Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Haiti Update

by Andrew Bruce

According to President Préval, the death toll from the earthquake could jump to 300,000 people, including bodies still buried under collapsed buildings. He also estimated that it will take three years to clear the rubble left behind, admitting that he is still afraid to sleep under concrete in case another earthquake strikes. Hundreds of houses that survived still stand empty as people are unsure they can withstand another earthquake.

According to Prime Minister Bellerive, the country is making steady progress, along with help from the international community, in caring for its people. The situation has moved from “total chaos” following the earthquake to “controlled chaos”. More than a million people are still sleeping on the streets of Port-au-Prince under sheets and tents and another half-million people have fled to the countryside and regional cities. The European Union estimates that there are now one million unaccompanied or orphaned children in the country

The Inter-American Development Bank has reported that the earthquake may have caused billions of dollars more in damage than initially estimated. Based on a statistical analysis of data from 2,000 natural disasters over the last 40 years, the bank estimates that the cost could be $7.2 billion to $13.2 billion. This would make the earthquake the most destructive natural disaster in modern history. Earlier estimates put the cost at $5 billion.

The Haitian government has drafted a plan to remake the country, which will be presented to an international donor conference at the UN in New York on 31 March. Under the plan, the size of Port-au-Prince will be reduced and other population centers boosted with a view to offering jobs that in the past have only been available in the capital. According to Prime Minister Bellerive, the plan is aimed not only at repairing the earthquake damage, but also at reinventing the country to try to cure some of the ills that have made it the western hemisphere's poorest nation.

United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, President Bill Clinton and UN humanitarian coordinator John Holmes launched a revised appeal to the international community that nearly tripled the original call for humanitarian assistance. The appeal calls for a total of 1.5 billion dollars to help the 3 million Haitians affected by the earthquake.

During a two day visit, Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, announced that Canada will build a temporary base for Haiti’s government. President Sarkozy also paid a visit to the country, pledging 270 million euros in reconstruction aid. French officials expressed the hope that the visit would usher in a new era between the two countries. The legacy of French colonial rule remains a bitter issues for many Haitians.

In a leaked confidential e-mail, UN humanitarian coordinator, John Holmes criticized staff for failing to adequately manage the relief effort, saying that an uneven response in the month after the earthquake had undercut confidence in the UN’s ability to deliver vital assistance. The e-mail portrayed an organization straining to set up enough shelters, latrines and other vital services for the displaced population.

Chairman of the United States (US) Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen announced that the US military is prepared to keep troops in Haiti for as long as security for the relief effort is needed. According to Mullen, the security situation remains calm and demands for immediate medical attention have declined. Some 11,000 US troops remain on the ground.

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