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Press conference by the Haiti Humanitarian Coordinator, Nigel Fisher, Port-au-Prince

11 January 2011
I am very pleased to have so many of you here today. Before we talk about the earthquake, we should ask: what did Haitians wake up to on 12 January, one year ago? There was a sense of optimism on the economic front, as the GDP had been growing steadily for three years. But in less than a minute, the earthquake wiped out that optimism when it destroyed the equivalent of 120 % of the GDP.

Deep structural problems existed before the earthquake. Most Haitians lived in poverty, government was weak and infrastructure eroded. Before the earthquake, most households had no access to protected drinking water or to sanitary waste disposal. More than half of all children of primary school age were not attending school. Whatever the pace of reconstruction, Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, cannot be transformed in one year or even two.

As we remember this anniversary, let’s not forget that the earthquake also affected those in charge of a response: Government structures were flattened and 30% of civil servants killed, while the headquarters of the United Nations peacekeeping mission collapsed, and 102 UN personnel perished, including its leadership.

There are three things I want to talk about today. First, the humanitarian response. Second, the reconstruction and recovery phase. Third, the prospects for development and stability in Haiti.


As regards the humanitarian situation, within 72 hours, initial needs were assessed and a Flash Appeal was launched to respond to this enormous disaster. Within four days, we deployed teams to the field.

Objectives and targets initially set for providing life-saving humanitarian assistance were met within the first few months. Subsequently, shelter was provided to 1.5 million people. General food distributions reached 4.3 million people; a nutrition survey conducted in April among children aged under five found that nutritional status was better than in pre-earthquake assessments. Over 1.7 million were regularly receiving clean drinking water; more than 11,000 latrines were built.

Many camp occupants had regular clean water and latrines for the first time in their lives. No major outbreaks of disease occurred. In addition to the camp coordination role of IOM and many other partners, Haitian coordination committees in each camp played a central role – and continue to do so – in the daily life and security of camp populations.

However, sexual violence against women and girls was slowly climbing; and despite improved security, lighting and other measures, gender-based violence remains a grave problem in too many camps.

For more information on needs and response, please see the factsheet contained in your press kit.

Reconstruction, recovery, development, and structural issues As regards reconstruction and recovery, which was our focus from May onwards, progress has been incremental, but there has been progress.

A new IOM report highlights that, as of January 2011, there are an estimated 800,000 people living in 1,150 spontaneous and organized settlements — just over half of July 2010 peak of 1.5 million.

As regards transitional shelter, the 2010 target was to construct 30,000 shelters. 31,000 have actually been built – more than planned – and which now house some 150,000 people.

UN and Ministry of Public Works engineers assessed more than 388,000 dwellings (homes) and people have started to return to homes that were deemed safe. New construction design will ensure that the repair of damaged houses will provide stronger structures than before. Tomorrow, the President will inaugurate the first social housing project in Fort National.

Since the earthquake, we have helped create short-term employment for 500,000 people, 40 percent of whom are women, through activities such as light debris removal, garbage collection, and canal cleaning. UNDP and WFP have been important partners in this effort.

Over 95% of children who were in school before the earthquake are back in school, with UNICEF leading the UN contribution to the back-to-school effort.

As I said at the beginning, Haiti faced considerable structural problems and widespread poverty before the earthquake.

Therefore, our aim cannot be to rebuild Haiti as it was before the earthquake; the aim must be transformation – better housing built to improved standards, better and more accessible education and health care, more equitable social and economic development taking place around the country — we must aim for much more and this will take years. The Interim Commission for the Recovery of Haiti has been criticized for the pace of its action but at the end of December, it has approved projects totaling $3 billion in value. Donor funding totaling $2.85 billion has either been disbursed or allocated to these projects, so we can expect to see an acceleration in reconstruction in 2011.

And crucially, we must work to support the Government's assumption of the full responsibilities of governance and policy-making, strengthening the rule of law, the development and application of standards, so that it can play a truly leading role in all domains.

As if these challenges were not enough, the cholera epidemic broke out in late October. To date there have been over 170,000 cases of cholera; 3, 600 have died from the disease. Thankfully the case fatality rate – the death rate – has gone down since early October and now hovers at around 2,2 per cent nationwide today. There is no doubt that responding to the cholera epidemic has diverted scarce resources from recovery efforts.

To make matters worse, there was violence both before and after the 28 November elections; warehouses containing materials to fight the epidemic were looted and burned in Les Cayes and Cap Haitien. Such violence slowed down the cholera response effort, prevented sick people from reaching treatment centres, contributing to unnecessary deaths.

And now we await resolution of the current political crisis. We hope that whichever candidates go forward to the second round, they will commit to the strategic reconstruction priorities approved by the Interim Commission for the Recovery of Haiti.

Speeding up our reconstruction and recovery efforts is the absolute priority for 2011.

During the 31 March donor conference in New York, $ 8.4 billion was pledged for reconstruction over several years, including $2.01 billion for 2010 and $2.45 billion for 2011. In addition $1.11 billion was pledged for debt relief.

What has happened to those promises? So far, the Interim Commission has approved a portfolio of $3 billion dollars. For these, donors have disbursed $1.28 billion, and have committed another $1.57 billion to specific projects, for a total of $2.85 billion. This is more than the $2.01 billion promised in March for 2010. This means that commitments are already being made against resources pledged for 2011. So with a great deal of planning done in 2010, we can expect a significant acceleration of implementation in 2011.

Much work still lies ahead to build transitional shelters and repair houses, remove and treat rubble, create education and employment opportunities, re-establish basic services in areas people are returning to; we expect acceleration of progress this year, but this is a multi-year endeavour.

We must also build on the work done in 2010 to establish stronger disaster risk reduction measures. Natural disasters may be inevitable, but the death and devastation that they cause can be significantly reduced.

2011 will be a year of acceleration of recovery and development initiatives, a year of implementation. The pace of these initiatives will determine the requirement for humanitarian action to sustain people still living in camps. And with the ongoing cholera epidemic, a significant humanitarian presence will still be needed in 2011, even as we focus on recovery. We must now work to ensure that humanitarian, recovery and development actors work in concert, in support of the Government, to build a better future for Haitians.

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