UN launches $550 million appeal to provide 3 million Haitians with desperately need aid

By Edith M. Lederer, AP
Friday, January 15, 2010

UN launches $550 million appeal for Haiti aid

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations said Friday about a third of the buildings in Haiti’s capital have been damaged or destroyed, and appealed for $550 million to help three million people badly affected by the earthquake.

U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes launched the emergency request for food, water, shelter and other desperately needed essentials. He said it will be revised when U.N. officials get better information on the extent of the destruction and the number of victims.

Satellite photos show that at least 30 percent of the buildings in the capital, Port-au-Prince, have been damaged or destroyed. And in some very severely affected areas, 50 percent or more of buildings are damaged, Holmes said.

“A high proportion of the three million people in the capital area are without access to food, water, shelter and electricity,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. He noted that a major humanitarian effort was well under way “although it is inevitably slower and more difficult than any of us would wish.”

He acknowledged that there are “some frustrations” among Haitians with the pace of relief efforts and said the U.N. was worried about tensions turning into violence. The 3,000 U.N. troops and police, who are patrolling the streets of the capital to ensure law and order, “are taking all possible precautionary measures.”

Elisabeth Byrs, the U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman in Geneva, said the situation was tense but not out of control.

“People who have not been eating or drinking for almost 50 hours and are already in a very poor situation, if they see a truck with something … or if they see a supermarket which has collapsed, they just rush to get something to eat,” she said.

Complicating the security situation was the complete destruction of Port-au-Prince’s main prison. The International Red Cross said a few inmates died but that the vast majority — 4,000 — had escaped and were freely roaming the capital.

Holmes told reporters that so far about $360 million has been pledged for Haiti, but not all of it is for urgently needed emergency aid.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund each pledged $100 million that will likely go to longer-term reconstruction, and some pledges are likely to go directly to the Haitian government or organizations working in the country, he said.

Ban said “logistics are extremely difficult” and relief efforts are being hampered by a lack of transport vehicles and fuel as well as blocked roads.

The secretary-general spoke Friday afternoon to Haiti’s President Rene Preval who said the biggest problem Haiti faced was coordinating all the aid efforts, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Ban said the U.N. team has established a U.N. operations center at the airport in Port-au-Prince and is now coordinating search and rescue efforts.

Holmes said 17 search and rescue teams are on the ground, 10 are on the way, and no additional teams are needed.

Some people are still being recovered alive, but “relatively few,” and experts say that after 72 hours — which in the case of Haiti would be about 5 p.m. EST Friday — the number of survivors drops significantly, Holmes told reporters.

Nonetheless, he said, “that effort will be maintained until the end.”

The toll of dead and missing U.N. staff continued to rise.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky says 37 U.N. personnel have been confirmed dead and 330 remain missing from about 12,000 people working for the U.N. peacekeeping mission and all other U.N. agencies in Haiti.

Roughly 100 U.N. personnel remained buried in the rubble of the collapsed five-story headquarters building of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, including mission chief Hedi Annabi and his deputy, he said.

Holmes said bodies are being collected systematically now by U.N. peacekeepers and by the government, “insofar as they have the capacity to do that.”

He said “9,000 bodies” were collected Thursday, and expressed hope that “much more progress will be made” on Friday.

The World Health Organization said corpses should be treated with chemicals to prevent them from decomposing and buried in open ditches. But mass graves aren’t recommended because that would prevent families from identifying lost relatives, said WHO spokesman Paul Garwood.

“The scale of this disaster has overwhelmed all capacities,” Garwood said. “There’s an urgent need to get more and more body bags into the area so that we can properly handle these bodies.”

The secretary-general said he plans to go to Haiti “very soon, both to show solidarity with the people of Haiti and our U.N. staff and to assess the situation for myself.”

Associated Press Writers Bradley S. Klapper, Eliane Engeler and Frank Jordans contributed to this report from Geneva

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