Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will travel on Sunday to Haiti, which was devastated by a massive earthquake earlier this week, it was announced today, to show solidarity with the people of the impoverished Caribbean nation, as the United Nations continues to rush aid to the victims.
This afternoon, he spoke by phone with Haitian President René Préval and assured him the UN was fully mobilized to bring aid. Mr. Préval said that the biggest problem was coordinating all the aid efforts and that he would discuss the issue with Mr. Ban's acting Special Representative in Haiti Edmond Mulet. Mr. Ban said United States coordination with the UN was also very important.
Tuesday's 7.0 magnitude earthquake is said to have affected one-third of Haiti's 9-million strong population. Many of the people in the hard-hit capital, Port-au-Prince, do not have access to food, water, shelter and electricity.
UN emergency teams on the ground estimate that as many of half of the buildings in the worst-hit areas of the capital have been damaged or destroyed.
“We are still in the search-and-rescue phase, and we are trying to save as many lives as possible,” Mr. Ban told reporters today.
During a meeting with Haitian staff members this afternoon at UN Headquarters in New York, he offered his condolences and said that he will visit the country on Sunday to show his solidarity with UN staff, hundreds of whom are unaccounted for, and the people of Haiti.
He also said that he hopes to assess the humanitarian assistance effort and the scale of the catastrophe for himself.
With the top UN official in Haiti, Hédi Annabi, still unaccounted for, Mr. Ban dispatched Mr. Mulet, his former Special Representative to Haiti and current Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, to the country to assume full command of the UN Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH).
Upon arriving in Port-au-Prince yesterday, Mr. Mulet held talks with Haiti's leaders, in which he stressed that MINUSTAH is in the process of building back its capacity and emphasized the Mission's full support of the Government as it rebuilds the devastated capital.
The Secretary-General announced that he is also sending Tony Banbury, Assistant-Secretary-General for field operations, to serve as Mr. Mulet's deputy.
A major humanitarian operation is under way, he said, and “although it is inevitably slower and more difficult than any of us would wish, we are mobilizing all resources as fast as we possibly can.”
With the airport's capacity limited, roads still blocked and the lack of transport and fuel within Haiti, the logistical situation, the Secretary-General stressed, is a very difficult one.
“That said, the international community's response has been generous and robust, and we are gearing up rapidly and effectively despite the challenging circumstances,” he said.
The UN launched a flash appeal for some $562 million today, with a bulk of these funds to be directed to urgent needs, including food, water and shelter.
UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky announced today that over 300 UN personnel are still missing or unaccounted for, with 36 military and civilian MINUSTAH personnel, as well as one staff member with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), having been confirmed to have died.
The Christopher Hotel, which houses the UN headquarters in Haiti, and other buildings hosting the world body's offices collapsed in the tremors.