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Press Conference by United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti

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

25 January 2010

The United Nations top official in Haiti had presented to Government ministers today a proposal to better coordinate delivery of urgently needed food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies to people in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, Tony Banbury, Principal Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), said this afternoon.

“If the actors on the ground buy into and show the political will to really coordinate, then I’m confident we will do what was accomplished in the tsunami, which is within a relatively short period of time have a truly amazing emergency response given the starting point we were at 13 days ago,” Mr. Banbury said during a video conference from Haiti broadcast to Headquarters in New York.

Mr. Banbury said the top-to-bottom approach led by the Haitian Government would prioritize and coordinate the myriad of political, humanitarian and military efforts from around the world to help the Caribbean island nation recover from the catastrophic earthquake that struck near its capital, Port-au-Prince, on 12 January, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives and leaving as many as 3 million people in need of international help. Edmond Mulet, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti, had presented the strategy earlier in the day during a ministerial conference in Montreal.

The proposal identified common challenges and clear strategic objectives to avoid the type of fractured, piecemeal emergency response that too often hampered delivery, he said, adding that it offered the best hope to pool efforts to deliver the relief outcome that the international community expected.

“If we don’t agree upon those at the beginning, then we’ll see different actors moving in different directions in Haiti, which we cannot afford,” he said, and added that United Nations plan was specific, but not overly detailed or bureaucratic. “We’re committed to making sure it’s done well this time.”

Mr. Banbury said MINUSTAH -- whose Headquarters was destroyed during the earthquake, killing three top officials, among other staff -- was now “up and running” with new structures and personnel. A newly created Operations and Tasking Centre, comprising experts from MINUSTAH, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the United States and Canadian military, would officially open tomorrow and provide around-the-clock direction to relief agencies on the ground on how and where to best distribute food, medicine, shelter and other aid throughout the country.

Responding to correspondents’ questions, Mr. Banbury said the United Nations proposal, if endorsed, would initially focus on emergency relief requirements and then change course to meet other priorities after the situation on the ground became more stable.

Concerning shelters for Haitian civilians left homeless by the quake, he said during a meeting earlier in the day at MINUSTAH’s temporary headquarters with Haitian President René Préval and MINUSTAH Deputy Special Representative Kim Balduc, President Préval said he wanted to make sure the some 1 million people urgently in need of shelter received it before the rainy season started. He asked for delivery of 200,000 family-sized tents as soon as possible, including durable military tents capable of withstanding rain.

“Once the Government and the humanitarian community decides how to do it, then we will find the quickest way to implement those decisions,” he said, and added that it was better to “take a few extra days and do it right” to avoid the public health, governance, public security, and sexual abuse problems that could arise in overcrowded camps.

As to how authorities responded to the Haitian disaster compared to the response to the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, he said, in both cases, there was some chaos at the beginning, as many well-intentioned aid organizations flooded into Haiti, but were often ill-equipped to offload, store and distribute supplies. A coordinated international response, led by Haitian officials, was crucial to maximize efforts, he said, and added that “the recovery process will not work without Haitian Government ownership”.

Regarding the overall security situation in Port-au-Prince, he said it was under control, with scattered outbreaks of violence, but that people were still in need of basic food, water, shelter and health care.

David Wimhurst, MINUSTAH Director of Communications, added that a joint food distribution on Sunday at Cité Soleil by United States and Brazilians troops was well planned. Several thousand people were lined up and allowed into the distribution area to receive food aid in groups of 20. When supplies ran out, people who did not receive anything were understandably angry, but overall the distribution went well.

Regarding a press report that Brazilian peacekeepers used tear gas and fired in the air on Sunday when a food distribution went awry, Mr. Banbury said he was not aware of the incident. Nor was he aware of reports that some doctors were extracting organs from the earthquake victims. “Were a credible report about that brought to the attention of the United Nations, obviously we would respond very quickly, together with the Government of Haiti,” he said.

On a question about whether Haiti would hold legislative elections scheduled for 28 February, Mr. Banbury said different options were being discussed by the Haitian Government and that the United Nations would support whatever decisions it made in that regard.

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For information media • not an official record

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