John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, updates correspondents on the situation in Haiti


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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everybody. As you know, we have John Holmes here, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. And I'll turn right over to you, John. We have about half an hour.

Briefing by Under-Secretary-General John Holmes

Thank you very much, Martin, and good afternoon, everybody. Let me just make a few points to start with. And I apologize if they're in slightly random order, but it's not easy to find time to make it more structured.

First of all, I think you're aware from various briefings already, we'll be launching a flash this afternoon at 4. I'll be doing that. We were hoping to have [Special Envoy to Haiti] President [Bill] Clinton there as well, but he's not, in fact, available. He's on a plane at the time. The flash appeal will be for around $560 million, which I think is slightly higher than the figure you had already. The full breakdown of what that appeal represents will be available this afternoon, but let me just say, give you a rough sort of idea: almost half of that, as usual in these situations, will be for food, emergency food aid. And then there'll be amounts of between $20 and $50 million for health, water and sanitation, nutrition, emergency shelter, early recovery and agriculture ?? the latter two, of course, being linked; they're very much at the recovery end of it. There will be some other elements, too ?? for example, emergency education. But those will be the main areas that we'll be asking for money for. The basis of the appeal will be that some 3 million people are believed to have been badly affected by the earthquake, and we'll be looking for relief to keep them going for six months. That's of course in the first place.

As I think I said yesterday, this is very much a first rough effort at this. We know that it doesn't represent very good detailed information from the ground, but we'll be revising it in three or four weeks to reflect that, and probably to include a bit more on the early recovery side when we've got a better idea, for example, of how that should be done.

We still don't have any reliable figures for dead or injured, although, of course, we recognize that those numbers are likely to be extremely high. Our best estimate at the moment, from satellite pictures, is that at least 30 per cent of the buildings in Port-au-Prince have been affected by the earthquake. There are some areas of the city, for example Cité Soleil, which are relatively less affected ?? either because of their geographical location or because of the nature of the structures there ?? less vulnerable to earthquakes. But, of course, the effects of the earthquake were extremely severe in some areas. There were some areas where 50 per cent or more of the buildings have been damaged.

The scale of the international response so far is extremely encouraging. I think, as I said yesterday, we have counted so far about $360 million in pledges. Some of that might be going to the flash appeal, others will be going bilaterally in different ways or directly to non-governmental organizations and others, which is fine. That figure is not all for emergency aid; for example, some of it will be for reconstruction and longer-term efforts. For example, there was $100 million each from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), which are likely to be more related to longer-term reconstruction than emergency aid, but just to give you some idea of the response. And, of course, there are many companies and individuals who are responding extremely generously to this relief effort.

On the search-and-rescue side, that effort is going on with all possible speed. Some people are still being recovered alive, relatively fewer, as you would expect, but that is still happening. There are some 27 search-and-rescue teams, either there already ?? I think 17 are there, and another 10 are on their way ?? and we're trying to get the message out now that we don't need any more search-and-rescue teams beyond those that are on their way already.

Obviously, every humanitarian agency there is ?? both United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement ?? are busting a gut, if I can put it that way, to get people there in larger numbers, people to help, and to get supplies in, as well as, of course, all the bilateral efforts which are going on from individual countries led, of course, by the huge United States effort. Planes from the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF, the International Red Cross, the International Federation of the Red Cross ?? which is a separate thing ?? have already landed, and Médecins Sans Frontières have already landed. Others are on their way. Of course, there are all the bilateral aid planes which have been landing too. I won't go into all the details of those. I don't have a full list here, but many of those I think you're aware of.

As you're also aware, there has been an issue ?? there is an issue ?? about the capacity of the airport. There was a particular problem about congestion yesterday afternoon, when planes had to circle. But, again, everybody's working desperately to resolve these problems. The airport was working through the night. Planes were landing with increasing frequency. So, the capacity, I think, of the airport to deal with flights is rising. It's certainly handling more flights than it was before the earthquake, despite the damage to the control tower.

The port is still out of action, but we believe the road from the Dominican Republic is now open and useable, and is indeed being used to some extent.

Some other bits of information: you may have seen stories that the World Food Programme warehouses were looted in Port-au-Prince. They were not looted. In fact, that's not a correct story. We believe they are intact. There are some issues about access to them, not least because of some doubt about the structure of them, which is making people a little bit nervous about going inside. But they have not been looted, as we were assured by the World Food Programme this morning.

Food: there are these stocks of food on the ground. Food is arriving in increasing quantities. Water is arriving and water purification equipment is arriving from UNICEF, Oxfam, CARE and others, as well as from the United Nations agencies. I was told this morning that 13 truckloads of bottled water are on their way from the Dominican Republic, for example. That's obviously, again, not going to be enough, but supplies are beginning to arrive.

Distribution of these supplies started yesterday, particularly of ready-to-eat food from stocks on the ground and from stocks beginning to come in. Obviously, you should be well aware that was a very small scale compared with the need. We hope that will be larger today. I'm sure it will larger today, and we are setting up, with the Government, 15 distribution points around the city and also trying to make sure we have safe storage areas to put the food and to operate. Clearly the distribution is an issue ?? about how fast we can do that, and whether it represents more than a drop in the ocean of what is needed ?? we're well aware of that. We understand and share the impatience and frustration that there is about this, and there is a need to recognize, I think, that there are significant constraints on this; not only the difficulties of the arrival of goods and unloading, but also the distribution. There are a lack of trucks, lack of fuel, blocked roads, and so on. I'm not trying to make excuses; I'm simply saying that there is a reality there that we need to deal with. It's classic for any similar operation that, inevitably, and despite everybody's enormous efforts, it can take time to scale up. It will be scaling up every day by multiples, I'm sure. I acknowledge that you need to note that the anger and frustration is there and that it's inevitably slow. But I just ask you to acknowledge that reality, too. People, as I say, are passing many sleepless nights to try and get this material there, this aid there, to people who desperately need it. We recognize that. We have no doubt about that.

We're also setting up, as well as the airport in Port-au-Prince, separate hubs for the arrival of aid and the stockage of aid, in way stations if you like, in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and in Panama City, so that we can channel the aid in the most rational way possible.

A couple of other points: bodies are being collected systematically now by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and by the Government, insofar as they have capacity to do that. I think we had a figure of, I think it was 9,000 bodies so far that have been collected yesterday, so that gives you some idea of the scale of that problem. But I hope that much more progress will be made on that today.

On the medical side, which we've also talked about before, some hospitals are still working despite all the difficulties, although, as we've said before, they're overwhelmed. Various field hospitals are already on the way. One or two are already there. And again, we're taking the view that we don't need any more field hospitals beyond those that are already on the way, which are several. But, of course, there's still an urgent need for doctors and medical supplies beyond the field hospitals.

One final point, which I think we touched on yesterday. People are moving, to some extent, from the centre of Port-au-Prince to areas outside, to relatives, no doubt, perhaps in other communities. And there are some reports of movement of people on a limited scale, I think, towards the Dominican Republic, particularly people seeking medical help in the hospital near the border there. So we're keeping an eye on that to make sure we can track it and deal with people who are crossing into the Dominican Republic. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is very focused on that.

So let me stop there ?? I hope that was helpful ?? and answer your questions.