One year after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, killing 220,000 people and making 1.5 million others homeless, the citizens of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere have achieved a lot with international aid but a much more needs to be done, a senior United Nations official said today.
“Clearly, speeding up the reconstruction and recovery effort is the absolute priority for 2011,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti Nigel Fisher told a news conference in New York two days before the 12 January anniversary of the disaster. “Obviously, things could have gone quicker but I think it is important to remember that reconstruction takes time.”
But he added: “In retrospect I think we can say that by and large the initial response to the earthquake was a success.”
He noted that the emergency relief appeal had been funded to the tune of almost $1 billion, 72 per cent of requirements. But the $400 million shortfall affected some sectors, with camp coordination and management being “critically under-funded.”
“As of 1 January there are an estimated 810,000 people still living in the 1,150 camps that we estimate still exist, that is just over half of the camp population which reached its peak of 1.5 million in July last year,” Mr. Fisher said, speaking via video-link from the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.
Of the 700,000 who have left the camps, about 100,000 have been relocated into 31,000 transitional shelters, 1,000 shelters ahead of the target. He also noted that people are returning to their homes but are living in their yards because they are afraid of further collapses of concrete.
Meanwhile, 95 per cent of the children in the earthquake zones who were going to school before the quake have returned to the classrooms.
For the coming year, $3 billion in projects have been approved, with $1.28 billion already funded and $1.63 billion committed and earmarked. But the work ahead is clearly a multi-year challenge. “Crucial to our future,” added Mr. Fisher, is a resolution of the political crisis arising from November’s disputed first round in the presidential elections.
Thousands of protesters last month rampaged through the streets of Port-au-Prince, accusing the ruling government coalition of rigging the results, after provisional tallies put former first lady Mirlande Manigat and outgoing President Rene Préval’s party candidate Jude Celestin in first and second place, thus qualifying for January’s run-off.
Popular musician Michel Martelly was less than one percentage point behind in third place, but thus excluded from the run-off. A commission is currently reviewing the count.
Mr. Fisher noted that feared epidemics did not erupt in the aftermath of the quake, and the current cholera outbreak, which has already killed at least 3,600 people, was not related to the disaster itself. But he said the epidemic, which erupted in October, could infect 400,000 people in its first year and it was crucial to reduce the death rate.
“Cholera does not need to kill,” he said, noting that mortality had already dropped from 6 per cent to 2.2 per cent of those infected, although this was still too high. Clean water, re-hydration and sanitation are key elements in combating the disease, which is spread by contaminated water and food, and reducing the death rate.
Some 2.2 million Haitian schoolchildren are at risk of contracting the disease, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said today, stressing that lack of adequate funding for the cholera control and prevention programmes in schools, orphanages and child care centres was a major drawback. A $174 million UN appeal to help contain the outbreak has so far received only $44 million.