccounted for.

Question:  How many were they?

Spokesperson:  I’m not sure.  We can find out.  But… I beg your pardon?

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  It was a relatively high-level delegation, but I don’t know the details.

Under-Secretary-General:  It’s a Police delegation; Chinese Police delegation, I believe.

Question:  During the Gaza war we managed to get a couple of times a video teleconference with John Ging, and it was mentioned this morning, I think by Alain Le Roy, that you’d had a video teleconference with the Deputy Force Commander.  I’m wondering, particularly for the benefit of my TV colleagues, but also for those of us who crave [inaudible]… on the ground whether there is any possibility today of getting some kind of video hook-up for the press with somebody in the UN in Port-au-Prince?

Spokesperson:  I am aware that we’ve been working since this morning to try to make precisely this happen ‑‑ whether we can, because obviously that channel is needed for coordinating relief efforts.  But we’re very much aware that this is a window on what’s happening and we’re trying to make that happen.  And with your indulgence, I’ve just received this, some points which have been phoned through to us from MINUSTAH; from the headquarters and if you don’t mind I could read it out.  It’s duplicating some of what Mr. Holmes has already mentioned.  It’s coming from the acting spokesperson of MINUSTAH, who has managed to get through to us on the phone and has given us some material:

The earthquake has caused major damage in the Port-au-Prince area, as well as in Jacmel.  The National Palace, the Cathedral, the Ministry of Justice and other important Government offices have been destroyed.  Hotels, hospitals, schools and the national penitentiary have all suffered extensive damage.

Casualties, which are vast, can only be estimated.  An unknown number ‑‑ tens if not hundreds of thousands ‑‑ have suffered varying degrees of destruction to their homes.

Haitians, fearful of houses collapsing on them or of a second earthquake, slept in the streets of Port-au-Prince last night.  Electricity supplies have been interrupted.  Water is in short supply.  Some major transportation routes have been severely disrupted by surface cracks, rocks and boulders, fallen trees and smashed cars.

Both the Government of Haiti and the UN in Haiti have appealed for immediate and extensive relief supplies and assistance, including search and rescue capacity and medical personnel.

This is obviously something that Mr. Holmes has just spoken about.  This is coming from the field; it’s amplifying what we already have.

And MINUSTAH ‑‑ in fact, this is already overtaken by events that the Chinese is to arrive; it would appear that it has already arrived.

Other UN offices, in addition to the Christopher Hotel, have also been damaged, and 10 people are missing from the UNDP compound that houses UNFPA, UNAIDS, UNIFEM, WFP, OCHA and UNEP.  But again, this is something you’ve heard before.

UN personnel seriously injured in the earthquake were evacuated from all sites overnight to UN medical facilities near the airport, which remains operational.  And other search and rescue teams are reported to be arriving from Guadeloupe and the Dominican Republic and the United States.  They will be deployed to major Government buildings, hotels and hospitals.  UN soldiers and police are helping to maintain law and order, as well as assisting with rescue operations.

The earthquake was felt as far afield as Les Cayes in the south-west and Gonaïves to the north, little destruction has been reported in far-flung areas of the country.  However, in the capital region, destruction is massive and broad, while Haitian services are visibly unable to cope.

Staff from the UN agencies, funds and programmes and from MINUSTAH’s offices at Hotel Christopher have regrouped at the mission’s logistics base, as I mentioned to you, attached to the Port-au-Prince airport, where they continue coordinating and supporting the incoming international relief effort.

So, that’s fresh from the mission.

Question:  Who is that?  The acting spokesperson?

Spokesperson:  It’s the acting spokesperson, and I will give you his name afterwards.  We’ll send it around.  [He later said it was Vincenzo Pugliese.]

Question:  What about Michèle Montas?

Spokesperson:  On Michèle Montas, for those who obviously don’t know ‑‑ of course, most people do, but for the benefit of those who do not know ‑‑ my predecessor in this job is Haitian and a very distinguished journalist in her own right.  One of my colleagues spoke to her daughter and so far we have no confirmation except to say that she did, she was travelling to Haiti to be with her mother.  We do not have any further information.  An unconfirmed sighting, I’ll put it like that, but nothing further.  Of course, I know that you’re interested; you know her very well.  We will give you information as and when we get it.  [He later said that her family members said that Michèle Montas had been accounted for.]

Question:  They don’t have the capacity in Haiti even in the best of times; the roads are bad, the electricity is inconsistent.  How is that aspect of the country being taken into account in terms of your planning and how is that coming up in meetings and so forth?

Under-Secretary-General:  Well, obviously one of the things we always assess in any disaster like this is “What is the capacity of the country itself?  What is the infrastructure like?” because that is going to affect the nature of the response, the extent of the response, that’s needed.  The more we can rely on national capacity, the better, from our point of view.  In this case, we assume that capacity is limited; we know that capacity is limited from previous experiences, including the four hurricanes which struck simultaneously or in short order a few months ago.  So we’re assuming that the international community will have to be very, very heavily engaged in the relief effort and we’ll have to provide a lot of the assistance which might in other circumstances, in other countries, come from the country itself.

Question:  Could you give examples?

