Haiti worst disaster in decades

Haiti worst disaster in decades
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described the Haiti earthquake as the worst humanitarian crisis in decades, as he surveyed devastated Port-au-Prince for himself.

After an emotional reunion in Port-au-Prince with Michele Montas, a Haitian who until late last year was his spokeswoman, Mr Ban will meet President Rene Preval and receive a helicopter tour of the disaster zone.

“I am going to Haiti with a very heavy heart to express solidarity and full support of the UN to the people of Haiti,” Mr Ban told journalists accompanying him on the day-long trip.

The 7.0-magnitude quake which struck five days ago has killed tens of thousands of Haitians.

It is the worst ever disaster to befall the UN, with 40 staffers confirmed dead and nearly 330 others still unaccounted for.

“We have to prepare for the worst,” Mr Ban said as he flew out of Newark in the US, referring to UN employees still missing after the disaster that has flattened much of Port-au-Prince and nearby towns in western Haiti.

Mr Ban says the three top priorities are to save as many people as possible, bring emergency humanitarian aid in the form of water, food and medication and to coordinate the massive aid effort.

The UN has noted that at least local government structures remained after the 2004 tsunami hit Indonesia’s Aceh province, but in the Haiti town of Leogane, for example, all public services were lost in the earthquake.

Between 20,000 and 30,000 people are thought to have died in that town alone, an indication of the horrific scale of the catastrophe beyond Port-au-Prince.

Mr Ban will assess the Caribbean nation’s needs and attempt to boost the shattered morale of the Brazilian-led United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

On the eve of his departure, Mr Ban grimly confirmed that MINUSTAH civilian chief Hedi Annabi, his Brazilian deputy Luiz Carlos da Costa and acting police commissioner, Doug Coates of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, were the latest confirmed fatalities.

“The United Nations was his life and he ranked amongst its most dedicated and committed sons,” the UN boss said of Mr Annabi, a veteran Tunisian UN troubleshooter.

Mr Annabi was meeting with a visiting Chinese police delegation when the quake flattened MINUSTAH’s main headquarters building in Port-au-Prince’s Christopher Hotel building.

Mr Ban has sent Edmond Mulet, a top UN peacekeeping official and Mr Annabi’s predecessor, to Port-au-Prince to take charge of MINUSTAH in an interim capacity.

Accompanying Mr Ban in Haiti were UN Development Program head Helen Clark, top UN peacekeeper Alain Leroy, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes and Susana Malcorra, who is in charge of the world body’s field support operations.

Mr Holmes has appealed for $US562 million ($610 million) from the world community to help three million quake victims in the western hemisphere’s poorest country for a period of six months.

The money is to be used for urgently needed food, water and sanitation, medical supplies, tents and blankets, logistics and education.

Mr Ban last toured Haiti with former US president Bill Clinton in March 2009 to urge the international community to aid the island nation after it was battered by hurricanes the previous year.

Mr Clinton and fellow former president George W Bush, named by the White House as special coordinators of aid to Haiti, launched an appeal Saturday to raise tens of millions of dollars for the stricken country.

Mr Ban returns to the United Nations headquarters in New York on Monday (local time) for a Security Council meeting to discuss coordination of the massive international relief effort under way in Haiti.


2010 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.


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