The United Nations remains strongly committed to doing everything possible to help the people of Haiti but is realistic about what it can accomplish before the rainy season begins in earnest on 1 May, said a senior official with the world body.
“When the rains come, the UN will still be there in solidarity with the people of Haiti living in conditions not so dissimilar from many of them and working hard to help them,” Anthony Banbury, Acting Principal Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General at the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), told journalists in New York.
Mr. Banbury – who is scheduled to return to Haiti tomorrow – admitted that while plans are underway to provide more than one million homeless people with some form of shelter and sanitation, not everyone will have “good shelter” or “good sanitation” before the heavy rains start.
He praised the UN response effort as “truly impressive” given the challenges, and said that the expectation that “people were just going to be housed overnight” was beyond the scope of any group or organization.
More than 66,000 families (330,000 people) have received emergency shelter materials, about 30 per cent of the estimated need. More than 250,000 tarpaulins and tents are in the pipeline and will be distributed immediately upon arrival, according to the latest report from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
In addition to distributing shelter materials, there is a critical need for rubble removal as well as for the identification of suitable land for the construction of transitional shelter to alleviate decongestion in overcrowded sites.
Comparing the recovery effort in Haiti with those he experienced following Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008 and the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, Mr. Banbury said the complexity of the situation in Haiti made it the “most challenging disaster response that that the United Nations has ever faced in its history.”
The most serious problems currently in Haiti – sanitation and shelter – are interconnected in a way that makes it impossible to solve one without the other, posing challenges for the UN system of clusters in which one agency takes a lead on managing a humanitarian issue, Mr. Banbury said.
He also praised the UN peacekeepers for taking on a new role as emergency first responders during the 12 January earthquake.
“The UN peacekeeping apparatus is not designed for, and really has very little experience dealing with, sudden onset natural disasters. So we had to do – in this case – something that we have never done before,” Mr. Banbury said.
As relief efforts continue, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) announced it has started distributing aid to quake survivors and host families in a poor region of Haiti, near the border with the Dominican Republic.
Local officials and Haitian Red Cross staff began distributing the UNHCR aid on Saturday in the town of Fonds-Verrettes, where the local population has been swollen some 10 to 15 per cent by the arrival of people fleeing from the devastated capital, Port-au-Prince.
Each family, including many hosts, was given an aid pack that contained a blanket, a bucket, five bars of soap, a flashlight, a cooking pot, five spoons, matches and sanitary pads.
“This small-scale aid is intended to help meet some of the most basic non-food item needs of those host families whose already very limited resources are being stretched to the absolute limit,” said UNHCR spokesman Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, adding that the agency hoped this would also help prevent further displacement.