UN to send more troops to Haiti

Move to boost force by 3,500 comes as aid effort continues to build a week after quake.

    US and Canadian troops are assisting UN forces to provide security [AFP]

    The United Nations is to send 3,500 additional troops and police to quake-hit Haiti to help keep order as relief operations gain momentum.

    The 15-member UN Security Council, "recognising the dire circumstances and urgent need for a response", on Tuesday unanimously backed a request by Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, to reinforce the 9,000-strong UN force in the Caribbean nation.

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    Defending the UN on Tuesday against criticism that millions of Haitians still do not have food or water, Ban said "the situation is overwhelming".

    But he said that "initial difficulties and bottlenecks" that held up supplies were being overcome and UN relief operations were "gearing up quickly".
    "We must do all we can to get these extra forces on the ground as soon as possible so that they can help maintain order and deliver humanitarian assistance," Ban said.

    The UN move came as the Haitian government said on Tuesday that the number of people killed in last week's earthquake had risen to 75,000, with another 250,000 injured and one million left homeless.

    'Amazing' rescue

    However, there was a rare moment of hope on Tuesday as rescue workers pulled an elderly woman out from under the collapsed home of Haiti's archbishop.

    Rescue teams pulled this woman out from under rubble on Tuesday 

    The rescue team said it believed two more people were trapped alive under the same building. 

    Anna Zizi was placed on a makeshift stretcher, put on a drip, covered with a heat-conserving wrap and taken to a hospital, witnesses said.

    "It was an amazing thing to witness, no one could believe she was still alive," Sarah Wilson of British charity Christian Aid said.
    "She was singing when she emerged. Everyone clapped and cheered."
    Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley, reporting from the scene of the rescue near the national cathedral in Port-au-Prince, said while the chances of people being brought out alive were slim after seven days, rescue work was continuing all over the city.

    Despite the scale of the devastation in the city, teams from many different countries were showing that it was worth continuing the search, he said.

    The UN said on Wednesday that 121 people had been rescued by international teams from the debris of collapsed buildings.

    'Signs of improvement'

    Winnie Romeril, from the American Red Cross, told Al Jazeera that "there are real signs of improvement" for those that survived the quake but had spent a week struggling to get food, water and medical treatment.

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    "There are little micro-economies springing up, there's food out there, people are buying it," she said.

    A week on after the quake, the UN food agency has distributed rations for nearly 200,000 people.

    But the UN says three million to 3.5 million people have been affected by the quake and it hopes to increase the number of people receiving food to one million this week and at least two million in the following two weeks.

    Badly damaged hospitals have started to function, water supplies have been increasing and more tents and temporary shelters have started to arrive, Ban said.

    Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Port-au-Prince, said aid provision was taking time and was still in the emergency phase.

    "But there are logistical challenges with an airport with limited capacity and a port that is not functioning at all."

    "There is fear so troops will be needed. Security is a major concern."

    Alain Le Roy, the head of UN peacekeeping operations, said the reinforcements would be used to protect humanitarian convoys and build aid corridors linking Port-au-Prince with neighbouring Dominican Republic and a northern Haitian port.

    The capital's main port was heavily damaged in Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude quake and will require weeks if not months to repair.

    The extra troops would also serve as a reserve force "in case the security situation deteriorates", Le Roy said, adding that the Dominican Republic had already agreed to dispatch a battalion of 800 troops as early as this week.

    Looting 'exaggerated'

    David Wimhurst, a UN spokesman, dismissed reports of widespread looting and chaos as wildly "exaggerated" on Tuesday.

    Edmond Mulet, the acting chief of the UN mission in Haiti, said while there was some security concern, particularly with the escape of 4,000 inmates from the city's main prison, generally "the security situation is under control."

    In video

    A young mother tells Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley about her family's struggle

    Romeril, of the Red Cross, also said the aid agency did not feel much of a security threat, although in some areas of the city aid workers have had to go out with security escorts.

    She added, however, that "the longer it takes for all of us to get this help to them the more risks we run".

    US and Canadian troops were being deployed to help with securing aid convoys in the capital and southern Haiti, Mulet said, adding that the UN remains in charge of co-ordinating the relief distribution.
    The US military said on Tuesday that it would also begin using other runways inside Haiti and across the border in the Dominican Republic to receive aid supplies, to ease the pressure on Port-au-Prince's single-runway airport.

    The UN move to bolster its forces came as Ban led hundreds of staff in a minute of silence at the UN headquarters late on Tuesday afternoon, in memory of the 46 UN workers confirmed to have died in the quake.

    The quake destroyed the main UN building in Port-au-Prince and killed the chief of the country's mission, Hedi Annabi.

    Le Roy said 318 UN workers were still unaccounted for - 277 Haitians and 40 international staff.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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