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Updated: January 20, 2010 02:56 IST

U.N. approves extra troops and police for Haiti

AP
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A U.S. soldier moves people away from the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday. The U.N. Security Council has unanimously approved 3,500 extra troops and police officers to beef up security in Haiti and ensure that desperately needed aid gets to earthquake victims.
AP A U.S. soldier moves people away from the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday. The U.N. Security Council has unanimously approved 3,500 extra troops and police officers to beef up security in Haiti and ensure that desperately needed aid gets to earthquake victims.

The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday unanimously approved 3,500 extra troops and police officers to beef up security in Haiti and ensure that desperately needed aid gets to earthquake victims as the world body defended itself against criticism that millions still don’t have food or water.

A week after the magnitude 7.0 quake struck, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the U.N. food agency distributed rations for nearly 200,000 people. It is a small percentage of the 3 million to 3.5 million the U.N. says have been affected. Ban said the U.N. goal is to increase the number of people receiving food to 1 million this week and at least 2 million in the following two weeks.

“The situation is overwhelming,” Mr. Ban told reporters.

But he said “initial difficulties and bottlenecks” in delivering relief items are being overcome and U.N. relief operations “are gearing up quickly.”

He cited a new system at the airport giving priority to humanitarian flights, the opening of five new land corridors to deliver aid and U.S.-led efforts to open port facilities possibly sometime next week. In addition, badly damaged hospitals are starting to function with help from international medical teams, water supplies are increasing and more tents and temporary shelters are arriving, he said.

Assistant Secretary-General Edmond Mulet, the acting U.N. envoy to Haiti, described the situation on the ground as “quite stable and normal.”

“Food has been taken from destroyed supermarkets and shops, which is almost a normal situation in these kind of circumstances,” Mr. Mulet told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York by videoconference. “But we have not seen at all any kind of violent actions or rampages or swarms of looters or people attacking or aggressive actions by anybody.”

Tens of thousands of people are still sleeping in the streets or under plastic sheets in makeshift camps, and many shout at any foreigner for food and water. Relief workers say they fear visiting some parts of the city because of looting and violence by desperate survivors.

U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said starting Tuesday the U.S. military is going to use its helicopters to bring more relief supplies to secure areas to increase the flow of goods, in addition to what’s arriving by air and by road from the Dominican Republic, which shares an island with Haiti. U.S. helicopters will also start taking food to outlying areas which have been difficult to reach for local distribution, he said.

“It takes time to get as many supplies into the country as we want,” Mr. Holmes said. “There is an enormous mobilisation. It doesn’t show itself on the streets quickly enough for anybody, but it’s happening.”

The resolution adopted by the Security Council on Tuesday will add 2,000 troops to the 7,000 military peacekeepers already in the country and 1,500 police to the 2,100-strong international police force.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said the extra soldiers are needed because of requests to escort humanitarian convoys. He said the U.N. also needs extra troops to secure aid delivery routes, and for a reserve force in case security deteriorates further.

How quickly the troops and police get to Haiti depends on offers from the 191 other U.N. member states. Mr. Le Roy said the neighbouring Dominican Republic has offered to send an 800-strong battalion to secure the road from Port-au-Prince to the Dominican border, and they could arrive this week.

About 2,000 Canadian soldiers, sailors and air crew, including two warships, are already deploying to the towns of Jacmel and Leogane, about 40 km southwest of the capital of Port-au-Prince, said Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay.

While the Canadian troops work south of the capital providing aid, the Americans will be concentrated in Port au Prince, Mr. Mulet said.

As for aid, Emilia Casella, a spokeswoman for the World Food Programme, said the goal is to rapidly get in 4.2 million rations of high-nutrition children’s food, and 10 million total rations.

“In this kind of a catastrophe, help cannot arrive within a few hours,” U.N. aid spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said in Geneva. “Many officials are dead and many services we usually use in case of a catastrophe are unavailable.”

The U.N. headquarters in Port au Prince collapsed, and the chief of the country’s mission, Hedi Annabi, and his deputy were among the dead.

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