UN chief calls for immediate response to Haiti situation

16:47, December 04, 2010      

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon said here Friday that the international community must scale up its support for Haiti, a country that is experiencing a deadly cholera epidemic and political unrest in addition to the aftermath of a massive earthquake that took place in January and a more recent hurricane.

"Without a massive and immediate international response, we will be overwhelmed," said Ban. "The lives of hundreds of thousands of people are at risk. And it is up to us to act, with maximum speed and full resources."

Ban's statements came at a UN General Assembly meeting on the situation in Haiti. The Caribbean country, still dealing with reconstruction after the Jan. 12 earthquake and later Hurricane Tomas, is currently being devastated by cholera. According to estimates cited by Ban, the disease has killed more than 1,800 Haitians and infected almost 81,000.

"This is a function of a particularly virulent strain of cholera as well as underlying issues: a weak national health system, poor sanitary conditions, and the lack of clean water and other basic services," said Ban.

He urged donors and member states to act to help achieve two main goals: treat cholera in Haiti to minimize the fatality rate and relay information to Haitian communities about how to prevent spread of the disease.

Ban said that to accomplish these goals, Haiti needs more medical and non-medical personnel.

"PAHO (Pan-American Health Organization) and WHO (World Health Organization) estimate that an additional 350 doctors, 2,000 nurses and 2,200 support staff will be required over the next three months," Ban said. "This is in addition to the 300 medical personnel that Cuba has already committed. Approximately 30,000 community health workers and volunteers also need to be trained to help staff an estimated 15,000 oral re-hydration points."

The secretary-general told the assembly that Haiti is also in need of more vital supplies to treat and prevent cholera.

The UN and its partners on Nov. 11 launched an appeal for Haiti, titled the Cholera Inter-Sector Response Strategy for Haiti. The appeal, which totals 164 million U.S. dollars, is only 20 percent funded at the moment.

The secretary-general said that the UN is doing its utmost to answer persisting questions about where the cholera epidemic originated.

"We may never be able to fully answer these complex, difficult questions, but they deserve our best efforts," Ban said.

Speculation has abounded about the origins of the deadly outbreak as some Haitians have asserted that it came from UN workers in Haiti, particularly a Nepalese UN peacekeeping base in the Mirebalais area.

Ban reported that tests on water at the base have proved negative for cholera and that the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) will continue to monitor water samples at its posts and ensure that no wastewater flows into rivers.

"The people of Haiti deserve nothing less," Ban said.

Ban's statement to the assembly also addressed the problem of political unrest in the small island nation surrounding recent elections and the cholera outbreak.

"While some violence and disruptions on election day are not exceptional in Haiti, the irregularities now seem more serious than initially thought," said Ban.

The presidential and legislative elections that were held in Haiti Sunday have spurred the unrest, which Ban said has made it more difficult for humanitarian workers to treat the cholera epidemic effectively.

"Whatever the complaints or reservations about the process, I urge all political actors to refrain from violence and to start discussions immediately to find a Haitian solution to these problems -- before a serious crisis develops," he said.

Source: Xinhua


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