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Press Conference on Situation in Haiti by Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant Administrator of United Nations Development Programme

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

26 January 2010

Participants in yesterday’s conference in Montreal on aid to Haiti after its devastating earthquake had agreed that planning for long-term recovery must be started while emergency assistance continued, United Nations officials told journalists at Headquarters this afternoon.

“The recurring messages that we heard were ‘yes, we’ve got to pay attention to the immediate emergency, but we should now seize the opportunity to begin the plans for the long term reconstruction’,” said Jordan Ryan, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Having also just returned from Montreal, John Holmes, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, joined Mr. Ryan at this afternoon’s press conference.

Mr. Holmes, who also updated correspondents on the situation on the ground, added that the emphasis of the meeting had been on the empowerment of Haitians, employment to get cash into people’s pockets and planning for next stage of reconstruction and redevelopment. Many participants wanted to talk to him about immediate humanitarian aid, however.

He said that there was agreement by all concerned on a process needed to lead up to a proposed donor conference late in March, to be hosted by the United States in New York.

Both speakers noted the wide international participation at the conference, with high-level officials from the United States, Canada, Spain, France, Japan, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Mexico, as well as wide support from Latin America and the Caribbean, including officials from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

The Haitian diaspora was also well represented, they said, as were critical non-governmental organizations, important international financial institutions and the European Union. Even though not in attendance, some West African States had voiced their intention to donate to the flash appeal, and foreign ministers of other European States had met before the weekend on Haiti.

Mr. Ryan said that the broad participation of actors allowed much-needed discussions between the Red Cross movement and the entire international community, with all actors sensing “an opportunity to be ruthless in rooting out duplication” and to insist on efficiency.

Priorities discussed at the meeting were rebuilding stability through the recovery efforts and through building back better, Mr. Ryan continued. It was necessary, participants had said, to help Haiti continue its democratization efforts through the reconstruction and to prepare for future seismic shocks. Some experts estimated that rebuilding in a way that could withstand future earthquakes might cost only 5 per cent more.

He said that a priority in employment and stability was fully funding the UNDP Cash-for-Work programme, which now only had 5,000 participants, but planned to engage 10,000 people by end of week. Much more attention was needed to get that programme working well.

Mr. Ryan added that a post-disaster needs assessment was being prepared at the request of the Government, with a wide variety of experts participating. He said that considerations were also ongoing on what kind of mechanism, such as a trust fund, was needed for the dispersal of long-term funding.

Mr. Holmes, turning to the situation on the ground, said that search-and-rescue efforts were winding down from the peak activity that had seen 67 teams, almost 2,000 people, involved.

The United Nations death toll stood at 82 and the number unaccounted for had come down recently to 45, he said, expressing hope it would come down further still. It was still impossible to determine an accurate estimate of total deaths among the population. Thirty per cent of buildings in Port-au-Prince were estimated to be destroyed or damaged, but many buildings that looked all right had been weakened so much that they were not safe.

Most people, he said, now had access to clean water, but many still did not have enough and intensive activity was being carried out on that front. Similarly, in regard to food packages, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that 10 million meals had been served, but many people did not yet have access, and all actors were stepping up efforts to provide millions more ready-to-eat meals, in the weeks ahead, before some sort of kitchen infrastructure was put in place.

He said that the medical emergency was also winding down and shifting towards postoperative care, and actors were trying to tackle the need for more drugs and more recovery facilities. He added that there would soon have to be a focus on the large number of amputees and people with psychological problems.

On the housing situation, he said that, in addition to sheeting and tarpaulins being supplied, 40,000 tents were on the way, but, of course short of the estimated need for 200,000 tents, which might be correct if there were indeed 1 million homeless. The location and management of camps were being discussed today. It was crucial that they be planned well from the start, he added.

On other areas of concern, he said the overall security situation was calm, despite some problems. The Joint Operation Tasking Centre, meeting every day on coordination between the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the other forces, had greatly improved logistics. As of today, the flash appeal was 49 per cent funded by committed monies, and 59 per cent funded counting all pledges.

Asked if there would be an evaluation of the humanitarian response, Mr. Holmes replied that the United Nations was acutely conscious of the need for self-assessment. There was always a lessons-learned exercise, as well as a concurrent evaluation of the relief operation, although the results would not be known for many weeks. Improvements needed in emergency communications would, he confirmed, be among the issues assessed.

In regard to supplying enough milk formula for infants, Mr. Holmes said he did not have information for an update, but he knew that part of the problem was getting clean water to mix with the formula.

In regard to the leadership envisioned for the reconstruction effort, Mr. Ryan said that rebuilding would be a team effort led by the Government. The exact nature of an optimal coordination mechanism was the subject of ongoing discussion. Currently, the acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General had daily coordination meetings with key bilateral and institutional partners.

The United Nations and its partners were being vigilant for any signs of corruption and were trying to ensure fair distribution of aid according to need, Mr. Holmes said. At a certain point, aid recipients would have to be registered to make sure that everyone got what they were entitled to. Women would probably be prioritized, to make sure that food got to families.

Both officials stressed the importance of getting children back to school, noting that education was an area that remained underfunded, even though United Nations agencies were trying to have school programmes up and running in 15 days, in order to get children off the streets and restore some sense of normalcy.

Finally, Mr. Holmes said that cash was the preferred form of donations to Haitian relief, but in-kind donations were being accepted and good use would be made of them.

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For information media • not an official record

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