Joint Press Conference on Haiti at the United Nations Headquarters

Alejandro Wolff
Deputy Representative to the United Nations 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
John Holmes, Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ambassador Leo Merores, Ambassador Maria Luiza, Ambassador Gerard Araud, Ambassador Gustavo Alvarez, Ambassador John McNee
New York, NY
January 21, 2010


Under Secretary-General John Holmes: Good afternoon, everybody and thank you very much for being at this informal press briefing. Obviously, we're here in advance of the member states briefing which will take
place at three o'clock this afternoon. But we thought it might be useful just to gather here, a few people of those concerned and I'm joined by the Brazilian Ambassador, the Charge d'Affaires of the United States,
just in case you don't recognize them, the Ambassador of Haiti, of course, the Ambassador of France, the ambassador of Canada and the Charge d'Affaires of Uruguay. There could be other countries here too but this is a, if you like, representative sample of the countries with which are working in Haiti.

You're all aware of the scale of the catastrophe in Haiti and the scale of the efforts that the international community is mounting to try and provide relief in the immediate first few days, and, of course, on a much longer term basis as well.

I think one of the things that's been striking about this is the incredible international response to this disaster and the incredible outpouring of generosity and solidarity with the people of Haiti in the appalling tragedy that they've suffered.  And this has been on two levels, obviously, one is the level of individuals and you see huge amounts of fundraising from individuals and the other is on the level of member states, countries, many, many of whom around the world have expressed their solidarity, contributed funds, sent planes and are continuing to do so. If we have problems at the airport in some respects is because so many people, so many planes want to get in there, bringing in aid from literally all around the world. And these are some of the countries with which we're working particularly closely, of course. The U.S. presence is enormous and extremely welcomed. They're really making a difference. But everybody here and many others are really making a difference.

The U.N. is trying to coordinate this; that's our mandate from the General Assembly. But what I want to say is that we are working extremely well and extremely cooperatively with all the countries here and with everybody else. Of course, it's a frustrating business; it's never as fast as we would like, the logistical problems, the problems of
chaos in the first few days took some overcoming, but I'm confident that we're getting there. The aid that the U.N. organizations, the NGOs, the Red Cross, Red Crescent movement are providing in a coordinated way, the
aid that the Americans are bringing in and many other people from many other countries, including all the ones standing here, is really making a difference. Of course, Brazil makes a huge contribution on the military front through its command of MINUSTAH and there are many Brazilian forces that are part of MINUSTAH.

So what I wanted to say is that this is a massive international effort. It will continue to be a massive international effort. We are working very closely with all these countries, it's an effort of solidarity, and we are working extremely cooperatively and positively together.

So that's the message that I wanted to deliver and let me pass the microphone to the Ambassador of Haiti to say a few words and I think our colleagues will say a few words each as well.

Ambassador, the floor is open.

Ambassador Merores: Good afternoon. In addition to what Mr. Holmes just said, on the government side, you know, things are slowly getting reorganized and the government is working, it's functional.  And in coordination with MINUSTAH and all the other international partners operating in the country, the flow of this mission of aid, not only to
the population of Port-au-Prince but also to those in the other cities that have been affected, this is progressing and as Mr. Holmes indicated, there were some difficulties at the beginning, but gradually, you know, they are being resolved so that, in effect -- (inaudible) are being served and receiving assistance. Other than that, the government would like to express its appreciation, its gratitude, you know, to all of the countries and the organizations that have come to our assistance so far. And it is obvious that it is an immense task, you know.

We're still in the search and rescue phase of the operation, but you know, some reflection, you know, is being given to mid-term and long-term planning for reconstruction of the country. And here again on behalf of the government, we would like to express our appreciation for the assistance that we've been getting so far and we would like to assure you that the government is extremely grateful and all steps are being taken on our side to ensure that the affected population does, indeed, receive the aid. And we are certainly hopeful everything will as soon as possible (inaudible) than before.

Thank you.

