GENEVA – The United Nations is improving its aid to earthquake victims in Haiti day by day, but there is still much to be done to meet the needs of all requiring help.
That was the opinion expressed Tuesday by the U.N. assistant secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, speaking very realistically about the efforts being made and the challenges pending after the magnitude-7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti three weeks ago, leaving as many as 200,000 dead.
“We still have a significant way to go before reaching everybody who needs food, and on the shelter side as well,” he told a press conference in Geneva.
In his opinion, the problem most under control is the distribution of water.
On the subject of food distribution, Holmes said that the World Food Program began Tuesday a large-scale campaign to establish 16 points of distribution.
“This campaign will be implemented by distributing coupons, so we hope it will be more orderly than during the first days of aid,” he said.
Once the basic necessities of food, water and keeping diseases from spreading are covered, United Nations officials will concentrate in the following days on providing shelter to the estimated 1.5 million people left homeless by the quake.
“Shelter is top priority. We are getting material in and distributing it as fast as we possibly can,” Holmes said.
It was decided to leave people where they are, whether in improvised camps or in the ruins of their homes, the U.N. official said, rather than moving them to large camps.
He said that this decision was taking by consensus among humanitarian workers and the government, and was supported by the non-governmental organizations on the ground there.
For that reason humanitarian workers are distributing plastic, blankets, and other articles needed for living outdoors in bad weather, even though they won’t be worth anything should there be a hurricane during the upcoming rainy season.
“We don’t have a magic solution. Hurricanes have caused major disasters in Haiti before. It will probably be a year or two before we can get people back in proper construction,” Holmes said.
With regard to homeless minors, the assistant secretary-general made it clear that all the mechanisms have been mobilized to prevent children from being kidnapped, and repeated that no adoptions will be concluded that were not approved before the quake.
As for the amount Haitians are being paid to work for the U.N. on reconstruction and other jobs, Holmes said that they are “in line with the country’s average wage.”
Citing a median daily wage of $3, he said the United Nations was paying Haitian laborers $4 a day.
Holmes said that currently there are 25,000 Haitians employed by the United Nations and that the goal is to hire some 250,000.
Asked about security, Holmes said that the situation remains “volatile,” but added that for now the situation is under control.
So that it stays under control, he believes that the U.S. and Canadian soldiers deployed in Haiti ought to stay “for a few months,” until Haitian authorities and the troops of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or Minustah, can ensure security. EFE