UN relief effort picks up pace after deadly Haiti quake
UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations is scaling up its assistance to victims of Haiti's catastrophic earthquake, as the acting top UN envoy to the impoverished Caribbean nation has taken up his duties on the ground and has started the task of coordinating the relief effort, UN officials said here Friday.
The 7.0 magnitude tremors which struck Haiti -- the Western Hemisphere's poorest country -- on Tuesday are estimated to have affected one third of the nation's nine million people.
While no official figures are available yet on the dead or injured, the death toll is expected to be high.
The earthquake has devastated the capital, Port-au-Prince, wrecking buildings and leaving basic services on the brink of collapse.
"Past disaster response experience has shown that effective coordination is vital if the right help is to reach the most vulnerable in time," said UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes. "If we are to meet the needs on the ground, we must work together."
With the top UN official in Haiti, Hedi Annabi, still unaccounted for, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dispatched Edmond Mulet, his former special representative to Haiti and current assistant-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, to the small island country, to assume full command of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
Upon arriving in Port-au-Prince on Thursday, Mulet held talks with Haiti's leaders, in which he stressed MINUSTAH is in the process of building back its capacity and emphasized the mission's full support of the Government as it rebuilds the devastated capital.
The Office for the Coordination Affairs (OCHA) said that food and medical help have started to arrive in Port-au-Prince, but that the scale is inevitably limited so far.
The Office is coordinating some 25 search-and-rescue teams -- considered a top priority as many people remained trapped under rubble -- while a further 13 teams are set to arrive shortly.
Dozens of nations have offered their assistance, and the UN is working to ensure that the aid reaches people as quickly as possible.
The secretary-general said here Thursday that the international community's outpouring of support to assist victims of the quake is encouraging. "Haiti will need every ounce of help we can offer," he told reporters.
Rescue teams from such countries as China, the United States and the Dominican Republic, already began their humanitarian operations in Haiti as massive influx of relief goods arrived in the Caribbean country, devastated by a strong earthquake on Tuesday that killed tens of thousands of Haitians and dozens of UN staff.
Ban said Friday that he would travel "very soon" to Haiti, where nearly 200 UN staff, including peacekeepers and civilian staff, remained unaccounted for since the outbreak of the earthquake.
With many survivors having sustained serious injuries, including traumatic wounds and crushed limbs, medical support has been identified as an immediate need, along with food, water and shelter.
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) is coordinating medical assistance and sending a 12-member team specializing in victim care, while its partners are ramping up their efforts on the ground.
Also on Thursday, WHO said eight hospitals were damaged or destroyed in Haiti and two damaged in the neighboring Dominican Republic. "We fear that the impact of this earthquake will be particularly devastating to the already existing vulnerability of Haiti's people, society and economy," WHO's Paul Garwood told reporters.
OCHA on Friday said that it is conferring with Haitian authorities on the possibility of the national soccer stadium being used as a field hospital location.
For its part, the World Food Program (WFP) is distributing food it already had in the country, and is moving nearly 90 metric tons of high-energy biscuits from El Salvador, while the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has sent in water purification and shelter supplies.
The world body is working to overcome serious obstacles to providing aid posed by lack of infrastructure and other issues.
"Disaster survivors have a right to expect assistance as soon as possible, and we have been working to get assistance to Haiti since the first hour after this earthquake," Holmes said. "The reality is that getting the quantities of supplies, equipment and expertise that are so desperately needed on the ground inevitably takes time."
Immediately after the disaster, Ban ordered 10 million U.S. dollars to be released from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to kick-start humanitarian relief efforts. A flash appeal for Haiti is expected to be launched this afternoon.