Under Secretary-General John Holmes: Let's go right to left. Ambassador Viotti, start us off.

Ambassador Viotti:  Thank you very much. Brazil is very much committed as you well know to helping as much as we can. We have been present in delivering assistance. There has been a continued flow of aircraft flying to Haiti to deliver food, water and medical supplies and so on and this is, I think, a common effort. We are also very much committed to ensuring that our efforts are very well coordinated and can be successful in terms of delivering the assistance to the people in need in Haiti.

We are at the disposal of the media for any other clarification of questions that you might have.

Under Secretary-General John Holmes: We'll do some questions at the end.

Ambassador Wolff: Thank you. As you've heard, this is a major international undertaking and we want to, obviously, commend John Holmes and OCHA and all the humanitarian agencies on the ground under U.N.leadership for the fantastic work they've done. I don't think we would be in the situation we're in trying to get relief supplies to the people who have been affected without their superb effort, and as you know, they've suffered a lot and our condolences are with them.
The American contribution is increasing every day as you know. We are a neighbor and friend of Haiti. We are working closely with that government, coordinating with our international partners, with other governments and, of course, with the U.N. We're there for the long-term. This is not something that's going to be resolved quickly and easily.

There are immediate relief efforts, but there's a reconstruction effort underway as well that will be a much longer term. The outpouring of support and generosity of the American people is obvious here. My government has contributed about $165 million so far, $90 million of which under the U.N. Flash Appeal, and we will continue to do more.  And
again, the priority we need to continue to remember is helping the people in distress and the people who need our support and to ensure that the government of Haiti is in a position as rapidly as possible to resume all of its responsibilities. And we'll continue to work coordinating closely with the U.N. until that point is done.  Thank you.

Ambassador Araud:  Thank you. Because of the proximity of the French West Indies, we were among the first ones to be on the ground. We have now around 1,000 people, French in Haiti and we are organizing every day four or five, six shuttles between La Martinique and La Guadeloupe and Haiti. We have responded to the Flash Appeal of the U.N. by pledging $50

Only one comment: I think it's impossible to overestimate the challenges that the U.N. and all the countries are facing to organize, to coordinate the aid considering the seriousness, the tragic seriousness of the situation. They were bumps on the road. They were unavoidable. But I think that we are moving in the right direction. Thank you.

Ambassador McNee: Canada and Haiti are friends of long date, and for my government bringing the very most effective and rapid response to this crisis is an enormous priority, working very closely with the U.N. family, with the other member states here today, and with the wider international effort.

As you know, Canada has already made a commitment of up to $135 million. We have 1,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen in Haiti and another 1,000 foreseen and in an effort to look a bit ahead, my minister this morning announced a conference in Montreal of those countries, the U.N., the IFIs who have the heaviest investment in Haiti, to take place in Montreal to take stock of the current situation and look ahead to the move from humanitarian relief to reconstruction and the plan for a bigger conference on reconstruction in the future.  Thank you.

Ambassador Alvarez:  Thank you. I have only just a few words to add to what has been said. Uruguay has a large contingent in the field and we are putting on this infrastructure for the reconstruction work available and we are also thinking to the reconstruction for the future and what activities we can do and what we can provide for that very hard task. Thank you very much.

Under Secretary-General John Holmes: Thank you. Now, I think we can take a few questions. Perhaps if you could say who you want to address your question to.

Reporter: For the Ambassadors of Brazil, Uruguay and Canada. Can you tell us how many losses you've had with the U.N. peacekeepers and whether you're sending more troops or police to MINUSTAH?

Ambassador Viotti:  We've lost 20 Brazilians altogether so far, eighteen military, two civilians, of course, one of them, Luiz Carlos da Costa, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Haiti and the other civilian in Haiti was a philanthropist and social worker and was developing a project in Haiti.

We have already announced our intention, have informed the DPKO, of our intention to contribute troops. We are examining the numbers and so on, but I think that we will be able to make an important contribution to this effort to scale up MINUSTAH on the ground.

