United Nations agencies voiced alarm today at the lack of global support for Haiti's immediate agricultural needs, such as seed and fertilizers to ensure food from the next planting season, while stressing that disaster mitigation techniques must figure fully in the country’s reconstruction from last month’s devastating earthquake.
“At a time when Haiti is facing a major food crisis we are alarmed at the lack of support to the agricultural component of the Flash Appeal,” UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf told a high-level meeting in Rome to coordinate UN efforts for the medium- and long-term recovery of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
The $575-million UN appeal launched shortly after the 12 January quake, which killed some 200,000 people, injured many others and left 2 million in need of aid, sought $23 million for immediate agricultural needs. “But only 8 per cent of this sum has so far been funded,” Mr. Diouf said. “The economic and social reconstruction of Haiti requires a revival of food production and massive investment in rural areas.
“The immediate priority is support for the farm season that begins in March and accounts for more than 60 per cent of the country’s food production,” he added, noting that FAO has already started to distribute seeds, fertilizer and tools to enable farmers to plant for the next harvest.
But he also underlined the need for “massive sustained international assistance for a long period” to achieve sustainable growth that will dramatically reduce hunger and poverty. This requires Rome-based UN agencies to better coordinate their efforts and he proposed the creation of a tripartite task force grouping FAO, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran, IFAD President Kanayo Nwanze and Haiti’s Agriculture Minister, Joanas Gue, attended today’s meeting.
Meanwhile, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) is working with donors and partners to ensure that Haiti’s schools, hospitals and houses will be rebuilt in a manner that integrates strategic planning to mitigate these multi-hazard risks.
“It will take a minimum of 10 years to rebuild Haiti but it is important to start building safer schools, hospitals and critical infrastructure now,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlström said today, noting that collapsed buildings and unstable land were the prime contributing factors to the high death toll during January’s quake.
She stressed the need to “ensure that corruption does not undermine reconstruction efforts, particularly as the building sector in Haiti has witnessed severe corruption cases in the past. Cutting corners and using sub-standard building practices contributed to the significant loss of life,” Ms. Wahlström said.
She also cited the “great urgency now to give particular attention to structural safety for temporary schools, hospitals and camp settlements” in view of the upcoming rainy and hurricane seasons, noting that camps must be built in safe locations with resistant materials and adequate drainage.
With aid and services still not reaching a significant portion of quake victims and many people still lacking basic amenities such as shelter, food, water and medical assistance, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today urged countries to suspend all involuntary returns of Haitians to their homeland and to continue granting interim protection measures on humanitarian grounds.
“We are particularly concerned about the large numbers of highly vulnerable people, including the injured as well as separated or orphaned children,” they added in a joint communiqué.
On another note, Mr. Ban has wished former United States President Bill Clinton, his Special Envoy for Haiti, a speedy recovery from the heart procedure he underwent in hospital yesterday, thanking him for his “tremendous work on behalf of the United Nations for the people of Haiti.”