In a special focus on innovation and new technologies, Anne-Sophie David, journalist for the New Economist, writes on MISSING.NET, research engine for missing people. This tool, conceived by the Red Helmets Foundation, is devoted to be used after natural disasters occur. Excerpts of the article.... Read more
Washington, 11 mars 2010 - Reuters - Large-scale catastrophes too much for humanitarian community alone, Rene Preval says.
Haitian President Rene Preval on Wednesday pressed U.S. President Barack Obama to endorse the creation of an international rapid response team to better coordinate emergency aid following disasters such as the January earthquake that killed more than 230,000 people in his country.
Meeting with Obama at the White House for the first time since the earthquake, Preval applauded the U.S., Canada and other nations for a humanitarian effort that was "commensurate with the disaster."
But he said the need for a United Nations "red helmet" brigade was made clear during the first chaotic weeks after the Jan. 12 earthquake, when the sheer size of the international response caused problems with rescue efforts and bottlenecks in the delivery of food and water.
"We must draw the lessons from what occurred in Haiti," Preval said. "The massive, spontaneous, generous help was a good response to the disaster. However, its effectiveness must be improved, because effectiveness depends on the quality of coordination."
Preval plans to formally propose a UN humanitarian force that would be "the equivalent of the blue helmets" -- the world body's military peacekeepers -- during a March 31 meeting of international donors.
He also plans to propose a "donors trust fund" that would see money distributed to Haiti by a single authority.
Haiti's president contends the international humanitarian community is not strong enough on its own to respond to large-scale disasters.
The UN needs to assemble a panel of doctors, engineers, rescue workers and logistical experts to prepare a strategy before the next tragedy strikes, he said.
Preval's appeal came as the U.S. and other countries continue to reduce the number of military and humanitarian personnel working in Haiti.
Less than half of the 22,000 U.S. troops originally sent to Haiti remain, and the navy's hospital ship USNS Comfort was set to weigh anchor off Port-au-Prince on Wednesday.
One of two Canadian warships deployed after the earthquake has returned to Canada and Obama said the U.S. military is "responsibly" handing off relief functions to the Haitian government.
During Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean's visit to Haiti earlier this week, Preval said international supplies of food and water may soon "undermine Haitian national production."
A greater priority is now being placed on provision of shelter to the country's 1.3 million homeless.
"The situation on the ground remains dire, and people should be under no illusions that the crisis is over," Obama said.
"With the spring rains approaching, those needs will only grow. The challenge now is to prevent a second disaster."