The relief effort after Haiti’s devastating earthquake a year ago has helped millions of people, but a multi-year initiative with full international support is crucial to put the country on its feet, the top United Nations humanitarian official warned today.
“Accelerating recovery efforts must be the absolute priority for 2011,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos told the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) just days after the first anniversary of the quake that killed 220,000 Haitians and made 1.5 million others homeless.
“But even when this happens, it is important to still be realistic about how long it is going to take to get everybody to where they want and need to be. We cannot expect that Haiti, the poorest and least developed country in the Western Hemisphere before the earthquake, will be rebuilt in one year or even two.”
She noted that the crisis has been compounded by the cholera epidemic which erupted in October and has already infected almost 200,000 people and killed over 3,700.
The overall case fatality rate has declined from a peak of 9 per cent to around 2 per cent, indicating that while the infection is still spreading around the country, treatment facilities and intensive public information campaigns launched to educate people about how to protect themselves are working, she added.
“The relief effort is still helping millions of people to survive in what remain extremely difficult conditions. Malnutrition, chronically weak health systems, appallingly low literacy rates, and widespread lack of access to clean water, sanitation, and other basic services mean humanitarian assistance is still an essential lifeline for hundreds of thousands of Haitians,” Ms. Amos said.
Aid agencies are still providing water to more than 1 million people every day, food to 2 million people every month and helping to keep 2.2 million children in school, but she noted that of $174 million requested for the cholera response, only 27 per cent has been provided. “So we need to scale up and do more. Much more attention to the cholera response is needed if the improved response of the last weeks is to be sustained,” she added.
“Humanitarian agencies are prepared to stand beside the poorest and most vulnerable Haitian people for as long as it takes to recover from this last terrible year, and whatever the years ahead might hold,” she concluded.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also called for realism today in helping Haiti recover. “The road ahead will be long and hard. Reconstruction has been slow. International aid and investment has not come as quickly as needed,” he told a news conference in New York.
“As we continue to help Haiti to rebuild, we must not only fulfil essential needs in areas such as clean water and sanitation, health care and jobs; we must also prioritize improvements in security and the rule of law,” he added.
He also noted that the political situation remains “extremely delicate,” given the still unsettled dispute over the outcome of first round of elections in November.
“The challenge for the UN mission during this testing passage is, first, to maintain security; and second, to help a new, legitimate government that enjoys the support of the population get on its feet and fulfil its responsibilities to the Haitian people.”
The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), currently with nearly 12,000 military and police personnel, has been on the ground since mid-2004 after then president Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile amid violent unrest.
ECOSOC President Hamidon Ali stressed the importance the Council attached to addressing the situation in Haiti, and the need to strengthen national capacities and to better align donor support to Haitian priorities in the reconstruction process.
“While the continuum from relief to recovery and longer-term development is a difficult process, it is of utmost importance to ensure that it does take place and that the population feels improvements, even if they are small given the immensity of the problems faced in the country, particularly for those still living in camps,” he stated.