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At a glance: Haiti

UN and UNICEF launch aid appeal to overcome massive challenges in Haiti quake zone

© UN Photo/Abassi
A man carries his injured child through a street in Port-au-Prince in the aftermath of the earthquake that battered Haiti.

By Tim Ledwith

NEW YORK, USA, 15 January 2010 – The people of Port-au-Prince and other areas affected by this week's devastating earthquake in Haiti are living outdoors, surrounded by the ruins of their homes. Picking through the rubble, they try to salvage what they can from a tragedy that defies comprehension.

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To overcome the massive humanitarian obstacles that still face some 3 million people affected by the quake, UNICEF today issued a call for almost $120 million to support its relief operations in Haiti. The funding is part of a wider UN appeal for $562 million.

The aid is desperately needed. Thousands of Haitians are feared dead, many more are injured and an unknown number are still missing.

'Water is the most critical'

Since the disaster struck on 12 January, emergency responders' first priority has been search-and-rescue assistance – including teams with heavy-lifting equipment, as well as medical aid. UNICEF's efforts have focused on water and sanitation, therapeutic food for infants and small children, medical supplies and temporary shelter, which are also urgent needs.

© UN Photo/Dormino
People wait for water that is being distributed by firefighters near the Haitian National Palace in quake-stricken Port-au-Prince.

"Water is the most critical supply that we need to get to these people as soon as possible," said UNICEF Media Officer Patrick McCormick.

The first direct airlift of UNICEF supplies to Haiti arrived at the Port-au-Prince airport early this morning carrying water tanks and water-purification tablets. The flight also delivered rehydration salts, which are needed to treat the potentially deadly effects of diarrhoea, especially in young children.

Two more planeloads are expected to land this weekend in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, with 70 metric tonnes of tents, tarpaulins and medicines. The supplies will be shipped overland into Haiti.

Logistics and security

Some aid distribution has begun in quake-affected communities themselves. It is likely to accelerate as additional supplies arrive in both the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

© UNICEF video
An ambulance carries earthquake victims to the hospital in the town of Jimani, just inside the Dominican Republic's border with Haiti.

But transporting essential items to the worst-affected populations will pose a challenge. "This is a country that's got very poor infrastructure anyway," noted Mr. McCormick. "Roads and other ways of getting around are not the best, in the best of times."

To facilitate the transport of incoming aid, specialists from UNICEF's Supply Division will be on hand to help reduce any bottlenecks that develop at the airports. UNICEF is also working on supply logistics and distribution with other agencies, including the World Food Programme.

In the wake of reports that some food stocks in Port-au-Prince have been looted, security is another concern. "We will obviously be asking for help from the UN force there to guarantee the safe arrival of the supplies, so they get to the people that need them," said Mr. McCormick.

Aid lifeline at the border

Meanwhile, at a dusty crossroads just inside the Dominican Republic, on the border with Haiti, the town of Jimani is throwing a lifeline to its neighbours.

A constant stream of ambulances carries wounded Haitians to the border town, which has become a vital part of the international rescue effort. Jimani is the transit point for supplies that UNICEF and others are sending to Haiti. The town's hospital is overflowing with patients, as the medical staff struggles to cope with the number of wounded.

"Port-au-Prince is over. Everything's collapsed," said one Dominican eyewitness in Jimani who had been in the Haitian capital. "We have to ask help for this country."

And help is on the way. Still, given the scale of destruction in Haiti, it's clear that the relief effort has just begun.

"More supplies are coming in," said UNICEF Regional Communication Specialist Tamar Hahn, speaking by phone from Jimani. "So I'm hopeful that we will see a lot more action in terms of offering relief."




15 January 2010: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on efforts under way in the Dominican Republic to aid earthquake victims in neighbouring Haiti.
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UNICEF Media Officer Patrick McCormick provides an update on the arrival of supplies in Haiti and the logistical challenges UNICEF faces in the days ahead.
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