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UN chief surveys Haiti destruction

October 16, 2016

Ban Ki-moon has voiced alarm at the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew during his visit to Haiti. He also formally opened a dialogue on the UN's responsibility for introducing cholera to the country.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Haiti
Image: Getty Images/AFP/H. Retamal

While visiting victims of Hurricane Matthew UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the destruction by the storm as "heartbreaking," expressing disappointment at scant emergency aid reaching the struggling nation.

"I am disappointed by the response of the international community. I sincerely hope and I urge the major donors to lend their helpful hand," Ban said, renewing his pledge to help the impoverished nation cope.

"I was very, very sad when we saw the complete devastation. But people the world over stand with you," the UN chief said, speaking in French.

Victims of the storm meanwhile continued to express frustration at delays in aid delivery ten days after Matthew made landfall in southwest Haiti with winds of 145 miles per hour (235 kilometers per hour).

At least 546 people were killed in Haiti, and more than 175,000 people have lost their homes.

There were reports of lootings of aid deliveries, as people continue to struggle to survive in the harsh aftermath of the hurricane, forcing UN bases to shut down in response. Clashes between Haitians in hard-hit areas have increased in recent days. Shortly before Ban's helicopter was due to land for a visit in the worst-affected town of Les Cayes, a clash broke out between residents and UN. About 100 residents began hurling rocks as trucks ferrying food aid arrived. Haitian police officers and UN peacekeepers were forced to scatter the group with tear gas.

Drone footage of hurricane-hit Haiti

String of disasters

Haiti had only started to emerge from the devastating aftermath of a January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people when the hurricane struck the island nation. The international aid that poured in at the time of the earthquake was deemed to be poorly coordinated, with only a fraction of the intended funds reaching the victims of the catastrophe. Many fear that lessons have not been learned since the catastrophe.

The United Nations launched an urgent appeal for $120 million to help Haiti, however, only about 12 percent of the funds needed have been raised to date.

Cholera and the United Nations

Ban Ki-moon meanwhile reiterated that a "massive response" was needed to help stave off famine and serious health crises, including an outbreak of cholera apparently introduced by UN peacekeepers arriving in the disaster area in the wake of the 2010 earthquake. The UN only acknowledged in August 2016 that it had played a role in introducing cholera to Haiti and vowed to aid victims in the Caribbean nation.

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that "the United Nations has a moral responsibility to the victims."

Haiti has now been plagued by cholera for several years, which has claimed close to 10,000 lives. Officials reported a new spike in cholera cases, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to send an additional one million doses of vaccine to Haiti to keep the surge at bay.

Beatrice Lindstrom, a human rights lawyer at the nonprofit "Institute for Justice and Democracy" in Haiti, said before Ban's visit that activists expected he would "fully acknowledge the UN's responsibility for introducing cholera to Haiti."

"The need for a new UN response that both controls and eliminates cholera and compensates the victims who have suffered so much is now more dire than ever," she said.

ss/bw (AFP, AP)