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Press Conference by Emergency Relief Coordinator on Current Situation in Haiti

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

20 January 2010

There was no clear picture yet as to what extra damage this morning’s aftershock had caused in Haiti, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said at Headquarters today.

Speaking at a press conference on the current situation in the earthquake-ravaged island nation, he said the epicentre of the aftershock, which registered 6.1 on the Richter Scale, was at Petit Goave, west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, on the northern coast of Haiti’s western region.

He said efforts to reach cities outside Port-au-Prince, particularly Jacmel, near Petit Goave, were being stepped up significantly. While aid was being delivered in significant quantities, it remained short of needs. Search-and-rescue operations were continuing and people were still being pulled from the rubble of the ruined capital. Search-and-rescue teams had saved 120 people, not counting those pulled out by local residents.

He said health questions remained a major concern, particularly ensuring that the numerous injured people would get the surgical treatment they needed. Every effort was being made to ensure the availability of the right number of doctors and the right amount of drugs. Seven field hospitals were in place and others on the way, he said, noting that a United States hospital ship had arrived.

The focus remained on water, he said, pointing out that, although large quantities were available at the main treatment plant, fuel constraints were hampering the tanker trucks used to ferry supplies. However, those constraints were now being eased as the Haitian Government had released some fuel from its own stocks and increasing quantities were coming in from the neighbouring Dominican Republic.

He said the World Food Programme (WFP) had reached some 250,000 people with rations that would last some days, while the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other organizations had reached an additional 250,000. However, an estimated 2 million of 3 million people in need would require food assistance for six months. Some food was being sold on the street, but people needed money to buy it, he noted, adding that some banks were expected to open on Friday.

As for logistics, he said the airport was working increasingly well in terms of handling military and humanitarian flights. The United Nations was working with the United States on prioritizing flights to ensure that the most urgent needs, including medical ones, were met first. It was to be hoped that Médecins Sans Frontières would get a landing slot today.

He said the Dominican Republic was increasingly being used as a staging post for the delivery of equipment and food through the use of road transportation from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince. The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) regarded the escort of aid convoys by its troops as a top priority. However, it was to be hoped that United States Marines could lend support as they arrived. MINUSTAH was also maintaining law and order in Port-au-Prince, with the assistance of some 2,000 personnel of the Haitian National Police.

Answering questions, Mr. Holmes said the United Nations did not look for United States forces to work under its command, but wished to coordinate with them as much as possible. Liaison offices had been established in Washington, D.C., and Miami, but the most important coordination was done on the spot, with United States generals talking intensely with Special Representative Edmond Mulet and his team.

The coordination was good and areas of responsibility were being defined, he said. The central coordinating role of the United Nations was accepted by all, including the United States, which, although it controlled the airport, had asked the world body for help in deciding on humanitarian priorities.

In response to another question, he said increasing numbers of people were indeed heading north from Port-au-Prince to find better conditions or to live with relatives. That was not being discouraged, although there was a longer-term concern that their whereabouts would be unknown and they could strain resources elsewhere in the already poor country. Camps and reception centres for internally displaced persons were being established around Port-au-Prince, he added.

Characterizing as “insulting” reports that the Chinese search-and-rescue team had concentrated on finding their own nationals, or that search-and-rescue teams generally favoured finding international staff over Haitians, Mr. Holmes said the Chinese team had been the first on the ground. It had taken the lead at the Christopher Hotel but was also looking elsewhere. The team had worked quickly and effectively and had rescued many people.

Asked if the $5 a day offered under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) “Cash for Work” programme was enough to meet people’s actual needs, he said there was a need to get some cash into people’s pockets and to get them to take part in rubble removal and repairs. There was also a concern, not least on the Haitian Government’s part, not to “wreck the market” and not to undercut normal economic activities.

Replying to questions about the $575 million flash appeal and other aid, Mr. Holmes said that so far 30 per cent of the appeal target amount had been received in the form of contributions and pledges. One concern was that agencies were spending lots of money and that there could be a problem in a few weeks’ time. The flow of money between different sectors was uneven. Some areas, such as food, were generally covered quickly, while contributions for other areas, such as early recovery, came in more slowly.

Regarding fundraising, he said he was working well with United Nations Special Envoy Bill Clinton and his team. The United Nations did not solicit in-kind contributions from corporations, although it had standing arrangements with some companies, such as Ericsson for telecommunications and DHL for airport management. However, many in-kind contributions had come in and were being listed and passed on to interested organizations, which could then follow up.

President Clinton and others were emphasizing the message that money was more useful than in-kind donations, he said, adding that the financial tracking system followed all contributions as accurately as possible, including contributions to the flash appeal, bilateral contributions and in-kind donations.

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For information media • not an official record

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