The United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, yesterday (25 january 2010) told delegates attending the Ministerial Conference on Haiti, taking place in Montreal, that health care, food, water and shelter continue to be the top priorities for survivors of the earthquake.
"The relief effort is beginning to get there, but we still have a huge distance to go. And this operation will need to continue long after the television crews have gone home and the troops have returned to their normal duties," Mr Holmes said, drawing attention both to the progress made and the challenges still to be overcome.
There are now more than 500 relief organisations working to help those affected by the earthquake and the number is rising.
Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs) are especially needed for the next two to three weeks, while cooking remains problematic for so many, Mr. Holmes said, appealing urgently for all countries with military or other stocks of MREs to offer whatever they can to the World Food Programme. An estimated two million people are in need of food; 500,000 have received some so far.
Shelter remains an issue of particular concern because of the massive need for tents. Only 40,000 tents are on the spot or on the way to Haiti, but 200,000 family sized tents are required altogether to house about a million people thought to be homeless, according to early estimates.
Holmes also raised the need to start planning how the homeless are to be housed before the rainy and hurricane seasons begin in April and June when tents will offer little protection. "We badly need an immediate, transitional shelter solution - rapidly built temporary housing on a large scale, which can be much more resilient to rain and hurricanes than tents," the UN Under-Secretary General said.
He reiterated that humanitarian organisations found it easier to receive donations in cash instead of in-kind donations, unless they are items in short supply globally. The Flash Appeal is currently funded at 48 per cent of the $575 million required, and more funds are urgently needed, despite the generous overall international response so far.
Mr Holmes emphasisied the need to ensure that the relief effort lays the right basis for the wider reconstruction and redevelopment effort. Humanitarian relief and reconstruction in Haiti will have to run parallel for a long time to come, rather than one following the other. He also noted the fundamental requirement to ensure that all reconstruction work is guided by the need to "build back better:" Haiti remains a disaster prone country, and disaster risk reduction and climate resilience measures are crucial for the future.
"The biggest challenge of all will be to keep the wider international community focused on the rebuilding for the long term, and the creation of a stronger, more independent, and more resilient Haitian society for the future. The long-suffering people of Haiti deserve no less," Mr Holmes said.