Press Conference on Situation in Haiti

12 February 2010

Press Conference on Situation in Haiti

12 February 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Situation in Haiti


As Haitians observed a national day of mourning to mark one month since the massive earthquake levelled much of their capital city, Port-au-Prince, and left more than 200,000 dead, the scale of the disaster was becoming clear, and early recovery programmes were under way to help the traumatised Caribbean nation regain a sense of life and community, senior United Nations officials said today.

Describing one such programme at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, Rebeca Grynspan, Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said the UNDP-led “Cash for Work” programme paid people 180 gourdes for six hours of work per day.  Some 40 per cent of the 35,000 Haitians enrolled were women.  Jobs mainly involved removing rubble from streets and sorting reusable materials.  The programme was being rolled out in Jacmel, Leogane and Carrefour and expected to employ 70,000 people by next week, as it expanded into other parts of the country where resources were scarce.

UNDP had issued a flash appeal requesting $35 million for the programme, she said, adding that $27 million had been received and that a new flash appeal would be issued.  The programme was among the few that were organizing people to take part in the early recovery process.  It had been approved by the Government and was being implemented by UNDP and non-governmental organizations.  The programme had originally paid cash directly to participants, but was now trying to make use of banks to create a more reasonable system.  UNDP was “very optimistic” that the programme would be scaled up once the rest of the money came in.

Joining the press conference by video link from Port-au-Prince, where he had arrived this morning, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, painted an overall picture of life one month on, saying that, while the most critical health needs had been met, there was more to do in the areas of postoperative care, construction of health infrastructure and addressing psycho-social health problems, which were fairly common.  The water situation was no longer a major issue.  Food distribution by the World Food Programme (WFP) was making an impact, with 2.3 million people having received food since the start of the relief period.  A shift to a more targeted system of reaching the most vulnerable had not yet been undertaken.

In terms of priorities, he said that, while shelter distribution, whether in the form of tarpaulins or tents, continued at a “reasonable” pace, only 30 to 35 per cent of those needing shelter had been reached.  Similarly, only 5 to 10 per cent of Haiti’s sanitation needs had been met and a strategy was in place to construct 25,000 latrines in the coming weeks.  Heavy equipment was needed to remove rubble and create areas suitable for living.  Protection, particularly for children, also remained a concern.

In terms of international coordination, he said the cluster system was working well in Port-au-Prince and in nearby Jacmel and Leogane.  Civil and military coordination was moving smoothly and, increasingly, actors were looking ahead to address food and sanitation needs in the next two to three months.  On the resources side, the $575 million flash appeal had been 95 per cent funded and a revised appeal would be issued next week, based on a detailed assessment.  His Office was working to ensure that emergency and early recovery efforts, including the “Cash for Work” programme, fit in with what was needed in the post-disaster needs assessment process, as well as in reconstruction and redevelopment efforts in years to come.

Taking questions, first on the specific impacts of the quake, Mr. Holmes responded that the entire country had been affected by the quake in one way or another.  The food distribution system, for example, had been disrupted and had not yet resumed.  The half a million people who had left Port-au-Prince were now putting a huge strain on food resources in other parts of the country.  Exactly how to rebuild infrastructure had become clearer, as workers recognized what structures were so damaged they could no longer be used.  In some areas, there would need to be much more destruction before there could be reconstruction.

Asked about a proposal to pay a percentage of the “Cash for Work” programme in food, Ms. Grynspan said UNDP was working with WFP to see if and when that could happen.  Of the less than $5 salary paid, she expected that at least $1 would be given in food.  However, WFP had no capacity to carry out that idea at the moment.

As for decentralizing Port-au-Prince into to seven or eight small towns, Mr. Holmes said plans were not yet clear, in that respect.  There was a desire to decongest the capital for reconstruction purposes.  There had been talk of even moving the capital itself, but such issues would be examined in the post-disaster needs assessment and at the donors’ conference in March.  How far that idea could be taken was still being debated.

Asked about 19 priority sites identified for decongestion, Mr. Holmes said people at those sites were living in an organized, but unsustainable way near areas prone to landslides and flooding.  They had to be relocated.  The Government had been asked to identify other sites and five had been identified around Port-au-Prince and three others around Leogane and Jacmel.  Two of those sites were “up and running”; others had to be cleared.  It was a major problem to find level, non-flooding terrain.

To a question on how big contracts would be determined for rubble removal and whether transparency would be an issue, Ms. Grynspan said rubble removal under the “Cash for Work” programme would be carried out by small equipment.  Mr. Holmes added that talks were also under way with private companies, as they had large-scale heavy lifting equipment.

As for how UNDP decided who to employ, Ms. Grynspan responded that strict criteria included providing jobs to women who were heads of household, or to people belonging to a family that had lost their main income provider.

Asked about funding for the flash appeal, especially for agriculture, Mr. Holmes said there were two recognized categories for the flash appeal: committed and pledged.  Money that had been committed meant that the United Nations either had received the money, or a firm promise in writing from a donor.  Pledges were oral promises that had no written confirmation.  The United Nations could not identify what funds had been received by individual organizations whose projects were in the flash appeal.

Continuing, he said agriculture was a concern.  It needed funding.  It had been neglected before the earthquake and it was important that it not be undermined by food aid, for example.  In the flash appeal, a large amount of money -– over $200 million -- had yet to be allocated to particular projects, and his Office was working to do that as soon as possible.

As to the conditions of injured staff or of those who had lost family, Ms. Grynspan said the United Nations was trying to reach out to all staff, regardless of the types of contracts they had taken.  Counselling services were being provided.  “We are trying really hard,” she said.

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