United Nations agencies are working around the clock to provide urgently needed assistance to the victims of the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti on Tuesday, which is estimated to have affected one third of the Caribbean nation’s nine million people – a population that was already one of the most vulnerable in the world.
No official figures are available yet on the dead or injured, but the 7.0 magnitude quake has devastated the capital, Port-au-Prince, wrecking buildings and leaving basic services on the brink of collapse.
“Clearly, this is a major humanitarian disaster,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York today. “The needs are huge. The needs are immediate: above all medical supplies, food, water, tents, shovels, heavy equipment.”
The UN’s main priorities, said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, remain search-and-rescue efforts and the provision of medical assistance to the injured.
The international community is moving swiftly to ensure that aid reaches Haiti as quickly as possible, but he expressed frustration that “however fast we move, we will be too slow” for those in dire need of help.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) began small-scale food distributions yesterday for about 3,000 people in Jacmel, a city south of the capital, and is planning to start distributions in the capital today for some 2,400 people.
WFP’s Charles Vincent told reporters in Geneva that stocks are available and distributions in other areas will start as soon as the agency receives clearance from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
The food going to several thousand people is a “drop in the ocean” compared to the needs of the Haitian population, Mr. Vincent said, but added that it is a start and aid efforts are being stepped up, with larger-scale work expected in the coming days as supplies arrive into the country.
WFP is preparing a six-month emergency operation to assist as many as 2 million people affected by the quake for an initial six months. “We are mobilizing all available resources to provide urgently needed food assistance as part of a swift and coordinated recovery effort,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.
Last night, a cargo plane carrying $500,000 worth of supplies from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) landed in the country, bringing with it enough oral rehydration salts, water purifications tablets, tarpaulins and tents to provide temporary housing for 10,000 people. A second plane is due to land today with blankets, tents and jerry cans.
Executive Director Ann M. Veneman has stressed that “the special needs of children for food, shelter and protection, must be factored in at the very outset of relief efforts and UNICEF will do everything in its power to make sure these needs are met.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) said eight hospitals were damaged or destroyed in Haiti and two damaged in neighbouring Dominican Republic. “We fear that the impact of this earthquake will be particularly devastating to the already existing vulnerability of Haiti’s people, society and economy,” WHO’s Paul Garwood told reporters.
“Our priority is firstly search and rescue, then the treatment of trauma, severe injuries and treatment and prevention of infections,” he added.
Given the lack of access to basic health services, the immediate response of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) includes delivering emergency reproductive health kits that contain essential drugs, equipment and supplies to provide life-saving services to pregnant women.
The agency said it will also work to ensure that women and girls have access to basic hygiene supplies so that they can live with dignity, even amid the worst circumstances.
ITU, the UN specialized agency for information and communication technology, has also joined the global humanitarian effort for Haiti. It has already deployed 40 portable satellite uplinks and a base station to re-establish basic communication links, and is dispatching another 60 units with broadband facility along with experts to operate them.
Immediately after the disaster, Mr. Ban ordered $10 million to be released from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to kick-start humanitarian relief efforts. A flash appeal for Haiti is expected to be launched tomorrow.
Pledges have also been made from a number of sources over the last day, including an additional $100 million in emergency grants announced by the World Bank to support recovery and reconstruction in Haiti.
A new UN website will provide an opportunity for the private sector to assist Haiti, among other humanitarian crises worldwide.
The UN-business partnership gateway – a joint effort of over 20 UN agencies – provides a single entry point to allow the private sector to offer its resources and capacities to the world body as it helps the victims of Tuesday’s Haiti quake and other disasters.