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UN faces race against time and weather to obtain hazard-proof shelters for Haiti

8 February 2010 – The United Nations said today it is racing against time to bring in hazard-resistant tents for Haiti’s earthquake victims before the rainy season starts, provide sufficient agricultural input to save the next planting season, and raise greatly increased funding to support the effort.

“We have more or less two months, and in fact time is getting very short because rains could come earlier,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti Kim Bolduc told a news briefing in New York by video link from Port-au-Prince, the capital, in the latest update on the 12 January quake, which killed up to 200,000 people, injured many others and left 2 million in need of aid,

“In terms of key challenges, we are left obviously with the joint capacity of the Government and the international community to scale up the operation fast enough so that we reduce the level of vulnerability, we reach the people who are outside of Port-au-Prince,” she said, mentioning not only the towns of Jacmel and Léogâne but also other places in the hinterland where hundreds of thousands of people have sought refuge.

The ‘surge’ feeding operation launched by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is “going very well,” already covering some 95 per cent of those targeted by the end of its first week and on track to reach 2 million people with a 15-day supply of rice by the end of its second week, Ms. Bolduc noted. In the early weeks after the quake food supply fell behind its declared goals. WFP has sufficient food to carry on for a few months.

Water has been delivered to 800,000 people, a situation she called “reasonable, but obviously not sufficient,” while sanitation remains “critical,” with only 5 per cent of latrine needs covered, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) plans to launch an urgent appeal.

Some 250,000 of the 1 million people in need of shelter have received tents or plastic sheets, but the main concern now is to bring in sufficient hazard-resistant, hurricane-proof shelter, a task made all the more difficult because the port was severely damaged by the quake and air transportation would be enormously costly.

Moreover the road lifeline from the neighbouring Dominican Republic is becoming flooded because of rains and rising level of a nearby lake and the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is in talks with the United States military on finding an alternative route to allow for the influx of trucks bringing the “very necessary” equipment.

“It is now getting urgent to get agricultural input into the country and start preparing for the planting season in May, otherwise if that season is missed it would mean that humanitarian distribution of food would remain needed and on a very large scale for a very long time,” Ms. Bolduc added. “It is therefore very important that agriculture be supported immediately to allow for an early recovery to be initiated without any delay.”

With assessments coming in from outlying areas affected by the quake, the UN will launch a revised flash appeal on 17 February beyond the initial $562 million sought on 15 January. “Figures of requirements are going up and this appeal is expected to present now an updated requirement with much higher figures,” Ms. Bolduc said.

She noted that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had so far only received about 30 per cent of the $27 million it had sought to provide the necessary input to save the upcoming planting season.

She returned again and again to the need for adequate shelter, with the Government appealing for 200,000 tents. “I don’t think we have enough at all to be able to help them during this transition,” she said, stressing urgent need to bring in “as soon as we can” hazard-resistant shelter where people can be evacuated to “because many of them are living right now or camping under very dangerous slopes in the city that in the past have been affected by mudslides.”

Meanwhile UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman wrapped up a visit to younger quake survivors, many of whom have been seriously injured, traumatized or lost limbs, both in Haiti itself and in hospitals and care centres in the Dominican Republic.

“I met many children who were recovering from severe injuries, including a five-year-old girl whose leg had been amputated,” she said after one visit in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital. “She has been seriously traumatized and barely speaks. It is difficult for her to understand the tragedy that happened and the loss of her leg…

“With an estimated 38 per cent of the population of Haiti under the age of 15, this is a children’s emergency,” she added, noting she had heard countless stories of heartbreak but also of heroic compassion and bravery that saved lives. “I met a boy who survived for three days under the rubble. The boy’s family has not been located but he is being comforted by other survivors, many of whom lost everything in the earthquake.”

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