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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General's press encounter following Security Council adoption of resolution on Haiti

New York, 19 January 2010

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary measures and extraordinary decisiveness.

I am therefore grateful to the Security Council for its swift action today.

The earthquake struck one week ago today and we have been working non-stop ever since.

By approving my proposal, yesterday, to send an additional 2,000 soldiers and 1,500 police officers to Haiti, the Council sends a clear signal: The world is with Haiti.

I am sure Member States will respond quickly as well. We must do all we can to get these extra forces on the ground as soon as possible so that they can help maintain order and deliver humanitarian assistance.

Search and rescue operations continue. Ninety people have been saved by 43 international teams made up of 1700 people. There are still lives to be saved.

Our relief operations are gearing up quickly. For those who have lost everything, of course, help cannot come soon enough.

The good news is that we are making rapid progress, despite the extremely difficult logistical challenges.

Capacity at the airport is improving. Yesterday I spoke once again with President [Barack] Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The President reaffirmed their support for the UN's work.

In particular, I emphasized the importance of re-opening harbor facilities in Port au Prince. We expect one of the main ports to begin operations very soon.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton expressed their condolences for the sacrifice of UN staff. They assured me that they will do everything possible to support the United Nations role in coordinating the humanitarian operations in Haiti.

Water supplies are increasing. Tents and temporary shelters are arriving in growing numbers. Badly damaged hospitals are beginning to function again, aided by international medical teams.

We distributed daily food rations yesterday for nearly 200,000 people. We expect to be reaching approximately 1 million people within a week.

Our chief priority right now is to get the relief distribution system in Port au Prince fully operational so that we may more efficiently distribute supplies – food, water, medicine, tents and other essential items.

We will have more than 200 such distribution centers functioning shortly.

Coordination is critical. The cluster system is now up and running. Twelve such clusters are now in operation, led by UN agencies.

A health cluster run by the World Health Organization, for example, is organizing medical assistance among 21 international agencies.

We are concerned, however, that numbers of unsolicited and uncoordinated supplies and personnel entering the country will stretch limited logistical resources and interfere with the delivery of vital aid.

I appeal to all international NGOs and aid groups to work closely with the UN to make sure that our joint efforts complement one another, and not duplicate them.

We have already turned our attention to outlying regions, as well as the capital city. As you know, in certain areas, such as Leogane the situation is every bit as critical, if not more so, than in Port au Prince.

Thank you very much. I am ready for your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you emphasized that you're glad that the Security Council worked so quickly. Can you be more specific about how quickly you believe these extra troops can be on the ground? Is there a target? And can you further update us on what troop contributing countries have come forward?

SG: Of course, that depends on how quickly the Member States will act. We have already received some indications, proposals from several countries already. Therefore, I believe that the deployment of additional troops and police forces will be done quite quickly. And it is very important that we deploy them as quickly as possible, because in every aspect of our operation there, we are running against time.

Q: Three thousand, five hundred [personnel] - you think will be enough or are you considering to add more in the near future?

SG: I made my recommendation based on very careful assessment by various agencies, as well as countries. Therefore, at this time, with the existing forces of MINUSTAH that may be up to almost 12,000 forces, we will try to use existing and additional forces as effectively as possible to operate and address all situations there.

Q: Would you be considering changing the mandate of the force MINUSTAH in the longer term?

SG: No, we have not yet discussed that matter. We have a robust mandate by the Security Council, so whatever situation may come up, I am sure that we are in a good position to address all situations.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, the Dominican Republic has offered a battalion – it has been said publicly – they've also said that they are very concerned about immigration and people crossing the border. Does the UN have anything to say whether countries should loosen their immigration restrictions on Haitians, or otherwise, after this crisis? And also, does the UN still have gas to run its trucks? There was a report in USA Today that the UN was running out of gas for its food distribution trucks.

SG: From the beginning of this crisis, the Dominican Republic Government has been providing very generously and swiftly all possible assistance to their neighbouring country, Haiti, and we are very much grateful to them. I am also aware of the Dominican Republic's intention to dispatch troops there - that is also welcome. For the immigration issues, I am also aware that the Dominican Republic Government is trying to accommodate as many as possible, those people within the existing rules and regulations of their country, but they have been very generous. Of course, this fuel is quite limited in Haiti. Ten thousand gallons of fuel, I think, arrived last night from the Dominican Republic. That will help more, as we continue our operations.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, it is one week past the earthquake, as you said, and the UN and others are now providing food for 200,000 people, yet there are, perhaps 3 million, 3½ million people affected by this earthquake, and a lot of them have had no food. And, as we see, violence is starting to increase. Why, after one week, hasn't more food and water got into the country? That's what the people there are asking. What are the bottlenecks?

SG: In the initial period, there have been some difficulties and some bottlenecks in delivering our relief items. We have set up 15 food distribution centres and, as I told you, the number of people who will get assistance will increase to 1 million within this week, and within 2 addition weeks, we will increase our assistance to at least 2 million people, so that is our target. The situation is overwhelming. I am sure that we will have better organized structured systems to deliver food. Now, in the airport, we have dual systems - this is giving priority to humanitarian aircraft. This is a dual priority slotting system at the airport. And we have opened new corridors on land and, as I told you earlier, we may be able to have port facilities opening sometime next week. That will very significantly improve our capacity to deliver the outpouring of relief items. That is what we are working on very hard. Even so, there may be some complaints and difficulties and inconveniencies in [creating] a better organized delivery system. We need to be a little bit more patient, but we are working day and night, so you can trust the United Nations and the international community's work.

Q: That coordination level between the United Nations and other international troops in Haiti – is it good enough for you, or are you still looking for more coordination?

SG: This framework is well structured now. My Acting Special Representative, he is in close coordination with the American Ambassador, and the Force Commander has a close relationship with General [Ken] Keen there. And they are, of course, coordinating with President [Rene] Préval and the Prime Minister of Haiti. Therefore, we have a well structured framework of coordination. But, on the ground, we have seen some difficulties when it comes to deliver actual relief items, because of the over-demand and the extraordinary situation. I have seen for myself how many people are without homes and shelters, and we have to work very hard according to this cluster system, twelve cluster systems which are now working properly. So you will see a much improved situation in terms of coordination, in terms of delivering aid to people who need it.

Thank you very much.