With Haiti’s quake relief efforts going more smoothly, UN looks to longer-term goals


1 February - As immediate efforts to provide food and other aid to hundreds of thousands of Haitian quake victims improve, the United Nations is also looking to longer-term goals of procuring 200,000 tents for the upcoming rainy season and encouraging many residents of the overcrowded capital to return to the countryside, a top UN official said today.

“Looking at the mid-term and long-term recovery efforts, providing permanent assistance and job creation and opportunity for these people who have already been displaced is also an opportunity to decentralize and de-concentrate Port-au-Prince, so this is also an opportunity to decentralize the country,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Acting Special Representative Edmond Mulet told a news briefing by video link from the capital.

The Government's idea, which it will present formally to a meeting of donor nations in New York in March “is to take a general overview of the country, not only where the physical damage happened but also to incorporate the reconstruction of Haiti into a global development programme,” he said, stressing the need to strengthen the provinces by providing provide job and agricultural opportunities to those people, many of whom migrated from there in the first place.

Some 3 million people, a third of the total population, lived in Port-au-Prince when the devastating earthquake struck on 12 January, killing up to 200,000 people, injuring many more, leaving 2 million in need of aid and destroying much of the city. The UN itself suffered heavy casualties when its headquarters collapsed, losing its head of mission Hédi Annabi and his deputy Luiz Carlos da Costa.

The UN casualty toll now stands at 92 dead, seven unaccounted for and 30 injured, Mr. Mulet said.

Mr. Ban's Deputy Special Representative and UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti Kim Bolduc told the briefing that another priority was the urgent need to prepare for the rainy season that begins in three months and the subsequent hurricane season, since it takes time to bring in all the necessary tents and other materials which are normally transported by sea.

“At this point, the main concern is to focus on shelter and the lack of tents and accommodation for displaced people, mostly thinking about the rainy season. I think that we are facing a real challenge because although we're concerned about the rainy season that is coming soon we have not yet been able to get the means necessary to prepare evacuation sites outside of Port-au-Prince and outside areas affected by the earthquake,” she said.

Mr. Mulet gave an upbeat assessment of current relief efforts after the initial difficulties caused by the enormity of the disaster and the lack of infrastructure in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, noting that 100,000 people received 15 days' supply of food yesterday, and 600,000 in all had received multi-day food supplies. Initially the UN had hoped to feed some 1 million people within two weeks of the disaster and 2 million in the first month.

“Distribution yesterday and today went very, very well, very smoothly with no incidents whatsoever. The population is acting very responsible, very orderly… So everything is coming together and we're very pleased by the results on the ground,” he said, stressing the enormity of the task and the many fronts on which simultaneous action is needed. “But the Government also is structuring itself in a better way and responding.

“So I must say that in spite of all this tragedy, in spite of all the sorrow and the difficult times we have been going through, at the same time we are putting back the United Nations, MINUSTAH (UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti), agencies on their feet and they're clearly performing really very, very well, and so is the Government, so I'm very confident that more and more, day by day and week by week we will begin to work better and deliver better.”

He noted that other food was getting through to scores of thousands of people through the school lunch programme that provides cooked meals for 100,000 people as well as through the Red Cross.

He added that the UN was also helping to address the needs of the up to 500,000 people who had left the capital for the provinces and that the number of those enrolled in the UN Development Programme (UNDP) cash-for-work initiative doubled over the weekend to nearly 32,000 and is expected to double again by the end of the week.

The programme is aiming to put 100,000 workers on the street as quickly as possible, ideally doubling that further as conditions and funds allow. The workers are paid 180 gourdes, or roughly $4.50 at current rates of exchange, for six hours' labour removing building rubble from the streets, crushing and sorting reusable material and disposal of debris.

The purpose is to restore essential public facilities, such as light rehabilitation and repairs of public infrastructure, access to water and protection of water sources, markets, communal washing areas and community centres.

One of the challenges was obtaining the boots, gloves, shovels, pickaxes, wheelbarrows and trucks needed to remove the waste, Cash-for-Work Programme Manager Abdullah Al-Laham said. “At the end of the programme, all this material will be given to the poor and vulnerable to help sustain their livelihoods.”