The United Nations is mobilizing its resources in the wake of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti yesterday, sending its experts and supplies to the Caribbean nation, while stressing the urgent need for search-and-rescue teams and medical help.
The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) reported that the 7.0 magnitude earthquake has caused major damage in the capital, Port-au-Prince, with the National Palace, the Ministry of Justice and other Government offices having been destroyed.
Casualties, which are vast, can only be estimated, " UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky said. An unknown number " tens if not hundreds of thousands " have suffered varying degrees of destruction to their homes. "
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes identified search-and-rescue efforts as an immediate priority.
A Chinese team has already touched down in Port-au-Prince, with two teams from the United States set to arrive this afternoon with heavy equipment and dogs to aid their operation.
Such help is desperately needed, " Mr. Holmes underscored. Every hour counts in this kind of situation when people are trapped under rubble and desperately need to be rescued. "
Medical help is also urgently needed, he stressed, as hospitals are overwhelmed. We expect those needs to increase and are making a major effort in the UN system " to swiftly provide as much help as possible, the relief official emphasized.
The UN has a head-start in the relief operation since it has humanitarian bodies " including the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children`s Fund (UNICEF) " on the ground, he said.
A flash appeal will be launched in the next few days, with $10 million having been released from the UN Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) to jump-start the operation in Haiti today, with the possibility of more funds being made available as the situation requires.
Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of WFP, said that the agency is already deploying its resources in Haiti and is airlifting an additional 86 metric tons of food " enough for half a million emergency meals " from its emergency hub in El Salvador.
Additionally, WFP will provide ready-to-eat food and high-energy biscuits for those who cannot access cooking facilities following the tremors.
We will work with the Haitian Government, with our humanitarian partners on the ground, and with governments across the world as part of a coordinated international rescue and recovery effort, " Ms. Sheeran said in a statement.
For its part, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) is spearheading the health response to the earthquake.
Immediate health priorities include finding survivors pinned under rubble, treating people with major injuries and the provision of clean water and sanitation, the agency noted.
WHO is helping to collect data on the health impact of the earthquake and is also deploying a 12-member team comprising experts in mass casualty management, coordination of emergency health response and the management of dead bodies.
With buildings and infrastructure in Port-au-Prince having suffered extensive damage, there is no doubt that we are facing a major humanitarian emergency and that a major relief effort will be required, " Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters this morning in New York.
Expressing gratitude to nations rushing aid to the earthquake`s victims, he called for the world to come to Haiti`s aid in this hour of need. "