Haiti quake 'a great tragedy,' acting top UN envoy says
With the top UN official in Haiti, Hédi Annabi, still unaccounted for, Mr. Ban dispatched Edmond Mulet, his former Special Representative to Haiti and current Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, to the country to assume full command of the UN Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH).
Upon arriving in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday - one day after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti - Mr. Mulet held talks with President René Préval and other top officials, in which he stressed that 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.
He has also flown over the capital, Port-au-Prince, the city most devastated by the tremors, with Mr. Préval, during which they saw first-hand the destruction wrought by the disaster, which is believed to have affected one third of Haiti's 9-million strong population.
UN emergency teams on the ground estimate that as many of half of the buildings in the worst-hit areas of the capital have been damaged or destroyed.
During a meeting yesterday afternoon with Haitian UN staff members this afternoon in New York, the Secretary-General offered his condolences and said that he will visit the country on Sunday to show his solidarity with UN staff, hundreds of whom are unaccounted for, and the people of Haiti.
He also said that he hopes to assess the humanitarian assistance effort and the scale of the catastrophe for himself.
"We are still in the search-and-rescue phase, and we are trying to save as many lives as possible," Mr. Ban told reporters, as UN agencies continue to rush assistant to Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) aims to reach up to 2 million people with one-week rations of ready-to-eat food, while also planning for food-for-work schemes to jump-start reconstruction and rehabilitation.
For its part, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is distributing water purification tablets, rehydration salts and other supplies in a bid to prevent the spread of diarrheal infections and diseases.
Two planes loaded with 70 metric tons of tents, tarpaulin, and medicine are also set to land in Haiti this weekend.
A major humanitarian operation is under way, Mr. Ban said, and "although it is inevitably slower and more difficult than any of us would wish, we are mobilizing all resources as fast as we possibly can."
With the airport''s capacity limited, roads still blocked and the lack of transport and fuel within Haiti, the logistical situation, he stressed, is a very difficult one.
"That said, the international community''s response has been generous and robust, and we are gearing up rapidly and effectively despite the challenging circumstances," he said, a sentiment echoed by Mr. Mulet.
Yesterday, Mr. Ban spoke by phone with President Préval and assured him the UN was fully mobilized to bring aid. The Haitian said that the biggest problem was coordinating all the aid efforts and that he would discuss the issue with Mr. Ban''s acting Special Representative in Haiti Edmond Mulet. Mr. Ban said United States coordination with the UN was also very important.
The UN has launched a flash appeal for some $562 million, with a bulk of these funds to be directed to urgent needs, including food, water and shelter.
UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky announced yesterday that over 300 UN personnel are still missing or unaccounted for, with 36 military and civilian MINUSTAH personnel, as well as one WFP staff member, having been confirmed to have died.
The Christopher Hotel, which houses the UN headquarters in Haiti, and other buildings hosting the world body's offices collapsed in the tremors.