Despite the difficult conditions in post-earthquake Haiti, United Nations agencies are reaching more and more survivors with vital assistance, even as search and rescue operations continue for those who still might be saved.
The 7.0-magnitude quake that struck the Caribbean nation on 12 January levelled buildings, including homes, schools and hospitals, damaged roads and other vital infrastructure, and left one third of the country’s 9 million people in need of food, water, medical help and other urgent aid.
“The good news is that we are making rapid progress, despite the extremely difficult logistical challenges,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York today. “Water supplies are increasing. Tents and temporary shelters are arriving in growing numbers. Badly damaged hospitals are beginning to function again, aided by international medical teams.
“Our chief priority right now,” said Mr. Ban, who visited the devastated capital, Port-au-Prince, on Sunday, “is to get the relief distribution system in Port-au-Prince fully operational so that we may more efficiently distribute supplies.”
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that the conditions remain very difficult but humanitarian workers are now increasingly reaching out to affected areas outside of Port-au-Prince.
Immediate priorities continued to be medical assistance, corpse management, shelter, water and food and sanitation, it noted. Engineers are also needed to reconstruct the roads and bridges in the capital, and heavy equipment is needed to remove the huge piles of rubble.
OCHA reported that the situation remains “tense but calm,” despite some sporadic and isolated looting. About 3,000 troops from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) are providing help, including escort for humanitarian distributions and convoys.
The World Food Programme (WFP) reported that progress is being made and 270,000 people had received emergency food assistance as of Monday. It is aiming to reach 95,000 or 100,000 people today alone, and to distribute 10 million ready-to-eat rations in the coming week.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is leading efforts to address issues of water, sanitation and the protection of children, as well as their feeding and education. The agency has helped to distribute water to 80,000 people and continues to provide hospitals with 120,000 litres of water a day.
Executive Director Ann M. Veneman today voiced great concern about the situation of children in Haiti, many of whom have become separated from their families and caregivers.
“These children face increased risks of malnutrition and disease, trafficking, sexual exploitation and serious emotional trauma. The race to provide them with life-saving emergency food and medicine, safe shelter, protection, and care is under way,” she said in a statement.
She added that every effort will be made to reunite children with their families. “Only if that proves impossible, and after proper screening has been carried out, should permanent alternatives like adoption be considered by the relevant authorities,” Ms. Veneman stated.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main health priorities are to provide trauma treatment and to open more operating theatres around the affected areas. Medicines to treat 120,000 people for the next month for emergency conditions and trauma were slated to arrive today, while extra equipment to provide water to health facilities throughout the affected areas are expected in the next couple of days.
At least 13 hospitals are now working in and around Port-au-Prince, the agency added.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reiterated its strong commitment to back up and support the broader humanitarian effort in Haiti. Two aircraft carrying 2,130 lightweight tents and 18,550 plastic sheets for more than 90,000 people will arrive in Haiti at the beginning of next week from UNHCR’s logistics and supplies hub in Dubai.
In addition, a small team from the agency will arrive shortly in the Dominican Republic, at the request of the UN’s Resident Coordinator there.
Meanwhile, search and rescue operations are continuing, OCHA’s Elizabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva, adding that as of Monday, there were 48 international rescue teams on the ground and live rescues were still being made.