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UN Secretary-General visits Haiti as emergency supply efforts continue

'You are not alone'

By Tim Ledwith

NEW YORK, USA, 18 January 2010 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other UN and government officials visited stricken areas of Port-au-Prince yesterday, amidst continuing international efforts to help 3 million people – perhaps half of them children – affected by the 12 January earthquake in Haiti.

 "I am here to say we are with you,” Mr. Ban told survivors. “You are not alone."

The earthquake has left large swaths of the Haitian capital and other municipalities in ruins. Some 1,500 workers from more than 25 nations have been engaged in search-and-rescue operations.

At least 40 UN staff were killed in the quake and about 300 are still missing. None of UNICEF’s staff died, but its offices were partially destroyed. Despite its own losses, the humanitarian community in Haiti remains focused on its main goal: overcoming huge logistical obstacles in order to deliver life-saving supplies to those who desperately need them.

Aid airlift under way

Late last week, two cargo planes flew from UNICEF's regional supply hub in Panama to Port-au-Prince carrying water and sanitation supplies, medical aid, shelter materials and other needed items for children and families at risk. A third plane landed in Santo Domingo, the capital of the neighbouring Dominican Republic, with 40 metric tonnes of additional aid bound for Haiti.

On the flight to Santo Domingo, boxes from UNICEF's central warehouse in Copenhagen filled the cargo hold and were strapped into the seats that would normally carry passengers. All seven crew members on the British Airways jumbo jet were volunteers.

“It’s a privilege to be able to help,” said Captain Charles Everett. “I think there are very few people who are able to impact on a situation like this.”

The plane also carried two UNICEF staff members who were deployed to help coordinate aid distribution. “My job will be to make a big warehouse in Santo Domingo and ship all the goods,” said one of them, Warehouse Specialist Henrik Jensen from UNICEF’s Supply Division.

More relief flights are in the works for the coming days. They will deliver UNICEF emergency supplies from stockpiles in Panama, Denmark and the United Arab Emirates.

Lack of safe water

An estimated 300,000 people are homeless as a result of the devastation in Haiti. Many of them are living in makeshift camps without access to adequate food, water or basic services. In this context, the supplies delivered thus far are certainly just the beginning of an enormous relief operation.

As the lead UN agency for water and sanitation in the quake zone, UNICEF is working to provide survivors with family water kits, water-purification tablets and other supplies aimed at mitigating the deadly effects of contaminated water.

“Aside from simply delivering these essential supplies, we must also work to promote hygiene by providing soap and issuing messages in French and Creole on preventing and treating diarrhoea, cholera and dysentery,” said UNICEF Emergency Operations Officer Ainga Razafy. “Our priority is to prevent a second wave of disaster and ensure against the outbreak of any life-threatening, water-borne diseases.”

International support

But getting aid to desperate Haitian children and families remains difficult at best. Humanitarian agencies’ fuel supplies are running low, port facilities in the capital are badly damaged and the Port-au-Prince airport is heavily congested.

At the same time, medical facilities still lack staff and medicine. To meet the most urgent health needs, a field hospital has been set up in tents at the UN mission’s logistical base in Port-au-Prince. It is already filled beyond capacity.

Distribution of aid is taking place, but it is extremely limited compared to the overwhelming need.

While in Haiti, the UN Secretary-General pledged the international community's full support in overcoming these obstacles. That pledge was echoed in a blog post by UNICEF’s Eminent Advocate for Children, Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan.

“Even as the earthquake has shaken us to our core, heroism and humanity strengthen the foundations of our global family,” wrote Queen Rania. “A worldwide outpouring of compassion and generosity now laps at Haiti’s shores, quietly defying nature’s brutality.”

Richard Alleyne of the US Fund for UNICEF contributed to this story.

 

 
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