Interview with Kim Bolduc, the Head of UNDP in Haiti

19 Jan 2010

Kim Bolduc was appointed the Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), and the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in November 2009.

Q: What is the main priority for Haiti today?

Kim Bolduc: Every day we are facing greater and greater challenges. Our priority today, six days after the earthquake, is to accelerate aid to the population - how to scale up while the city is still very complicated in terms of traffic, in terms of lack of fuel, in terms of a lot of displaced population sitting in open spaces, sleeping in the streets. Scaling up also means that we need to help the government go back to functioning normally.

At this point in time the government is trying to reorganize itself. They have suffered tremendous losses. This earthquake has hit everyone. And the fact that we are all able to operate today has a lot to do, I think, with the resilience of the people and our determination to reach out.

Q: Aid is arriving in Haiti, why the delays in reaching the people that need it most?

KB: A lot of very important donations have been arriving constantly in the country but there are enormous logistical problems to get them out of the airport, to get them sorted out and also to get them distributed. Traffic in the streets is very hectic and we are not able, for example, to reach people because the roads are overcrowded. In addition to that, after six days we are running out of fuel and we are trying to get it out of the Dominican Republic but they are running out of stock because of increasing demand. So we are turning to other neighbouring countries such as Panama and we’re trying to get it in into the Dominican Republic so that we [can] truck it down to Port-au-Prince.

One important decision that has been made by the Government, with the support of the UN Mission, has been to open up a humanitarian corridor. This was thanks to the offer of President [Leonel] Fernandez of the Dominican Republic to open up an airport at the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti so that all the relief items coming in could be received at that airport and stored there. This will certainly help the overcrowded airport in Port-au-Prince.

Q: What are the main obstacles and challenges?

KB: The challenges would be, in this overpopulated capital, to find sites. Free sites that are safe enough so that we can move people out to those sites and service them better. We need to organize reception centers for displaced people. We cannot go one by one - as people are staying along the streets, in parks - and ensure that relief aid is coming at the quality and quantity required.

Part of the challenge is to find enough free land so we can gather people into reception centers. How do we, inside those reception centers, restore, for example, basic services such as health, healthcare, through...mobile clinics? Get food, get water to the population?

It’s necessary for us to get children back to school. This cannot be done as the population is scattered all around the city. So, inside those centers there will be a school. Makeshift, certainly, conditions are not ideal but children should be put back to school.

Q: What are the immediate next steps for UNDP?

KB: One important challenge for me in particular is in relation to our mandate of attending early recovery; the soonest that we can get that started, the better. Therefore, we’re looking into schemes of food for work and cash for work to involve as much as possible - giving money...and giving food to the population, so that they participate in the efforts of cleaning up the capital and rebuilding the capital is fundamental because this cannot be an effort done by the international community alone. Haitians should not be simply beneficiaries of aid but they’re the main participants on how the aid is used. We want to put that into motion; by providing them with work, people will have an independent income and they can start buying some food and other things.

I have seen, in the city, new small areas where people have come out on the street just to start selling vegetables and things again. This has happened as of yesterday; and this is very encouraging. People are getting back, trying to get back to normal life. The situation obviously is still dire. But at UNDP we decided today to reopen the briquettes project. This project, endorsed by President [Bill] Clinton, our Special Envoy, makes briquettes to replace charcoal using garbage so that people would stop cutting trees. The briquettes project was employing, before the earthquake, 400 people. When we went back to the briquette project the workers were all waiting for us willing to start. There are trucks lying idle, previously used to transport cement. Starting today, we will hire them and have them clean up the area, clean up the neighbourhood. People were comforted that beyond the humanitarian aid of food, water and basic commodities, UNDP is thinking right away on restoring work, self sufficiency and dignity for the people that are affected.