March 2, 2010
U.N. Is Faulted as Lacking Coordination of Aid and Security in Haiti
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR (New York Times)
UNITED NATIONS — Humanitarian efforts by the United Nations in Haiti have lacked sufficient coordination with local organizations in delivering aid and establishing security, according to an independent assessment released on Tuesday.
One consequence was a surge in the sexual abuse of women and girls living in camps for the displaced, with some young girls trading sex for shelter, said Emilie Parry, an aid consultant who helped write the evaluation of the United Nations’ effort for Refugees International, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of refugees.
“Women reported to us that there has been a lot of violence and sexual abuse at nighttime,” Ms. Parry said, noting that there is no system of nighttime patrols in the makeshift camps where many displaced people have been living.
“By all accounts, the leadership of the humanitarian country team is ineffectual,” said the report, based on 10 days of evaluations in February. The report, titled “Haiti: From the Ground Up,” also acknowledged that the scale of the disaster made the response a singular challenge.
Closer work with Haitian organizations, as well as better knowledge about conditions, would also enhance the ability of local groups to deal with problems long after the international groups left, Ms. Parry said.
The report suggests a number of ways to improve the delivery of aid, including allowing more participation by Haitian organizations whose leaders are now living among as many as several million displaced earthquake victims.
While the United Nations does not actively discriminate against such groups, it effectively bars them through a lack of advertising and the system of passes that are needed to attend meetings, Ms. Parry said. Appointing liaison officers dedicated to such groups would help, the report suggests.
It also recommended that the United Nations appoint one person responsible for leading the team distributing humanitarian aid in the country, rather than have the responsibility be among many tasks taken on by senior management.
Finally, it suggested that the United Nations’ assessments had not delved adequately into the heart of all the temporary camps, where hundreds of thousands of people still lack shelter and other basic needs. The report recommends that the United States government beef up its budget for disaster assistance and that it, too, should coordinate more with local groups.
“There is too much of a gap, too many people are being left out of the response,” Ms. Parry said.
Human Rights Watch issued a similar report two weeks ago, noting the lack of adequate shelter and saying that it had documented three rapes connected to poor security. Asked about the reports then, Anthony Banbury, a senior United Nations official in Haiti, was criticized for saying that the number of rapes “almost elates me.”
Mr. Banbury issued a statement later saying that he had not meant to minimize the seriousness of the three rapes, but to suggest that efforts to maintain some security were working because the number was relatively low.
The United Nations has given shelter materials to more than 523,000 people, or 40 percent of those in need, said Martin Nesirky, the spokesman for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, with 232,000 additional tarpaulins and 22,000 tents en route. The World Food Program and partner organizations have delivered food assistance to 4.3 million people, Mr. Nesirky said.
Catherine Bragg, the deputy humanitarian coordinator, said the scale of the destruction in Haiti, as well as the death of 100 United Nations staff members, including the most senior officials, had initially hampered relief efforts.
“It is the most complex humanitarian response we have ever had to deal with,” said Ms. Bragg, adding that the United Nations had brought some order to utter chaos. “It would be very easy to make negative comments about how things are coordinated.”
John Holmes, the departing United Nations humanitarian coordinator, has said publicly that the organization’s response was uneven. He demanded that United Nations staff members do a better job of coordinating relief efforts.
The United Nations has tried not to discriminate between Haitian and international organizations, with local groups accounting for about 15 percent of the groups participating in the effort in Haiti, said Stephanie Bunker, the spokeswoman for the humanitarian aid office. “We would like to increase the balance,” she said.