UN Secretary-General to Haitians: "You are not alone"

Jan 18, 2010

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark (right) greets UNDP Haiti Resident Representative/Resident Coordinator Kim Bolduc in Haiti on 17 January 2010.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in Haiti to see for himself the devastation from Tuesday's earthquake, assured the Haitian people that they were not alone. The UN “will continue to stand behind the Haitian people,” Mr. Ban said in Port-au-Prince, the city hardest hit by the 12 January tremors, which are believed to have impacted one-third of Haiti's 9 million people.

Mr. Ban promised that the UN would do its best under the difficult circumstances in Haiti and said people around the world expected that their generous contributions would reach those in need promptly and effectively.

"We need to make sure our help is getting to people who need it as fast as possible. We cannot waste one minute, one dollar or one person. We cannot have vital supplies sitting in warehouses. That requires strong and effective coordination by the United Nations and between the United Nations and other major players, particularly, of course, the United States, all this under the leadership of the government of Haiti."

Mr. Ban, who conveyed his reassurances to the Haitian people in Creole, met with Haitian President Rene Preval, and had an emotional reunion at the airport with his former spokesperson Michele Montas who was in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. He also reassured UN staff in Haiti, who he said were continuing their work despite having lost treasured colleagues and friends. He was accompanied on his visit by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator; Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping; John Holmes, UN Relief Coordinator; and Susana Malcorra, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support.

Ms. Clark called the situation “very devastating” and said UNDP had a “huge task ahead.”

Addressing reporters in the capital, the Secretary-General outlined three top priorities.

Firstly, he underscored the continued need for the search-and-rescue effort. Dozens of teams – comprising over 1,000 people – are on the ground trying to save survivors trapped under rubble.

A staff member, Jens Kristensen of Denmark, was pulled alive from the rubble of the Christopher Hotel today.

Also essential, Mr. Ban stressed, is emergency relief, including food, water and tents, and these supplies are being distributed to those in need by the UN and its partner agencies.

“Third, and most important, coordination” of the emergency operation is vital, he noted.

'The situation is overwhelming,” he said. “And the offer of assistance is also very moving and overwhelming.”

The airport still not operating at full capacity, but “we need to make sure our help is getting to people who need it, as fast as possible,” the Secretary-General, who plans to brief the Security Council tomorrow on his visit, said. “We cannot waste one minute, one dollar or one person.”

Among those who died at the hotel are his Special Representative to Haiti, Hédi Annabi, as well as his Deputy Luiz Carlos da Costa and Acting Police Commissioner Doug Coates of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

“You have suffered yourselves in this gravest single tragedy in UN history,” Mr. Ban said to UN staff members in Port-au-Prince. “Yet you carry on.”

Also on Friday, the UN and its partners launched an appeal on Friday for nearly $600 million to help the victims of the earthquake, which has left basic services on the brink of collapse in Port-au-Prince.

The funds are intended to assist an estimated 3 million affected people over a period of six months, with half of the funds being earmarked for emergency food aid, with the rest targeted at health, water, sanitation, nutrition, early recovery, emergency education and other key needs.

Back in New York on Monday, the Secretary-General will take part in a Security Council meeting to discuss ongoing efforts to coordinate the massive relief effort currently underway.

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