As thousands of Haitians remain hurt or homeless after Tuesday’s devastating earthquake, the international community has moved to donate food, money or medicine to help those in need.
Euronews’ Laurence Alexandrowicz spoke with Elizabeth Byrs, a Geneva-based spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, about how the world body’s involvement in relief efforts.
Byrs said relief workers were being kept safe amid reports of violence and dismissed suggestions that foreigners were getting preferential treatment from local people in being airlifted out of the impoverished Carribbean island.
euronews: How many teams have been sent to Haiti and what is their priority?
Elizabeth Byrs: They are around 25 rescue teams in the disaster zone including teams with sniffer dogs. Their priority is clearly to look for survivors. We’ve just had an earthquake and there are lots of air pockets amongst the rubble. We need to move quickly because hope fades with each hour that passes.
euronews: Are you going to change the way you work on the ground after reports of looting emerged this morning at warehouses belonging to the World Food Programme? Are your relief workers being kept safe?
Elizabeth Byrs: Look, the teams are safe. They are doing their jobs and the local population understands that. We were always aware that there had been violence in Haiti. We knew that as we have already faced it. The situation is very tense. People are feeling very shocked and traumatised. People are hungry. It’s normal that there has been this kind of reaction. If the security situation continues to deteriorate then clearly the UN peacekeepers will call in reinforcements.
euronews. We have seen that injured expatriates have been able to return home, notably a number of French nationals who have been repatriated. Do you expect to carry out any medical evacuations of those affected? Some Haitians, local people, appear to have the impression that rich foreigners are getting preferential treatment while they are being left in these very difficult conditions.
Elizabeth Byrs: At the moment, I have no information with regards to this issue but I can say that we make no distinction between the Haitian population and expatriates living there. I think that regarding those foreign nationals, the respective governments and foreign affairs ministries have taken their own measures. It is not us that takes responsiblity for that directly. But on the point of rescue and aid operations, it is clear that the United Nations makes no distinction between different groups of people.