UN organizations recover from Haiti quake, situation stable

10:28, January 20, 2010      

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The United Nations is recovering little by little from last week's massive earthquake in Haiti to provide more and more humanitarian assistance to the devastated capital of Port-au-Prince, the UN chief of mission said Tuesday.

"The situation on the ground is quite stable and normal," said Edmond Mullet, acting special representative of UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, told reporters in a video teleconference from the Haitian capital. He also denied reports of mass looting and rampaging violence.

Mullet, a former special representative in the Haitian capital, arrived about 36 hours after the Jan. 12 quake to take up leadership after Special Representative Hedi Annabi was fatally trapped in the wreckage of UN Haiti headquarters with one of his two deputies and the acting UN police commissioner.

The bodies of more than 40 UN personnel have been pulled from the debris with approximately 20 more people missing, said David Wimhurst, a UN spokesman in Port-au-Prince. It is the single highest death toll of UN personnel in the world organization's history. Two major UN headquarters building collapsed.

"My main task has been to put the mission back on its feet," said Mullet in describing how the United Nations has been reinforcing the UN Stabilization Mission to Haiti, known by its French acronym, Minustah.

"It's like in airplanes when the pressure drops you have these oxygen masks that drop," he said. "You have to put it on yourself first and then you have to help the other ones. So we have to help ourselves first in order to perform our mandate and then help others."

He said the UN mission was "under a lot of pressure from many groups, many sectors" to not only carry out its original assignment but also perform "much more right now in relation to humanitarian assistance, providing security, coordination mechanisms with everybody on the ground. So the pressure on the mission has been really, really enormous."

"But, little by little, day by day, we have been improving in our performance and working better, not only internally, but also in our support side to other partners," Mullet continued.

"It is true that some incidents have happened of looting," he said. "Food has been taken from destroyed supermarkets and shops, which is almost a normal situation in these kind of circumstances. But we have not seen, at all, any kind of violent rampages or swarms of looters, or people attacking or aggressive actions against anybody."

Televised reports on U.S. networks from Port-au-Prince have shown what appears to be looting and some violence among apparent looters on the streets of the Haitian capital..

The acting special representative said that in the last 48 hours military and police patrols in Port-au-Prince have been increased, with the number of Haiti National Police doubling Tuesday from Monday's 2,000 on patrol.

"We are helping with humanitarian deliveries," he added. "The military especially have been involved in that."

Mullet said Canadian and U.S. troops were instrumental in humanitarian aid and agreements were being worked out with both nations on roles being assumed and areas to be covered. He said it was seen Canadian forces would be assisting in the south and southwest of the island nation and the U.S. forces in the capital.

At UN World headquarters in New York, the secretary-general welcomed the UN Security Council lifting the ceiling on the number of troops and police that may be assigned to Minustah. That would be in addition to the Canadian and U.S. forces there on a bilateral agreement with the Haiti government.

"By approving my proposal, yesterday, to send an additional 2, 000 soldiers and 1,500 police officers to Haiti, the Council sends a clear signal: The world is with Haiti," Ban told reporters at the UN Headquarters in New York after the 15-member panel unanimously voted its approval Tuesday.

"I am sure member states will respond quickly as well," he added. "We must do all we can to get these extra forces on the ground as soon as possible so that they can help maintain order and deliver humanitarian assistance."

The UN chief also said 90 people had been saved by 43 international teams made up of 1,700 people.

"Our relief operations are gearing up quickly," Ban said. "For those who have lost everything, of course, help cannot come soon enough. The good news is that we are making rapid progress, despite the extremely difficult logistical challenges."

Water supplies were increasing; tents and temporary shelters were arriving in growing numbers; badly damaged hospitals were beginning to function again, aided by international medical teams, he said.

"We distributed daily food rations yesterday for nearly 200,000 people," Ban said. "We expect to be reaching approximately 1 million people within a week. Our chief priority right now is to get the relief distribution system in Port-au-Prince fully operational so that we may more efficiently distribute supplies -- food, water, medicine, tents and other essential items."

"We are concerned, however, that numbers of unsolicited and uncoordinated supplies and personnel entering the country will stretch limited logistical resources and interfere with the delivery of vital aid," he said. "I appeal to all international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and aid groups to work closely with the United Nations to make sure that our joint efforts complement one another, and not duplicate them."

Capacity at the airport was improving, said Mullet, adding that a land link was established with Haiti's neighbor on the Caribbean isle of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic. Work was also afoot to reopen the destroyed facilities in the port of Port- au-Prince to further increase the flow of aid.

Source: Xinhua
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