Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
19 January 2010
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s briefing via video link on Haiti by the acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet.
Moderator ( New York): Mr. Mulet, I will give you the floor quickly and you can make some introductory remarks. You have the floor, sir.
Assistant Secretary-General Mulet ( Port-au-Prince, Haiti): Thank you. Thank you very much. Good afternoon, colleagues and friends in New York. We’re here from Port-au-Prince as you are aware, today at 4:53 p.m. it’s going to be one week since this devastating earthquake hit Port-au-Prince. And we will have, as you in New York, also here, a moment, a minute of silence. But since my arrival in the Mission last Thursday, a day and a half after the earthquake, my main task has been to put the Mission back on its feet. As you know, most of the leadership in the Mission died or is not operational, and my main task is to put the whole thing together.
We’ve been receiving a lot of support from Headquarters. Mr. Tony Banbury, the Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support, arrived two days ago with the Secretary-General -- he brought a team of 15 people. The new Police Commissioner, General [Gerardo Christian] Chaumont, also arrived two days ago; a day-and-a-half ago. As you know, the acting Police Commissioner, Doug Coates, died in the earthquake. And so we’re trying to reinforce the Mission as much as we can. It’s like in airplanes when the pressure drops and you have these gas masks, oxygen masks that drop; I mean you have to put it on yourself first, and then you help the other ones. So I think we have to help ourselves first in order then to perform our mandate and then help others.
But, having said that, the Mission is under a lot of pressure from many groups, many sectors, in order for us to continue performing not only our original tasks and mandate, but much more -- in relation to humanitarian assistance, providing security, coordination mechanisms with everybody on the ground. So, the pressure on the Mission has been really, really enormous. But little by little, day by day, we have been improving in our performance and are working better not only internally, but also in our support side to other partners.
The general situation on the ground, I must say, is quite stable and normal. It is true that some looting incidents have happened. Food has been taken from destroyed supermarkets and shops, which is almost a normal situation in these kinds of circumstances. But we have not seen at all any kind of violent actions, or rampages, or swarms of looters, or people attacking, or aggressive actions against anybody. And in the last 24 hours we have increased -- 48 and 24 hours -- we have increased our patrols in Port-au-Prince by the military and the police. And now the HNP -- the Haitian National Police -- which had 2,000 police on its feet and working yesterday, that will probably double today to 4,000. And so we’re also providing that assistance to the HNP.
About our own resources, we’re helping on humanitarian deliveries -- the military especially has been involved in that. And we do hope, and we do expect, that the Canadians and the Americans that are expected to come on the ground will do that quickly and soon because that will facilitate also the delivery of humanitarian assistance, which has been slow and also with many coordination problems. One has to be reminded that the airport here is very small; only one landing strip. So, the capacity of the airport to receive so many flights and help and donations and cargo, etcetera, is very, very limited. That’s why we’re working with the Dominican Republic in order to open this humanitarian corridor that will come from Santo Domingo, from Badalona, from other places, and Santo Domingo by land, to supply Port-au-Prince. Many, many things are already coming from the Dominican Republic, but we still have to establish a logistics base and a warehouse system over there in order then to bring the stuff to Haiti.
We’re working very closely with the Government. We meet with the President, with the Prime Minister, every day, and they’re in the lead of this effort. Of course the Government has been very much affected by this earthquake in its own operations. As you know, most of the Government buildings have been completely destroyed and they’re trying to work from temporary offices in very difficult circumstances. But in spite of that, the Prime Minister is up and running; the Prime Minister, also most of the ministries. The President has appointed some secretaries of state for different functions. We’re in permanent consultations with them.
With the Americans and with the Canadians also, we have established some memorandums of understanding and principles of working together in distribution of roles. We believe that it is important to have that done under a geographical way. The Canadians will be working mainly in Leogane and Jacmel in the south and south-west of the country, providing assistance there. And the Americans will be concentrated here in Port-au-Prince so in order not to trip over each other at this moment. Water is being distributed more and more every day. Ten thousand gallons of diesel fuel are expected to be shipped in from the Dominican Republic today, only for the water distribution system that we’re organizing. At least 23 hospitals are working in Port-au-Prince. Combined national and field hospitals and more field [units] are coming, arriving from Mexico, from Turkey, from France, Indonesia, the US and Médecins Sans Frontières. The USNS Comfort is expected to arrive on 22 January, and that is also going to be a big, big help here. We’re working closely with the Red Cross on these communal burial sites that the Brazilian Engineer Corps here has dug out. And this is the place where we’re taking the bodies. Of course, less and less every day because most of the bodies that were on the streets have been recovered now, and the bodies that are remaining are the ones that are under the rubble, under the buildings, and that’s an effort that will be done later on.