Ambassador McNee: Two members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police perished in the tragedy, they were the acting police commissioner for MINUSTAH, and another member of force. We have a lot of police in Canada who are very keen to come and help and augment our presence in MINUSTAH whenever the United Nations mission feels that it's the right time. Thank you.

Reporter:  Ambassador Wolff, my question is regarding the media being criticized for focusing a lot on the looting and I wanted to get your personal viewpoint in terms of how the United States is operating right now in Haiti and what your analysis is of the U.N. in regards to controlling the looting?

Ambassador Wolff: Well, again, let's not forget the responsibility, first and foremost, is with the Haitian authorities and responsibility also for security and coordinating on that internationally is the U.N. We have seen some looting. We know there has been an effort to respond to that quickly. These are isolated incidents. I think the general situation on the ground from our reporting, and I will leave it to Mr. Holmes to address it from the U.N.'s reporting, seems to be generally stable given the circumstances of the situation - of the devastation that Port-au-Prince suffered and other parts of the country suffered after this massive earthquake. These are things that one expects, unfortunately, from time to time.

I think the response has been outstanding. I think the effort to try to contain the violence to ensure that these pockets are controlled very quickly so that the aid distribution and release of supplies can get to the people who need it most as fast as possible has been exemplary, and there's a real good story there to tell as well. Thank you.

Reporter: Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times.  I think this question is best for the Canadian Ambassador. You talked about reconstruction and I guess Ambassador Wolff did too. At a time like this when they are still sort of struggling to get in sufficient medical supplies and they also have to deal with the immediate crisis, what kind of work can you
do on reconstruction? And what are your priorities there?

Ambassador McNee: Well I think Neil, you are absolutely right. The immediate and the overriding priority is finding people, getting them medical assistance, getting them food and water.  And that is, of course, the prime focus. But at the same time, I think that individual member states, the U.N. family, have to start thinking beyond that. There are enormous needs for shelter just to give you one example, the physical reconstruction of the buildings. And in parallel with the immediate humanitarian effort we have to be able to start thinking about what it's going to take over the medium term to try and assist the Haitian government with the next phase in the effort.

Reporter: This is to the Haitian Ambassador. Why did President Preval reject the Dominican offer? And also for Ambassador Wolff, how long do you think in this process even after the rescue stage and into the reconstruction stage will the US troops stay there - even after the rescue stage - getting into the reconstruction stage, will the US troops
remain there at this high level?

Ambassador Merores: My understanding is that the government will be issuing a statement on this issue that you just referred to, however one should bear in mind that the question of our relations with the Dominican Republic is a very sensitive issue on both sides of the border. That is something that the government prefers to handle with extreme care. But nevertheless, to answer specifically your question, let's say that a statement will be issued very soon on this.

Moderator: I think we only have time for one more question.

Ambassador Wolff: Thank you, again. The US military presence there is first and foremost designed to establish a secure environment for the relief effort that is underway and we are doing that at the request of the Haitian government and in support of the UN effort which of course has primary responsibility for security there as well.  And as the local authorities and the UN are better able to deal with the issue themselves-and I have to say here, let me reiterate that MINUSTAH, the UN force there that's responsible for security has been doing an outstanding job in very difficult circumstances given the casualties it suffered in the earthquake as well.  So although the military presence over time will obviously decline as that need is addressed, the United States, however, is committed for the long term with Haiti and to support Haiti and its people in terms of its reconstruction effort.  We are close friends, we are regional neighbors, and our commitment will go well beyond simply the relief phase. 

Reporter:  Ambassador Wolff, as a follow up to Benny's question: Did the United States have discussions with President Preval to ask him to reverse his decision on the Dominican troops? 

Ambassador Wolff:  We have discussions with President Preval all the time.  I think the question of the nature of the UN presence there, what troops are in place, is probably a priority topic for the UN to take up, not so much the United States.  Thank you.


PRN: 2010/013