Remarks by John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator - Launch of the Flash Appeal for Haiti


15 January 2009 - 1600 hours.
Conference Room 1, United Nations, New York

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Good afternoon and a very warm welcome to this Flash Appeal Launch in the wake of the terrible earthquake in Haiti earlier this week.

I am pleased to welcome to the podium the Permanent Representative of Haiti Ambassador Léo Mérorés. Let me start by offering the most profound condolences of the United Nations System to the people of Haiti for the terrible tragedy that they've suffered.

This is a huge and horrifying catastrophe, the full consequences of which we do not yet know. It seems particularly appalling to be here yet again on this occasion, when many will recall that it was not so long ago since we were here in the wake of tragedy in Haiti in late 2008 when Haiti was struck by four successive hurricanes and tropical storms and suffered enormous damage, deaths and injuries.

As I said, it is doubly tragic that the people of Haiti were beginning to pick themselves up from that disaster and recover, and now inevitably those efforts have been set back once again as they reel from this latest appalling event.

I think you all understand that we have relatively little reliable information from the ground at the moment because of the difficulties of the communications and access, the breakdown of many services, and therefore some of the figures that you might sometimes expect on these occasions are not as accurate as we might like.

What is clear is that the extent of devastation is very great, the loss of life is very great-in the tens of thousands. Of course we do not know exactly but it is certainly very great, and not only in Port au Prince but outside the capital city as well, in some other cities including Jacmel. What is also clear is that we need a major and urgent relief effort to help the people of Haiti affected by this appalling tragedy, even if we cannot put reliable figures on it at this moment.

Let me try to give you some details about the humanitarian response that we are straining every nerve to mount, despite all the difficulties.

First, the international community is focusing at the moment particularly on search and rescue. There are still many people trapped under the rubble, and search and rescue teams from around the globe are on the ground doing their best to help. There are 17 teams already on the ground and another 10 on the way - 27 altogether--and they are doing their absolute best to rescue anybody who is alive despite all the difficulties. Of course, the chances of finding people alive diminish with every day that passes but that effort will be maintained as long as there is hope of finding survivors.

There are major medical needs-including for medical supplies doctors, and field hospitals. A major international effort has been mounted on that front and those things are beginning to arrive. After that, there is a very urgent need for clean water, and there will be a very major need also for food, emergency shelter and other non-food items as we begin to scale up the humanitarian effort.

The effort is already well under way of course. A massive effort is being mounted by many humanitarian organizations, UN agencies, NGOs, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and of course many countries bilaterally have offered or sent help. The international response has been very generous, very warm hearted and very urgent.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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