On the MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) side, in addition to the big losses that you are aware of, yesterday we recovered 11 additional bodies from two of our building sites in Hotel Christopher and Villa Cuebe. The families have been informed and notified. And we’re continuing and working there on many of these issues. The coordination on the humanitarian assistance is being managed by Ms. Kim Bolduc, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, and I must say she is doing a fantastic job there. And we can see more and more the effectiveness on the ground.
Of course, we have some concerns related to security. As you know, the national penitentiary was completely destroyed. We don’t know how many inmates were killed during the earthquake. But we know that some of the most dangerous gang leaders and criminals have escaped. And what they do in life is to be criminal, and so we do expect that they will be trying to reorganize themselves and continue with their activities. So this is something we’ll have to also pay attention to very, very carefully and try to identify where they are. And of course, MINUSTAH did that in the past and we were very effective and very successful in controlling the criminal activities in Port-au-Prince. And we’ll have to do it again in the future.
The issue of prices also is… There has been a sharp rise in prices for food items and gasoline. But on the bright side, public transportation is running and increasing. And the police report fewer shots fired over the last two nights. I must also say that the population in Port-au-Prince had been responding in a very calm, very sober way, and I think they’re very much acting in a very responsible way. They’re organizing themselves in the communities, block by block, and support groups in order for themselves to coordinate the delivery of assistance. And so that is also positive.
We’re also very grateful to the Security Council because, as you know, this morning, unanimously the Security Council approved the recommendation by the Secretary-General to increase by 2,000 troops and 1,500 police, our ceiling, and we really welcome this response from the international community, by the Security Council, that they did react so fast responding to the Secretary-General’s request. Of course, this is a ceiling, and we will see during the next days and weeks and months if we will need to increase [inaudible]… the ceiling, the presence of troops and police in Haiti. It depends on the evolution of the situation. Since MINUSTAH also is deployed all over the country, we’re bringing troops from the provinces, from the [districts] to reinforce our operations here. But also we have to bear in mind that many people from Port-au-Prince are now moving back to their places of origin, to their provinces and [districts]. So we have to also assess the situation on humanitarian assistance and security in those places where they’re going back to in order for us to be there for them.
I’ll probably stop here, this is just an update to you on the situation on the ground. Some of you were here with the Secretary-General on Sunday, and witnessed first-hand, with your own eyes, the difficult situation, tragic circumstances of this horrible earthquake. So I will not go into the details of the harsh reality on the ground which I’m sure you’re all aware of. And now, of course, I’m more than happy and willing to respond to your questions.
Moderator ( New York): Okay, so we’ll start with you.
Question: [inaudible]… Can you hear? Hello?
Assistant Secretary-General Mulet: Now, yes.
Question: Now you can? Okay. It seems like you’re painting a bit of a minimalist picture with regard to the looting that’s going on. Within the last half-hour we got wire reports of, within four blocks of the palace, that there are looters rampaging through the downtown, and medical services are also now reporting that they’re treating more people with gunshot wounds because of this.
Assistant Secretary-General: No, we’re not minimizing anything. I think that the security situation is under control. But, as I said, some looting has happened. Some incidents have happened. But I would say that it’s not more different than the situation we had before the earthquake. We have to be reminded, I mean about the security situation and circumstances in Port-au-Prince, there have been some incidents, very isolated, and we cannot really generalize the situation here as it has been depicted by some media -- and I would say, in a very irresponsible way -- because it does not reflect the situation on the ground. It is true that we’ve had some incidents. Things have happened. But it’s not a widespread situation and everything, I think, is under control, and we’re addressing some of these isolated incidents.
Question: First, thank you very much for organizing that trip on Sunday, very much appreciated. I wonder if you could talk to us a little bit about the death toll, because there’s various numbers being tossed around, and I know that the UN has been working on it, but they’re having difficulties [inaudible]. Could you explain to us a little bit what is being done to try and figure that out and what the difficulties are?
