It is four days since an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale, the strongest in more than 200 years, rocked the impoverished Caribbean nation on 12 January. The earthquake struck Ouest Province (population 2.2 million), with the epicentre some 17km south-west of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. The nearby cities of Carrefour and Jacmel, as well as other areas to the west and south of Port-au-Prince, were also affected.
In launching the Appeal for assistance, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes noted that nearly one in three Haitians have been affected by this devastating disaster. "They need our immediate help. There is not a moment to lose. Lives are on the line. The coming days can make a critical difference in caring for the acutely injured, preventing the spread of disease, and providing essential food, water and shelter to tens of thousands of families who have been left with little but the clothes on their back."
According to Mr. Holmes, the Appeal has been published faster than usual due to the disaster's scale and severity. Numbers are still approximate at this early date. Mr. Holmes said the Appeal would be revised in the coming weeks when "more information, better-developed plans and participation by more organizations are possible."
The initial relief focus is search and rescue efforts and the provision of medical assistance and evacuation, water, food, tents and blankets. Logistical support and resources are essential to ensure the prompt, scaled-up delivery of relief items and to establish safe shelter and reception areas for the displaced.
"Hundreds of thousands of people have been left traumatized by the quake and are sleeping in the open amidst the rubble and bodies of the deceased," said Mr. Holmes. "Others are traveling outside the capital in search of help. It is vitally important we provide aid for displaced populations as well as those families who host them," he said.
Coordination of assistance will be essential to the success of the aid operation. "In a disaster of this scale, it is imperative that efforts be well-coordinated to ensure the right kind of assistance gets to the right people at the right time," said Mr. Holmes. "The immense goodwill we are now witnessing needs to translate into relevant and coherent action on the ground," he noted. Mr. Holmes noted that at the moment, there is no way to be certain of the numbers of people killed, wounded, trapped, missing or homeless. "The initial estimate of 3 million people that has been used in the Appeal is based to a greater degree than usual on remote sensing, background information, estimation and inference." Assessments are now under way in Port-au-Prince to map the consequences of the earthquake. National and international efforts are expected to scale up very significantly in the coming days and weeks.
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- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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