by Andrew Bruce
Participants at a Ministerial meeting in Montreal on 25 January stressed that “the current situation remains dire, the needs are immense and the Haitian people continue to suffer”. As many as 200,000 people died in the earthquake. In total, more than 130 people have been pulled alive from the rubble, including a 16 year-old girl who was rescued this week, after being buried for 15 days. Rich Stearns, President of World Vision USA, who has been to many disaster zones, said that he has seen nothing to compare with the situation in Haiti. According to UN estimates, 75 per cent of Port-au-Prince will have to be rebuilt. The Red Cross reported this week that some 2 million people are currently “food insecure” and an estimated 800,000 to one million people are in need of shelter.
According to the UN, the logistics of the relief effort are a “nightmare”. Basic medical supplies in Port-au-Prince are dangerously low and there are concerns about a public health calamity, with the onset of the rainy season. Hospitals and clinics have reported shortages of painkillers and antibiotics for patents with fractures, amputated limbs and infections as well as anti-malaria drugs. Senator Bill Frist, who has been carrying out surgery in Haiti, described the situation as a “unique catastrophe” due to the fact that so many of the injured require surgery as a result of being crushed. Some 200,000 survivors are reported to be in need of post-surgery medical care. A total of 200,000 heavy-duty tents have been ordered to cope with the rainy season, which begins around May, and the hurricane season, which is expected to start around June.
There are some signs of progress in the relief effort. According to the Red Cross, the airport in Port-au-Prince is now operating at 170 per cent capacity and the capital’s port is now operating at the level prior to the earthquake. However, fuel and trucks are in short supply and the water supply is extremely compromised. The UN now has 150 health centers and hospitals up and running in Port-au-Prince and is preparing to deploy the extra 3,500 police and soldiers authorized by the Security Council last week. Some 20,000 US troops are now either in Haiti or offshore. Banks started operating again last weekend. Schools in areas of the country that were not affected by the earthquake are expected to open on this week. A new relief “cash-for-work” program is underway, with the UN paying Haitians up to $20 a day to clear rubble from the streets, giving them a guaranteed wage for the foreseeable future.
According to Edmond Mullet, acting head of the UN Mission the reconstruction is not starting at zero but “below zero”, recent development “has been undone” and reconstruction will take “several decades”. A number of international organizations are planning to conduct a post-disaster assessment, which the Haitian government and international community can use to lay plans for long-term reconstruction. The aim is for these plans, which will be discussed in a donor conference at the UN in March, to dovetail with long-term development plans set out before the earthquake by UN Special Envoy Bill Clinton (an overview of the long-term rebuilding priorities, prepared by the BBC can be found here.
The ONE campaign has delivered a petition containing over 150,000 signatures to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) urging debt cancellation for Haiti. Next week, it will present the petition to a meeting of G7 finance ministers in Canada and is hoping the petition will, by then, stand at 200,000.
According to the ONE campaign, the House of Representatives is circulating a bipartisan letter to Treasury Secretary Geithner urging him to support the immediate cancellation of Haiti’s debt.
Legislative elections scheduled to take place on 28 February have been postponed. A total of 98 of the 99 seats in the legislature’s Chamber of Deputies were to be at stake, along with one third of the 30 member Senate. The offices of the Electoral Council collapsed in the earthquake, members of the UN mission working with the Council were killed and election materials were buried under the rubble. President Préval has announced that he will not seek to extend his term in office beyond its scheduled conclusion on 11 February 2011. Préval has been working in the Judicial Police office since the National Palace and many other government buildings collapsed in the earthquake.