Assistant Secretary-General: Honestly, I don’t think we will ever know what the death toll is or was during this earthquake, because as you know, many of these bodies were disposed by the people themselves. Several thousand of them were thrown into this garbage dump outside the city. It was not until Saturday that we were able to dig out these communal burial sites, and we’re working now with the Red Cross there. Many, many people, as you witnessed here in Port-au-Prince, are under the rubble, under concrete slabs, etcetera. And most probably some of these structure or things will never be removed. So I think it’s going to be very difficult eventually to assess the situation. And more and more now we’re finding out about other areas apart from Port-au-Prince, like in Leogane, for example, where they say between 60 and 80 per cent of the houses are down, and Jacmel, and other places also have been quite damaged, in other urban areas and villages. So if we ever have an approximate count of the situation, it is going to be [just] that: very, very approximate.
Question: First, now you said that now you were starting to deploy again some MINUSTAH forces to the provinces of the country. Can you tell us how many troops you have now in Port-au-Prince? It was like yesterday 3,400, I think. And the, when the new troops, additional troops, are going to arrive at Haiti? And also the situation on the other villages like Jacmel, you said and other towns they were very damaged. Now the aid, the humanitarian aid, when is it going to arrive there, because yesterday you told us that there is a big problem with communications with the transportation and everything? Thank you.
Assistant Secretary-General: In Port-au-Prince right now we have 3,500 troops on the ground. Operational, patrolling and working. And we brought about 200 additional troops right now from Gonaïves and I believe from Cap-Haitien. And we can bring some more if need be, but for the time being I’m holding that back because, as I mentioned before, some of the people, [some of the] population, from Port-au-Prince, are also going back to their places of origin, to the provinces, to the [districts]. So, I want also to be careful to be responsive to any security situation over there, and also to facilitate the humanitarian distribution in those areas and those places because of this exodus from Port-au-Prince to the [districts] and the provinces. So I have to keep a balance here. I brought some and I will not bring some more at this point. Your next question, I’m sorry, was on…?
Question: When the troops then -- there were many questions, I’m sorry, first, when are the additional troops going to arrive to the country, and second, sorry, the humanitarian aid to Jacmel and other villages, very damaged, when aid is going to arrive?
Assistant Secretary-General: Yes. We have agreed with the Canadians that they will be taking care of humanitarian assistance and delivery in Leogane, in Jacmel, in Petit Goave -- I mean all the area that was damaged there. Already the Dominican Republic’s Government has sent by sea several boats to Jacmel and delivery is being done by the seaport into Jacmel and the distribution there. We have the Sri Lankan troops in that part of the country, in Leogane, and in Jacmel; we have Uruguayan troops also in Jacmel, and they’re also participating in this effort. And we have been asking the Canadians to deploy as soon as possible to bring the heavy machinery so they can open the road so access is easier -- because you know the road from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel is destroyed right now, so we need machinery to open that access. So humanitarian assistance in those areas will be, is coming. I also had a meeting this morning with the Japanese Government, and they will be concentrating their efforts, their field hospital, their assistance, their medics, everything in Leogane. The Japanese will be working specifically in Leogane. On the issue of how fast these additional troops that that have been authorized by the Security Council can come to the ground, New York now [the UN’s] Force Generation Services is now working on that. We have several offers. What we need from them is to be self-sustainable. They have to come with everything they need, because the Mission is not really able to support them at this point. So we have to assess now the situation. I believe the Brazilians and the French are. The Brazilian troops, the French gendarmes or foreign police units; the Chileans have sent already today one unit of police from Chile specialized on these things. So I think that it depends very much on the paperwork and things like that. But I would hope that before two weeks we would have most of those troops, if needed, here in Port-au-Prince, because one has to be reminded that this is a ceiling authorized by the Security Council and then we will be using that authority in order to bring troops if needed. I mean, for the time being, [with] 3,500 troops here in Port-au-Prince, we can manage the situation, hoping that the Canadians and the Americans that will be facilitating the humanitarian distribution arrive on the ground as soon as possible.
Question: Mr. Mulet, you said it’s difficult obviously to get the total casualty figure; I’m wondering, with the national staff, it’s been said a number of times that there was going to be some attempt to go out and MINUSTAH’s actual national Haitian staff get some sense of how they fared. Can you give us an update on that? And also, I’m sorry, I just want to nail this down with you, whether the Christopher Hotel was MOSS -- minimum operating security standards compliant. There’s something in the procurement budget of MINUSTAH that talked about bringing it into compliance in 2009. Can you say whether that work was done? Whether the building was reinforced? Without, you know, saying that that’s why it fell, I just wondered now that you’re there if you can say that. And finally, there was a report of a helicopter crash; this was within DPKO’s (the Department of Peacekeeping Operations) situation centre. Last night they were saying there was a helicopter crash. Today they said it was a US military helicopter that had to land due to crowd conditions. Have you heard of that? Mr. Le Roy said to direct this question to you.
