10 January 2011
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Haiti’s Reconstruction, One Year after Earthquake

Ahead of the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the country told correspondents at Headquarters today that most humanitarian targets had been achieved while reconstruction should be accelerated, though that would necessarily be a long-term process.

“Speeding up the reconstruction process is absolutely the priority for 2011,” Nigel Fisher, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti told correspondents via video teleconference from the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

“But this is clearly a multiyear challenge,” he cautioned, noting that Haiti, before the seismic disaster, already had the lowest level of development indicators in the Western hemisphere, with less than half of school-age children receiving an education and 60 per cent of the population lacking access to clean water.  Much effort would have to be devoted to building back better.

Mr. Fisher stressed that the initial response to the 12 January 2010 quake had been a success despite the tragic loss of 102 United Nations staff members and the already weak Government’s loss of some 40 per cent of its civil servants.  Within 72 hours, the initial needs assessment had been completed and within four days, teams had been deployed to the field.

In the emergency phase, he said, up to April, 1.5 million people had been provided with shelter, millions received medical assistance, 11,000 latrines had been supplied and basic water and sanitation was available to 1.7 million people, many of whom had such access on a regular basis for the first time.  At the end of the first phase, the nutritional status of those in the earthquake zone was better than those outside.

Donors funded 72 per cent of emergency needs, with almost $1 billion received, he said.  However, camp coordination and management received only half of their requested funding, he added, congratulating the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and others for overcoming the shortfall.

In April to early May, he said, the focus of the national authorities and the international community had turned from maintaining basic needs to stimulating a return to communities both old and new.  Things could have gone quicker, but in addition to the need to build back better, the Interim Commission for reconstruction took a while to get going and the cholera epidemic and the election crisis had had effects.

The priority of that second phase was creating basic services and employment, he said.  As of now, 810,000 people were still living in the 1,150 camps that still existed, just over half of peak camp population.  The target of building 30,000 shelters in the first year had been met, meanwhile, and the authorities did a good job of assessing the stability of remaining structures.

He said that one half million people, some 40 per cent women, had participated in cash-for-debris removal and other work.  Ninety-five per cent of the children who had been in school before the quake were now back, albeit in some 1,500 temporary premises, and there were plans to increase educational quality and participation in the coming year.

Since the earthquake, he said, some $3 billion in projects had been approved, with $1.28 billion in funding already transferred and $1.6 billion committed.  Some of those resources would be spent on agriculture, industrial development and infrastructure development, with a considerable acceleration of project implementation expected in 2011.

He explained that $1 billion of that funding came from the humanitarian appeal and $1.5 billion to $2 billion from civil society.  The commitments from the donor event in March, as recently revised, included $2.01 billion for 2010, $2.45 billion for 2011 and $3.9 billion for future years.  He allowed that the amounts were confusing because there were figures that included debt relief, as well as some $800,000 available from existing projects or other sources.

He expressed hope that the new Government, whenever it was formed, would agree with the direction of reconstruction already formulated by the Interim Commission since many projects had already been funded and continuity was important.  In 2011, in addition, there must be a continued focus on multiple challenges including disaster risk reduction in the face of yearly hurricane threats and the reduction of deaths due to cholera.

Asked by correspondents if he saw a viable Government being formed soon, Mr. Fisher said he would not hazard a prediction, but he said that perhaps the analysis of the first round would be completed this week.  He noted that demonstrations had inhibited the ability to respond to the cholera epidemic, in addition to other negative effects.

He acknowledged that the majority of the rubble had yet to be cleared, but maintained that a lot more had been cleared than the 5 per cent figure being discussed.  In any case, many parties were working to accelerate the process.  In order to employ a lot of labour, manual removal of rubble was being accomplished with available crushers.  Local and international trucking firms were being used.  Some $300 million in agricultural projects were also boosting the use of local labour.

He completely rejected accusations that some assistance was conditional on support for the Government.  On criticism that there was too much focus on security, he commented that the “rule of law in Haiti is somewhere between weak and non-existent” and that the focus was necessary.  On cholera, he said that widespread infection was inevitable, given the lack of resistance and sanitary conditions, but the effort to lower the fatality rate was working.

He said that there were some 4,000 small, faith-based non-governmental organizations doing small, local projects in Haiti, but the major ones, which represented some 90 per cent of non-governmental organization funding, were part of the United Nations coordination structure.  He acknowledged the lack of coordination early on, but added that all partners had improved in that area.

The latest realistic estimate of fatalities in the quake stood at 220,000, he said.  Asked what Port-au-Prince might look like in a few years, he said that “social housing”, the first complex of which would be kicked off this week, would be in evidence, though there would still be some areas looking the same.  Rebuilding, he reiterated, would be a long process.

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For information media • not an official record