Urging reporters in New York to “keep the focus on Haiti”, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro today said that “although commendable progress has been made, the situation remains dire” three months after the massive earthquake that killed nearly 250,000 people, left 1 million others homeless and levelled the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Just back from a two-day visit to the Caribbean island nation to view the devastation left by the catastrophic 12 January quake and reassure the Government of the United Nations steadfast support, Ms. Migiro said her time in and around Port-au-Prince, where she had joined a night patrol by United Nations and Haitian police in a camp for people displaced by the earthquake, and in Léogâne, close to the epicentre, had been “eye opening”.
Telling a Headquarters press conference that she had been relieved to see that incremental progress was being made to help the Haitian Government and people lift themselves from the consequence of the tragedy, she said: “I met a people yearning to rebuild their lives, […] a proud nation on its way to renewal and betterment.” She added that the United Nations was playing a major role in the colossal effort to feed and provide water for more than 1 million people, and to provide even more with adequate shelter, especially with the rain and hurricane season setting in.
She also said that children were finding their way back to school and women were helping in myriad ways, from providing a sense of stability to helping with organizing the camps. Meanwhile, plans were under way to expand the reach of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) “cash-for-work” programme, and the similar World Food Programme-backed “food-for-work” initiative. She added that the two agencies had also stepped up their coordination to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their respective programmes.
Despite such progress, and signs and feelings of hope for the future, Ms. Migiro said, many challenges remained; emergency and interim measures where in place, but “permanent solutions are needed”. She was particularly concerned that women and girls, especially those living in the camps for the displaced, needed special help and protection from sexual abuse and other violence. More generally, all the camps needed better security and supervision. Further, much more needed to be done to make sure that as many people as possible were living in adequate shelters before the prolonged heavy rains began.
Continuing, she said that while the Government was working hard to reassert its authority and rebuild or revive administrative structures wrecked by the quake, Haitian President René Préval and other high-level officials with whom she had spoken stressed the need for support. “So, we must help the Haitian Government recover from the extensive losses […] of skilled civil servants,” she said. In addition, she urged greater focus on rehabilitating Haiti’s education sector, including addressing land tenure laws and finding ways to allocate funds to cover education requirements for the general population in a country where the majority of the schools are private.
She went on to say that while she had left Port-au-Prince “with the feeling that the people of Haiti will recover”, ongoing support from the United Nations and the wider international community was still necessary. She said the world body’s dedicated and courageous staff would continue to work hard on Haiti’s behalf and she urged the reporters present to “maintain attention on Haiti and keep the needs of its people in focus”.
Responding to a question about Haiti’s future, she said that two weeks ago at the United Nations-sponsored donors’ conference for Haiti’s recovery, participants had expressed their strong commitment to the country. Pledges had been made amounting to some $9.9 billion over the next three years and plans were under way to start rolling out those resources. Indeed, the world body’s Envoy for Haiti, former United States President Bill Clinton, was working closely with the Haitian Government to ensure that the money was used in a transparent and accountable manner.
On gender-based violence, she reiterated that the general security and rule of law situation was “quite challenging”. And while there had been rapes and other violent acts perpetrated against women even before the earthquake, the disaster had made matters worse. One well-known example was that Haiti’s main prison facility had collapsed in the quake and some of the country’s worst criminals were still on the loose.
She was also troubled by the lack of privacy in many of the densely packed camps, where she had seen tents crowded together and where sometimes two makeshift shelters were supported with only one pole, leaving one side open. She had also participated in a patrol of one of the camps and had seen children playing unsupervised in the late evening. Stressing that the United Nations and Haitian police were working together to address some of those issues, she said some ministers had reported that initial structures were being set up to deal with gender-based violence. In addition, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) was on the ground providing technical expertise and other support.
Continuing on that issue, Ms. Migiro said that the Government was also looking to bolster its adherence to international human rights conventions and treaties. It was also looking to promote the empowerment of women in employment and politics, and seeking to enhance legislation to protect against violence and abuse. Even with all that, she said, the challenges were huge, especially as the security sector might have to be totally rebuilt.
To another question, she said she had met with officials from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), who had informed her that the agency was helping to organize community leaders, especially unemployed youths, to use their expertise to help the nation protect its cultural heritage — including works of art and libraries.
Answering a query about Haiti’s apparent lack of strict building codes, Ms. Migiro noted that many buildings in and around the capital had been flattened and “they are still just laying the way they were”. The Government was pledging to create laws that would make building codes strictly enforceable. She believed that a significant portion of the funds pledged by donors last month would target that important issue. Moreover, Mr. Clinton had vowed to focus on Haiti’s physical infrastructure.
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