Assistant Secretary-General: On the helicopter issue, I heard about this crash but I have not been able to verify. Of course, MINUSTAH and the UN have nothing to do… it was not a craft that belonged to the UN, so I don’t have any information of what country it belonged to, or what the circumstances were of this emergency landing or crash. I have no information on that. On the national staff, we still have 278 unaccounted for; some of them, of course, could be dead. Some of them, of course, are dealing with their own grievances and problems and family issues, etcetera. But more and more everyday they are showing up back at work. And through them, as you rightly mentioned, we will be able to assess, I mean, the situation on the ground and their own neighbourhoods and places. But still, 278 nationals have not been accounted for, and in the coming days we’ll see, I mean, what the final number is of them missing and unaccounted for. We will see. And on the building, I don’t know, at this point I have no information. If something like that was being done or prepared, we don’t have any records here. We don’t have anything because everything was destroyed in [the MINUSTAH] headquarters. So I don’t have any [information] right now on that. You can understand that my priority right now is to try to save the people who are still alive, or to assist my people, the ones who are still around, and we’ll be dealing with those issues later on.
I’m sorry, I have to go now, if I may, because I have other issues to attend to here. Any other specific questions right now I can address quickly before…
Moderator: Maybe one last one before David takes over, if he can.
Question: Yeah, just… can you elaborate on the memorandum of understanding between the US and Canada? You know, it’s been a criticism that the world, major Powers, and Security Council Powers, authorize peacekeeping missions but then don’t put up their troops to serve under the Blue Helmets. But it’s sounding like, because of the situation there, it’s actually easier for the UN to have them there unilaterally or however you’d describe it. So can you just talk about what needs to be worked out between these countries and the UN and how that command structure is working and who’s in charge?
Assistant Secretary-General: Yes, of course. This is, of course, not the first time it happens in the history of peacekeeping. We’ve had [inaudible]… forces in one country. There’s a bilateral agreement in this case, between the Haitian Government and Washington and the Haitian Government and Ottawa, to bring these troops on the ground. But of course there is a need to coordinate that. So we have been working on an MoU [memorandum of understanding] or principles of understanding between the UN and the US, the UN and Canada -- [amongst] the three of us to have a division of labour, so we know exactly what each of us is supposed to do and what we can expect from each other. This document is being worked out right now, and I do hope that this afternoon it will be ready –- the one with the Americans. With the Canadians it’s a little bit… it’s going to happen probably tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. And what we have agreed in principle is that the UN is in the lead; we’re the ones coordinating everything here. We will be dealing with security issues, working with the Haitian Government, with the National Police of Haiti, and conducting our mandate as we used to. And then the presence -- this temporary presence, limited-time presence, -- of the US and Canadian troops on the ground is to facilitate, to accelerate, to deliver this humanitarian assistance on the ground, which is urgently needed. They’ll be concentrating their efforts in providing security at distribution points, providing escorts to convoys, and they will be doing all of that. We’re doing that right now, as much as we can. But in order for us to address other issues related to security, we need that presence as soon as possible. So I think the division of labour is very clear; the coordination mechanisms have been established. I must say they worked very, very well. We meet regularly, we have liaison officers from them with us, us with them, and we have joint meetings, etcetera. What we have to expand now is only the relations between MINUSTAH and the troops that are also from the UN country team and others on very specific delivery issues of humanitarian assistance. But I must say that I am very pleased by the way this is being done because it’s being done in a very professional way and respecting the areas of responsibility of each other.
Thank you very much, and we’ll keep in touch. Thank you very much for this opportunity. Bye bye.
Moderator: Thank you, sir. And if David can add some more on what the Special Representative of the Secretary-General just said. David?
Chief of Public Information for MINUSTAH, David Wimhurst: Yeah, I’m here.
Chief of Public Information: Yes.
Moderator: Yes, do you have another 10 minutes for us?
Chief of Public Information: Okay.
Moderator: All right. So okay, any more questions?
