Saturday, January 30, 2010

U.N. Update on Relief Operations in Haiti

Haiti (From a press release from the United Nations)

The emergency relief operation in Haiti continues to make progress on a daily basis although considerable logistical restraints have meant large numbers of people suffering from the impact of the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake have not yet received the aid they need, the United Nations humanitarian chief said today.

“We have a long way to go before we can feel satisfied about that,” the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York.

For the most part potable water is being shipped to the people who need it, but there are major concerns over the distribution of food, said Mr. Holmes, who is also the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has been working night and day to reach around 600,000 people to date with the equivalent of 16 million meals, an effort which will be considerably scaled up to reach 2 million people in the next two weeks through food distribution sites.

“This will involve the distribution of some 10 million kilos of rice to over 400,000 households, which is the equivalent of 2 million people. This is just in the Port-au-Prince area,” he said, referring to the capital.

Food deliveries are also slated to be trucked directly to around 400 orphanages and hospitals altogether over the 14 day period, he added.

Mr. Holmes noted that the initial phase for Haitians in need of emergency surgical operations is largely over, but concerns remain over those who have undergone surgery and who need intensive care. “They don’t have homes to go to in many cases and that’s something being addressed.”

Current estimates of 2,000 amputee cases in Haiti as a result of injuries sustained in the 12 January earthquake are likely to rise, Paul Garwood of the World Health Organization (WHO) told a press briefing in Geneva earlier in the day.

“Clearly there would be a longer-term problem about how to cope with the large number of amputees in terms of artificial limbs and rehabilitation, but that’s a slightly longer-term issue, but one [that] we’re very conscious of as well,” said Mr. Holmes.

He said that rather than create large camps for displaced persons, the focus is to help provide shelter to where people have fled in the capital and other large cities, stressing that there are some 500 informal settlements scattered around Port-au-Prince alone.

The UN is making sure people have either tents, or other materials, including plastic sheeting, tarpaulins and wood to help create temporary shelters. Some people are starting from scratch on open ground and many are living on the land by their destroyed houses.

“In this context, sanitation is a particular concern at the moment,” said Mr. Holmes. “There is a need to provide sanitation particularly to these informal camps around Port-au-Prince and elsewhere.”

In addition, Mr. Holmes underscored the need to boost child protection. “This is a huge concern at the moment with so many children involved, so many orphaned and separated or otherwise isolated and the risks to them from unauthorized attempts to get them out of the country.”

At the press briefing in Geneva, Veronique Taveau of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that security is being strengthened in hospitals, orphanages, at the border crossing with the Dominican Republic and at the airport, and the UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is conducting investigations into alleged kidnappings of children.

Mr. Holmes noted that the $575 million UN flash appeal for Haiti launched three days after the quake is 82 per cent funded, Mr. Holmes announced, expressing some concern that certain areas – including early recovery, the cash-for-work scheme, agriculture and nutrition – remain under-funded.

Although only around $3 million of the $41 million of the cash-for-work programme has been funded to date, Mr. Holmes said the funding will increase shortly. “At the moment 12,500 are already employed under this UNDP [UN Development Programme] cash-for-work scheme. That should reach 20,000 by the end of the weekend and the aim is to eventually reach 200,000 people.”

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