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Haiti faces challenges, but also signs of hope, says top UN envoy

NEW YORK – The need to overcome obstacles in Haiti in the wake of a series of devastating hurricanes and storms has propelled a political breakthrough in the Caribbean nation, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council Wednesday, October 8.

Between mid-August and September, Haiti was battered by a succession of hurricanes, displacing or directly affecting 800,000 people, Hédi Annabi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, said at the open meeting.

“But these figures cannot truly convey the level of devastation that is involved, or the depth of suffering that it has entailed for an already desperately poor population who have now lost what little they had,” he added.

Mr. Annabi, who heads the UN mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, said he seen first-hand twice the damage inflicted on the hard-hit northern town of Gonaïves.

“Those two trips have left me with a personal and abiding sense of the scale of human tragedy that is involved – the homes that have been destroyed, the families that have been uprooted and no longer have a place to call their own, the lives that have been changed forever,” he said.

But the Representative pointed out that now is a time of hope for Haiti, thanks to the new political direction the nation is embarking on.

“The need to respond to the catastrophic problems posed by the hurricanes helped to unblock a political stand-off that had lasted for nearly five months, and to generate a new, and urgently needed, sense of solidarity,” he told the Council.

The confirmation process for the new Government wrapped up on September 5, and the Parliament and executive branch have cooperated to pass emergency laws allowing for greater flexibility to provide relief funds, Mr. Annabi said. Further, the Government has shown its willingness to work with others, and both civil society and the private sector have been working with authorities to assist hurricane victims.

“This new approach of solidarity and outreach is already facilitating concrete results, and brings a renewed possibility for progress,” he noted. “But at the same time, it remains extreme fragile, and will undoubtedly be tested in the months ahead.”

The Representative highlighted the role played by MINUSTAH in tackling the damage left by the hurricanes in helping to evacuate victims, provide emergency medical care, shoring up crumbling infrastructure and deliver urgently-needed relief supplies.

“This made a crucial difference in the early days and weeks, buying time for the normal humanitarian mechanisms to gather momentum,” he said.

Consolidating stability in Haiti will require MINUSTAH’s efforts in several key areas, Mr. Annabi stressed.

Firstly, the mission is working with authorities to prepare for Senate elections, originally slated for November. It must also help to strengthen the State through boosting the capacities of local governments, national administration and key ministries.

Regarding security, MINUSTAH troops and police “continue to play an essential role,” the Representative said. With Haiti potentially facing threats ranging from kidnapping to civil unrest – which could be aggravated by the socio-economic situation and manipulated for political purposes – “we therefore believe that the continued presence for the coming 12 months of international troops and formed police, with their current strength and tasking, will be essential to help the Haitian authorities to respond in all of these areas.”

Haiti’s own security capacities must be bolstered, as well as its justice system, Mr. Annabi emphasized.

Lastly, development, while not directly in the purview of MINUSTAH, is an essential element in bringing durable stability to Haiti, he said. “The point I wish to stress here is that our efforts cannot – and will not – be successful unless there is some prospect of tangible improvement in the daily lives of the Haitian public.”

A large-scale effort is essential to help the country create a basic infrastructure, the Representative said, adding that “without such an effort, without a major reconstruction plan, Haiti cannot hope to truly begin the process of recovery.”

He said that rebuilding is contingent on the efforts of three groups: Haitian leaders and the population, who must cooperate to identify priorities and act on them; MINUSTAH and the greater UN family, who must support the implementation of such plans; and the international community, whose assistance and resources are crucial.

“If we stay the course, if we pursue a broad approach and if we all remained engaged in an effective partnership, I remain convinced that we can succeed, and that Haiti can emerge from its troubled past, toward a better future,” Mr. Annabi said.

Following the Council’s open meeting, he briefed countries that are contributing troops to MINUSTAH.

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