Question: Could we just have Michèle Montas give us a comment from the ground? [inaudible crosstalk]… Then the question to David is just… Okay, you got it?
Moderator: [in French]
Former Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Michèle Montas: [in French] Hello everybody. Thank you. Good to be with you.
Moderator: Okay, so we have both Michèle and David. Michèle will of course take some questions, if you have any. David will speak on behalf of the UN. So you have both of them.
Question: [inaudible]… but I wanted to hear also just Michèle’s comment on how she thinks the relief efforts are going. But the more specific question to both of you is what can you do to reverse the exodus outside of… from Port-au-Prince to the countryside? And do you need to?
Chief of Public Information: I don’t think we want to. And in fact the Government is encouraging people to leave by laying on transport. I mean the idea is that outside Port-au-Prince, where things aren’t as much damaged, there is more food available. People have families outside the city where perhaps they can get some additional help. And it relieves pressure on the very limited resources within the city.
Former Spokesperson: Well, above all they have a roof, which is something that they don’t have [in Port-au-Prince]. You have to realize that the great majority of people from Port-au-Prince are living outside of their homes. So for them to go, particularly the children, to go outside Port-au-Prince is a positive development. So I think [inaudible] it is a good thing that in fact everyone is encouraging.
Correspondent: Thank you, and we send our wishes, obviously.
Former Spokesperson: Thank you.
Question: I’m a reporter from a Chinese newspaper named the Southern Metropolis Daily. How would you comment on the rescue effort of China?
Chief of Public Information: The rescue effort of China was remarkably efficient. And it was thanks to them that we were able to make such progress on our building, Christopher Hotel, and it was with their great help that we were able to recover the bodies of Hédi Annabi and Luiz da Costa. So, we have nothing but thanks to China for their very generous, quick and remarkable expertise that helped us in this terrible tragedy.
Question: Prensa Latina News Agency. There were more than 400 Cuban doctors in Haiti before the earthquake. What kind of coordination do you have with them? What they’re doing? Where they are located?
Chief of Public Information: Okay. Before the earthquake struck, I know that there are quite a large number of Cuban doctors in facilities all around the country, providing medical help to Haitians and obviously with the earthquake, now with the establishment of the cluster system, and the medical cluster, the World Health Organization, which will be overseeing or coordinating those efforts. I can’t give you specific details, I’m afraid, of where Cubans specifically are. I just don’t have that information available.
Question: [inaudible]… from Nigeria, and it’s good to see you again, Michèle. I’d like to know what is the involvement of African troops and African police, if any at all, with the UN troops in Port-au-Prince?
Chief of Public Information: Well, we have Nigerian police who are actively engaging in Port-au-Prince. I mean, they’re patrolling, the FPUs [Formed Police Units] are patrolling. So our African colleagues are fully engaged in activities on the ground along with all of the other police from, you know, the Jordanian police, the Chinese police and so on. They’re very, very busy.
Question: You mentioned that the UN favours people leaving Port-au-Prince to go, you know, elsewhere where there are fewer problems. Can you say, being there on the ground, whether you think that people should also be able to cross the border to the Dominican Republic? There have been a lot of reports that people at the border are being stopped. What does the UN think of that? And then also, I had wanted to ask one, and I know that there are many people that have been affected by this, but one staff member here, Alexandra Duguay; there is some, many of us here know her; there are some people who have said what efforts were made, have been made, and what’s the status and what efforts were made to find where she was? We’ve heard some troubling things; I’d like to know what your view on this is.
Chief of Public Information: Our dear friend Alexandra; she was a colleague of mine here and we loved her very much, and you know, Mr. Mulet had said earlier that a number of bodies had been recovered today. I don’t know; I don’t have IDs, I haven’t got that latest information. But as far as we know, there was an… We do know that an NDP annex building collapsed, and that there were 10 people missing. And, you know, all of the usual steps were taken to investigate the site, but I’m afraid I don’t have any up-to-date information on any recovery that would answer your question or any live, you know, any clues that there are still people under those, that rubble, I’m afraid. It’s… we’re waiting. We’re all waiting for an answer. Now, the other question I’d like to… Michèle might have a point to make.
Former Spokesperson: I just want to say about the Dominican Republic, that a number of Haitians wounded during the earthquake are in [inaudible] right now and in other hospitals in the Dominican Republic, and they have been crossing the border. In fact, quite a bit of diesel fuel and medicine and doctors themselves have crossed through the Dominican border with no problem whatsoever. In fact, the Dominican authorities have been encouraging this, and they have been really very helpful in getting people across both ways.
