UN seeks a record $1.4bn for survivors of Haiti quake

Aid workers in race against time to provide shelter as rainy season approaches
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The Independent US

With the rainy season approaching in Haiti, the United Nations has launched its biggest humanitarian aid appeal, asking donors for $1.44bn (£934m) in the wake of the devastating earthquake last month that took more than 200,000 lives and left many survivors struggling to eat, fend off disease and find shelter.

The 7.0-magnitude quake that struck on 12 January is likely to be classified as the largest single natural disaster of modern times. The appeal after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2005 was for $1.41bn.

The record Haiti appeal was made on the same day that an email sent to various UN and other aid agencies by Sir John Holmes, head of humanitarian assistance at the New York headquarters, revealed his frustration with the progress so far in helping the survivors, including the 1.2 million left homeless.

"We are still struggling to provide enough basic assistance in some vital areas to Haitians affected by the earthquake, many of whom remain in life-threatening situations," he wrote. "We can scale our efforts up further and we must do so urgently."

Sir John, who was formerly a British ambassador to France, confirmed to Reuters that the email, first published on the Foreign Affairs website, was genuine.

The rains in Haiti usually begin in May, and aid workers are now rushing as first priority to distribute tarpaulins to as many people as possible. Already, a heavy downpour on Thursday sent residents of the devastated capital, Port-au-Prince, scrambling to save their scant belongings from the torrents of mud and water rushing through the sprawling, tented shantytowns that have sprouted all round the city in the weeks since the quake.

Canada's Nicolas Matern, the deputy commanding general of the joint task force, said: "There is an impression out there that we will be able to turn around and build transitional shelter with framing and all that by the rainy season. Forget it. It ain't going to happen. We don't have the resources or the time to do it."

The UN appeal was launched jointly by the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and his special envoy to Haiti, the former US president, Bill Clinton. The request, made formally at a meeting of UN members in New York on Thursday, includes the $577m asked for in the immediate aftermath. Mr Clinton emphasised that it was important for countries that promise money to deliver it quickly. "Pledge less and give it," he said. "And do it sooner than later."

The critical importance of a swift response by national governments was also underscored by Mr Ban. "As the rainy season is coming, it will be extremely important to provide on a priority basis shelters, sanitation and other necessary humanitarian assistance," he said. Addressing the people Haiti directly, he added: "We are with you. We will help you to recover and rebuild."

In one small sign that repair and revival is beginning, American Airlines yesterday resumed flights to the nation, with a first flight leaving early in the morning from Miami to Port-au-Prince.

Haiti's Prime Minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, expressed concern that his government is showing signs of rupture under the strain of recovery and issued an appeal for some breathing space from his political opponents. "Everyone is trying to create conflict when we have the same enemy right now, misery and disaster," he said. "I am not asking for a truce but I believe we have a serious problem we have to face right now as a nation."