UN sends food aid to earthquake-hit Haiti

January 13th, 2010 - 8:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Geneva, Jan 13 (DPA) The United Nations was preparing to send disaster response teams to Haiti along with needed food aid, officials said Wednesday following a massive earthquake.
“Initial reports indicate a large number of casualties and widespread damage,” said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“Life saving assistance, helping the injured and providing shelter - these are the priorities right now,” OCHA spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs told reporters at the UN headquarters in Geneva.

The World Food Programme was sending some 86 tonnes of high energy biscuits to the country, to help feed some 30,000 people, and would airlift more over the coming days.

Even prior to the latest natural disaster, the UN estimated some 1.8 million people in Haiti were “food insecure,” and the WFP predicted “needs for food assistance are now likely to be much higher”.

UN offices in the capital Port Au Prince were among key buildings severely damaged in the quake.

Peacekeepers and other civilian personnel, totalling nearly 11,000 staff, make up the UN teams permanently located in the poor country, badly affected in recent years by conflict and natural disasters.

Byrs said UN teams were looking for survivors but the extent of the damage and death toll was unclear.

“Unfortunately, we do not have estimates, it is too early,” she said.

The 7.0 magnitude quake which struck during the late afternoon local time is thought to be the worst in two centuries. Aftershocks were being felt throughout significant sections of the country and many were greater than 5.0 magnitude on the Richter Scale.

The wider Port-au-Prince area, believed to be home to some 4 million people according to UN figures, was hard hit as the epicentre of the quake is located not far from the capital province.

“Our ability to help depends largely on the situation in Port-au-Prince,” Ricardo Conti, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Haiti said.

“It is extremely difficult to move around the city to assess needs. What is certain is that the quake has had a massive impact on a population already reeling from other recent disasters,” he noted, as the organization prepared emergency response teams to travel to Haiti.

The WFP also said it would need to repair roads and bridges to move food aid around the country and reach victims in need of help. While the airport was open, routes connecting the landing area to the cities were damaged, as were roads from coastal ports.

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