Moderator ( New York): Okay, George.
Question: Thank you. I’d like to ask, as long as we’re talking about individual countries, I’d like to ask what either of you know about the Israeli establishment that has come down there? They’re supposed to have sent 220 people on what I understand was two jumbo jets, to operate a hospital, field hospital, and a surgical hospital which was built by the Norwegians. And my second question is, has no one come down there -- certainly in the last few years? This was a known fault zone -- has no one come down there and said, “these are the kinds of improvements you should make in your building codes”? I realize they may not have terribly well developed building codes; this is what you should do, you know, send experts from San Francisco or Tokyo, places in the world where they understand these things in order to improve. I realize there were no buildings in Port-au-Prince or were no buildings… [interrupted by moderator]…
Moderator: George, George, what’s your question? We’re running out of time, can you get to the point… [inaudible]?
Chief of Public Information: Okay, on the Israeli presence, the Israelis have set up an absolutely magnificent field hospital. We made a film about it. I think we’ll send it up to UNIFEED so you can see the sort of facilities. They’re doing all sorts of great work, surgery and so on. And indeed one of my staff, one of my local staff’s wife, his wife’s expected to deliver a baby today or tomorrow, and he was desperately looking for a place that would help his family, his wife, give birth. So we directed him to this Israeli hospital, so maybe they will take care of that, and we do hope so. They also, the Israelis were also present with search-and-rescue [activities], and I saw them actively engaged on the Christopher site. When we came for the Secretary-General’s visit they were just leaving for a break. So I know two Israeli presences and both of them, you know, are heroic and fantastic.
Former Spokesperson: I have also seen them, in a private clinic in Pétionville, actually operating on the sidewalk. People being pulled out of the rubble and they were treating them right there on the street side, on the street corners. And I think that was also a magnificent gesture.
Chief of Public Information: I mean it’s very moving to see these rescue teams from all over the world active, tired and working night and day to look for people. The solidarity that’s poured in is just overwhelming, you know. You have to be here to see it. But it’s an extraordinary expression of international solidarity for the people of Haiti.
Question: Considering the significant role of the Brazilian peacekeepers in Haiti since 2004, can you give us an update on the role of the Brazilian peacekeepers now and tell us what support President Lula of Brazil is providing?
Chief of Public Information: It’s a pity the Force Commander isn’t here, because he’d be able to answer that question much better than I can. I mean, our Brazilian colleagues, soldiers, have been deployed in an around Port-au-Prince for a long time and were heavily engaged in the areas known as Cité Soleil, Martison Belle and so on, and these are very difficult, poor areas. And their great contribution was the pacification of these areas which before 2006 were in the hands of gangs who were, you know, preying on citizens and kidnapping and causing all sorts of fear and contributing to crime in the city, and Brazilians took on these gangs and really cleaned the whole place out. So, Cité Soleil before the earthquake was actually much returned to normal; there was no more… people were walking around freely, no more afraid of going out at night and so on -- security had been restored. A good relationship, a very good relationship, has developed between the Brazilians and the Haitians on the ground, and that is remarkably important, as General Floriano had said at an earlier press conference today, you know, that’s why we’re good at security because we’ve been here for so long, we’ve got good links with the Haitian population and this needs to be maintained. So, as to your… what support President Lula is planning, I’m afraid, honestly, I can’t answer that. You should address that perhaps to the Permanent Representative of Brazil. I’m sure that you’ll get more information there.
Question: President Lula is offering to double the number of Brazilian soldiers in Haiti. Have you heard about that? What do you think?
Moderator: David, have you heard the question? The question is what do you think about the Brazilian President saying that he intends to, or is willing to double the Brazilian presence, military presence, in Haiti?
Chief of Public Information: Oh, yes. Well, as you know, the Security Council this morning passed that resolution which has increased the troops in Haiti by 2,000; now up to 9,000. And I understand that Brazil has two battalions ready to go, you know, in case that’s… they made that offer in that contribution, so I think it’s remarkable and of course this is something that Mr. Mulet will be looking at in close conjunction with New York Headquarters and DPKO.
Question: Do you think that the reconstruction is going to begin again from zero now? Because Brazil has been working for four years now. So, does he think that the reconstruction in Haiti is going to begin again from zero, because of the security situation?
