UN defends Haiti quake relief efforts

7th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

UN relief agencies on Friday defended their role in the much criticised aid effort after Haiti's devastating earthquake nearly a year ago, saying they had faced "apocalyptic" scenes.

"We had to work on a kind of apocalyptic ground, a disaster. That's why I think we did our job well with regard to the situation," said Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Several non governmental organisations have criticised international aid over the past year for providing too little help too slowly.

The charity Oxfam said this week that the recovery effort in the impoverished Caribbean country was put on hold by "a year of indecision" after 250,000 people were killed and 1.9 million displaced by the January earthquake.

It blamed many rich nation donors for following their own aid priorities with little effective coordination.

Byrs told journalists that the emergency reponse by humanitarian agencies and NGOs was "good and fast" and insisted that their "life-saving" work should not be underestimated after Haiti's frail public services were virtually destroyed by the tremor in the capital Port-au-Prince.

UN agencies said they were "optimistic" despite the prospect of years of labour to prop up Haiti.

"If there is one message that UNICEF wants to convey it is that the international response to humanitarian emergency is never perfect and Haiti is no exception," said Marixie Mercado, a spokeswoman for the UN Children's Fund.

"But this response has saved lifes and improved many. The crisis if far from over," she told journalists.

Mercado noted that malnutrition had not worsened despite the circumstances and that for some of the 725,000 children who received educational support, it marked the first time they went to school.

The World Food Programme underlined that four million Haitians were receiving food deliveries six weeks after the tremor.

WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella said there was evidence that "a nutritional crisis... was avoided," in the densely populated earthquake-hit areas.

Haiti's misery was capped by a cholera epidemic from October that has left 3,600 dead, in the wake of a deadly hurricane, flooding and mudslides.

© 2011 AFP

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