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Quake victims need international support more than ever, says Ban

The UN has warned donors not to slacken international aid efforts in Haiti as conditions remain dire for the millions left homeless by January's earthquake. Women in particular increasingly face the risk of being raped in unsafe refuge camps.


REUTERS - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon vowed on Sunday to work to keep donor funds flowing for Haiti's recovery and reconstruction following the devastating January earthquake in the poor Caribbean state.

Making his second brief visit to the wrecked capital Port-au-Prince since the Jan. 12 quake, Ban sought to restore momentum to what some fear is faltering donor support for efforts to help more than a million homeless quake survivors.

The U.N. chief, who held talks with Haitian President Rene Preval and leaders of the international relief operation, said the world's response to Haiti has so far been "extraordinarily generous."

"Seldom in history has there been such an outpouring of support and heartfelt solidarity," he told a news conference with Preval before visiting one of the most crowded survivors' camps in the city accompanied by U.S. actor Sean Penn.

Haiti's president has said that up to 300,000 people may have been killed in the magnitude 7 quake that reduced parts of Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns to rubble. Some experts have described the temblor, which struck the disaster-prone poorest state in the Western Hemisphere, as the deadliest natural catastrophe of modern times.

Ban noted the U.N.'s revised emergency appeal for $1.4 billion this year to fund continuing humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in Haiti was only 49 percent funded so far.

"I assured President Preval and his ministers that I will continue my best personal efforts to fulfill the remainder, particularly for such underfunded programs as early recovery and agriculture," Ban said at the news conference.

With Haiti's annual rainy season looming and the hurricane season due to start  on June 1, some aid experts say there is a risk of another humanitarian disaster, and even social conflict, unless adequate shelter is found quickly for hundreds of thousands of quake victims camped out in open spaces.

Outspoken Hollywood star Penn, who with Ban toured one sprawling camp of up to 40,000 quake survivors sheltering at the Petionville club golf course, said it was important for the world to keep on caring about Haiti and its quake victims.

"We need tents, we need funds," said Penn, whose own charity organization has been helping with the relief efforts.

Joint-managed reconstruction fund

The U.N.'s chief of humanitarian operations, John Holmes, said on Thursday the international organization was struggling to provide support to Haiti, as donor nations had been slow to hand over much-needed aid. Last month, in a leaked e-mail, Holmes chided aid agencies for what he called poor coordination and resourcing, citing "major unmet humanitarian needs."

Recovery and development experts and the Haitian government are drawing up a long-term reconstruction plan to be presented to international donors at a meeting in New York on March 31. Some economists have already estimated the cost of the damage inflicted by the quake at up to $14 billion.

"Our challenge is to maintain the spirit of solidarity through the upcoming donors' conference and beyond," Ban said.

A Haiti Reconstruction Fund to be financed by foreign donors is expected to be finalized at the New York meeting and Preval said he and Ban had agreed the fund should be jointly managed for 18 months by representatives from both Haiti and the donors.

After that, its administration would revert to Haiti's government under the leadership of the president.

Preval also referred to the idea of creating a "red helmets" U.N. emergency humanitarian response force that could intervene quickly in countries hit by natural disasters.

This would be an additional role to the traditional U.N. peacekeeping activities already carried out around the world by the organization's "blue helmet" troops and police.

The existing U.N. peackeeping force in Haiti was boosted in January when the Security Council unanimously agreed to increase its number by 3,500 to 12,651.

At the Petionville club encampment, Ban said the U.N.'s top priority would be to protect women and young girls, some of whom have reported rapes in the crowded camps.

"When their life is very difficult at this time, if they are the objects of sexual abuse, attacks and rape, it is totally unacceptable. We must stop it," Ban said.

Possible solutions included moving vulnerable survivors to safer camps, and five likely sites had been identified.

Haiti's Jan. 12 earthquake demolished the headquarters of the U.N. mission in Port-au-Prince and killed 101 U.N. personnel, including the mission chief, Hedi Annabi.

It was the worst loss of life in a single incident in the United Nations' 65-year history.


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