Moderator: Okay, David, the question is whether or not you believe that the reconstruction effort that countries such as Brazil have put into Haiti before the earthquake would now be, I guess, starting again from scratch?
Chief of Public Information: I’ve no doubt that Brazil and other countries will contribute to the reconstruction of Haiti. There has to be long-term recovery. I mean, we’re in the immediate emergency phase. We’re just, perhaps, getting out of that. Temporary shelters are going up. But there has to be permanent reconstruction. I mean, such a huge swathe of infrastructure has been destroyed in the city that, literally, Port-au-Prince has to be rebuilt. And it has to rebuilt better, and it has to be rebuilt stronger.
And I’m very sorry I didn’t answer that second question from the gentleman who was requesting information about the Israelis. He’s talking about building codes. There are no building codes here. I mean, whether or not somebody ever came and warned about the fault-line that runs through the city, or close to the city, nothing was ever done. And there are no building codes. The terrible irony is that there was a consultant from Canada who had come down to Haiti to actually begin working on the development of a building code for Port-au-Prince and for the Haitian Government. And he was in the Montana Hotel when it collapsed in the earthquake. So the reconstruction -- and I do know there are plans afoot to start building solid houses; already, how many I can’t tell you -- but long-term reconstruction is an absolute essential and necessary part of the recovery of Haiti.
If you look back in history, other cities that had been destroyed by earthquakes or by fires -- London and Lisbon are two that leap to mind -- they were entirely rebuilt, magnificently. Now, this would be a wonderful opportunity to rebuild Port-au-Prince. But, of course, that requires vast funding, it requires planning, it requires architects and a really huge international collaboration to do that. But this is the moment to do it. It would come again. There’s no point in rebuilding Port-au-Prince just as it was before, full of tous-dire and favelas and slums and badly-constructed houses that fall down. There’s no point in doing that. We have to start again, completely from scratch, and do something much, much better.
Moderator: We have another question from Evelyn.
Question: David, briefly, what’s the latest official count of the UN staff who are dead and unaccounted for?
Chief of Public Information: I think we’re now -- I’ve got to do some quick mental math, because, again, Edmond mentioned the discovery of bodies this morning and I’ve not been updated on the numbers on that -- but I think we are now well over 40 recovered bodies from our headquarters site. So that would bring the number of unaccounted for, I think that would be, down to in the 20s somewhere. I’m sorry at this moment I can’t be more accurate, but that’s where I believe we are.
Question: Michèle, do you have any personal experience of… Where were you when the earthquake occurred? And good to see you.
Chief of Public Information: I was in the building--
Chief of Public Information: My office is just an annex that is attached to the main building, and in fact the only thing that survived in the whole thing was this annex. So we were very, very lucky to survive. My office was literally, you know, about 20… 10 yards from the crushed… the building that crashed.
Moderator: Now, Michèle, could you share your experience with us here, of where you were when the earthquake took place?
Chief of Public Information: That was the first press conference we did when I was with Kim Bolduc. We were both asked that question. I’ve said that already, and I really don’t want to go through that again, if you don’t mind.
Moderator: Alright, if you don’t mind having Michèle also share with us her experience?
Former Spokesperson: Well, in my case, I was at home. In fact, I was expecting [Principal Deputy Special Representative for MINUSTAH] Luiz da Costa that evening at my house. He told me he was going to be late because he was at a meeting at the Christopher [Hotel], and that he would be slightly late for dinner.
And then it struck. The whole thing was one of the most horrifying experiences I have lived through. Everything was shaking. First, there was the first wave, then a second one, and a third one. And the whole thing lasted about 19 minutes, 19–20 minutes. And then after that, we had something like 20 aftershocks; every 15–20 minutes we had an aftershock. Every time, you thought that would be your last day. You could hear. First, there was that incredible sound, like a rolling tank very close by. Before every single tremor, there was that rolling sound.
Of course, we did not find out how bad it was until the next morning. Actually, I went down by foot all the downtown, and it was… you had bodies all over the road leading to Pétionville, where I live, to Port-au-Prince. And downtown, when I got downtown, you had practically, I’d say, 80 per cent of downtown Port-au-Prince was gone. All the symbols of Haitian identity, all the symbols of the Haitian State, were gone -- from the National Palace, to the Palais de Justice, where the judges were at work, to the Department of… actually, in fact, all the Ministries were down. The Cathedral of Port-au-Prince was down; all the major churches were down. All the major schools were down. It was, it was only the next day that you could really evaluate what happened.