Under-Secretary-General:  Well, for example, there was a large earthquake in Indonesia a few months ago.  Indonesia has more capacity, more resources, better organization, and is, therefore, better able to deal with many things itself in terms of immediate provision of food, water and rescue facilities.  These are going to have to be provided more from the outside in this case than in that case.

Question:  Are you going to be rolling bulldozers onto airplanes…?

Under-Secretary-General:  Well, heavy equipment is one of the big problems for the search and rescue operations.  Some of the search and rescue teams coming from overseas will have lifting equipment with them.  Some of them don’t.  We are trying to get that lifting equipment from wherever we can ‑‑ from the US, from the Dominican Republic ‑‑ because that’s absolutely crucial if the teams are going to be able to save lives, including in the Hotel Christopher.  That’s exactly what’s needed there now.

Question:  I want to know if Haiti, or if Port-au-Prince in particular, was a quote “family post”, meaning that the international staff could have their families there.  And also, this issue of whether the Hotel Christopher was a quote “MOSS [Minimum Operating Safety Standards] compliant”, whether it had been inspected by the Department of Safety and Security (DSS).  There’s a procurement thing that they did to try to bring it into compliance.  Were you aware of whether it had actually passed UN muster or not?  And then, just finally on that search and rescue, how did the Chinese search and rescue get there so quickly, in less than 24 hours?  Was it somehow in the Caribbean?  Do you have any idea where that came from?

Under-Secretary-General:  On the first two questions, I’m not sure of the exact answer to your question, whether it’s a family duty station or not.  I honestly don’t know.  I think we’ll need to check; I don’t want to give the wrong answer.  I think there are some families there, but exactly what the status is ‑‑ I’ll need to check.  Again, I can’t answer your question about the exact status in terms of MOSS compliance and so on of the building.  I don’t think it was in any doubt, but I really don’t know more than that.  And the Chinese team, I believe, came from Beijing, and I think one of the reasons they mobilized so quickly in this case is because there was, of course, a Chinese delegation involved and trapped in the rubble.

Question:  [inaudible]

Under-Secretary-General:  Through the airport.

Question:  [inaudible] the Cuban authorities.  Cuba seems to have a good record in terms of providing medical help in these kinds of cases.

Under-Secretary-General:  I think you’re right, that Cuba does have that record.  But I haven’t been in touch with them directly.  I don’t know whether anybody else has yet.  But we’re obviously in touch with a large number of Governments around the world in terms of providing assistance.

Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you very much.  As you do know, Mr. Le Roy will be briefing, so we’ll be able to provide an update.  I also have Jean-Victor here, who can tell you a little bit about what’s happening on the General Assembly side, and I also can help if you have any further questions to do with Haiti.  Thanks very much.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  We have a brief announcement.

Following up on the earthquake that hit Haiti yesterday, causing an overwhelming damage and the loss of many lives of Haitians, United Nations staff and peacekeepers, the acting President of the General Assembly is convening an informal plenary meeting of the General Assembly today at 4 p.m. in Conference Room 1 to hear a briefing by the Secretary-General on the situation on the ground.  The President of the General Assembly will continue to follow closely the situation in Haiti, in close coordination with the Secretary-General, in supporting the efforts of the United Nations and its specialized agencies on the ground.

We also have online the statement that was made during the night from the President of the General Assembly on the situation in Haiti.

Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  And I can add that the Secretary-General will speak to the media after that; after he has briefed the General Assembly.  Again, as you can see, it’s a moving target, this means that we may well need to try to shift the briefing by Mr. Le Roy.  But we will figure it out.  We’re trying to help you to get as much information across as we possibly can.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  Yes, we will let you know.  We’ll squawk it as we usually do and send out an e-mail as we usually do once we confirm exactly where.  Clearly, again it’s going to be possibly a waiting game because he’s speaking to the General Assembly.  So, please bear that in mind.  Yes, you have a question?

Question:  I was just asking that if the Le Roy briefing has either been postponed or has [inaudible]… can we do it early…  The Head of the Department of Field Support should be available before 4 p.m. as well.  Why don’t we do it early?

Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  Well, we’re figuring out how we can do it, okay?  And we’ll let you know.  There are many factors involved, including what these people have to do to help to coordinate the relief efforts.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  I will find out.  Mrs. Malcorra is here and she spoke to journalists this morning.  Okay.

Question:  [inaudible]…

Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  It’s not true.  One of my colleagues spoke to him and the reason that he is… he is the Communications Director.  David is the Communications Director.  The spokesperson has just gone on maternity leave; that’s the reason, okay.

Question:  [inaudible]…

Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  One of my colleagues spoke to him this morning.

Question:  [inaudible]…

Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  I do not know that.  There are many people who are unaccounted for, obviously.  There are many people you know, but there are also many other people that you do not know we’re trying to account for, not just UN personnel, as well.  This is a big, big disaster.  This is going to be the final question; Mr. Abbadi, yes.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General ask the President of the Assembly for this special meeting this afternoon or was it an initiative on the part of the President or in consultation with the SG?

Spokesperson for President of the General Assembly:  It is an initiative of the President of the General Assembly in consultation with the Secretary-General and the Secretariat.

Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  All right, thank you very much.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.