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UN: Significant Progress in Providing Aid to Quake Victims in Haiti

The United Nations is scaling up relief operation on all levels, with shelter topping the list of priorities, according to one official.

A camp of makeshift tents sprawls at Port-au-Prince's golf course, where many Haitians displaced by the earthquake have set up shelter, 25 Jan 2010
A camp of makeshift tents sprawls at Port-au-Prince's golf course, where many Haitians displaced by the earthquake have set up shelter, 25 Jan 2010

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The United Nations reports significant progress has been made in providing assistance to hundreds of thousands of quake victims in Haiti.  A senior U.N. official says the relief operation is being scaled up on all levels, with shelter topping the list of priorities.  

The United Nations says things may be improving, but the crisis in earthquake-devastated Haiti is far from over.  U.N. officials report nearly one-half million people have left the capital Port-au-Prince for outlying areas.  They say 90 percent of these people are staying with host families who are in need of assistance.

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes calls Haiti a particularly difficult and complicated operation.  He says he understands the frustration of aid workers who are not able to quickly reach the survivors with desperately needed assistance.

"What I think we can see now is that we are beginning to make really significant progress in doing that, particularly on the food side, but, in some other areas as well," Holmes said. "So, the scaling up is happening significantly now ...  But, we still have a significant way to go before we reach everybody with the aid that they need."  

Holmes says health care for the injured and sick is getting better, although it still is not good.  He notes most life-saving operations have taken place.  But vital drugs are still lacking, and there need to be more surveillance systems to monitor the outbreak of epidemics.

He says most people are receiving water, but sanitation must be improved and 7,000 latrines must be built in Port-au-Prince.  He says more people are receiving food and the World Food Program aims to reach two million people in the next 10 days.

"The number of people being reached with the basic food they need, rice and ready-to-eat meals where appropriate is scaling up in the way we all want to see," Holmes said. "That is an operation that is being conducted on the basis of coupons and so it can be more easily targeted than the very quick and dirty distributions, if I call it that way, which were being used in the first couple of weeks.  So, I think there is good progress being made there."  

Holmes says tens of thousands of people will need tents, plastic sheets and tarpaulins before the rainy and hurricane seasons start in a few months.  He says there are not many tents in Haiti, but 50,000 tents are in the pipeline and are expected to arrive shortly. 

"I think there was a desire to avoid creating large camps, which have a tendency to become permanent over time rather than temporary," Holmes said. "There is a problem of space for large camps, certainly in the immediate vicinity of Port-au-Prince.  Therefore, it was also clear to people looking at this that people did not want to go away from Port-au-Prince into large camps.  They wanted to stay close to their homes."  

U.N. humanitarian chief Holmes says many of the quake survivors are still in the rubble of their own homes because they want to be close to where they used to live and work. 

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