Chief of Public Information: We actually recorded the earthquake. Our radio studios were operating, and recording machines were on. And we have the soundtrack of the earthquake. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with that. I don’t know if we want to listen to it. I think it would be too traumatic, actually, but we do have the recording of the earthquake, what it sounded like.
Former Spokesperson: No, we don’t want to hear it again. We don’t.
Chief of Public Information: No, exactly. I agree.
Moderator: David and Michèle, if you have any outstanding thoughts or impressions you want to share with us? Do you?
Chief of Public Information: I’m a journalist. I’ve been a journalist for a long time, and I went to the Columbia School of Journalism. You know, I was well trained. I worked in media. Then I was employed by the United Nations, and now I’m here doing this thing. In a situation like this, the media -- the international media, particularly -- have an enormous responsibility. We have found, all of us, from all over the UN system -- from the humanitarians and the military and the police, and the civilians and the non-governmental organizations who are all here -- some of the media’s coverage of this has been really exaggerated, as if Port-au-Prince is gripped by looters and security has descended to nothing. It’s simply not true.
Unfortunately, some people come looking for a conflict. News is all about conflict; we understand that. Every news story is based on a conflict of some sort. But there has been a tendency by some of the more sensationalist [journalists] to seek a conflict. You know, the conflict is now that we are not doing… Why haven’t we fed all the people within two days?
I mean, it’s simply… Or the story of looters -- Edmond said it’s not true that there is mass looting going on in Port-au-Prince. It’s simply not true. And the fact that the wire service says so doesn’t mean it’s true. So it’s got to be… All of this has an enormously negative impact on everything we’re doing.
There has to be more solidarity among the media for these efforts of helping Haiti get back on its feet. This is not a criticism of anybody in particular, but I think it’s preoccupying to all of us who are involved in this, who care about what we’re doing, who’re trying to the best thing we can, to be, you know… Some people feel they’ve been unfairly attacked when they’re really working 24 hours a day to do everything to help. So I’d just like to ask everybody to consider that, and to perhaps re-group a bit and start to look at this slightly… not to seek the unnecessary, you know, conflicts that don’t really exist, but to focus on the stuff that really needs to be done to help us all get back on our feet as quickly as possible. Thank you.
Former Spokesperson: I have not seen the coverage. Television -- I don’t have any electricity at my house. There’s no way… I got contact with the Internet only two days ago, so I don’t have an exact picture of what you see and what is being portrayed out there. I’ve read the things about the looting, which David mentioned, and I do feel the way he does, that I would like to see more stories about solidarity; solidarity from among the international community, but also solidarity among Haitians -- young people getting together in neighbourhoods, and trying to find food and medicine and doctors for people who are assembled in one small yard.
You have hundreds and hundreds, thousands of families, all sleeping on the squares of Port-au-Prince, of Pétionville, all over the city. And what you have is a tremendous support and solidarity. One thing that struck me the second day after the quake, when there were all the bodies in the street: every single body was covered with a sheet, which means that someone came, brought something to cover the bodies with, because they felt that death should deserve some respect. So I think solidarity should be more of a focus of news stories. I think what is happening all over the city, all the private clinics, all the doctors opening the clinics to house the wounded, I think that is the story.
Moderator: Thank you very much, David. Merci beaucoup, Michèle. Ça nous fait très, très plaisir de te revoir. Pleins de très bon sois de toi.
Chief of Public Information: Merci beaucoup. À la prochaine.
Moderator: Michèle, there’s a question about your relatives and other members of your family, and how they’re faring. Are they okay?
Former Spokesperson: They’re okay, they’re okay. A number of people around me lost their homes, but most of them are accounted for. Some family members... a lot of friends have died. One family member died. A young guy -- what 23 years old? -- you know, it’s… You’re not there to ask people how they are anymore when you meet them in the streets. You just… You hug them and you cry with them, because we still don’t know where a number of people are, so we don’t dare to ask anymore.
In terms of my own family, my immediate family, everybody’s okay, and we are… We, the survivors, are the lucky ones.
Moderator: Okay, David and Michèle, merci en pil. On espère vous revoir très, très bientôt.
Chief of Public Information: Okay.
Former Spokesperson: Merci en pil!
Chief of Public Information: Avec plaisir.
Moderator: Okay, that’s it. Thank you everybody.
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For information media • not an official record
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