Overwhelming concern over massive destruction caused by a 7.0 earthquake in Haiti that impacted 3 million people – one third of the population – and left much of the Caribbean nation in shambles dominated discussion in the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council yesterday, as the 54-member body held its first organizational meeting of 2010.

Briefing the Council on events in Haiti, Rashid Khalikov, Director of the New York Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, welcomed the Council’s intention to be engaged long-term in Haitian earthquake response efforts. Giving an overview of the situation, he said some 1,800 personnel had arrived in Haiti and more than 150 dogs were being used in search and rescue work. Immediate priorities centered on providing medical assistance, corpse assistance, and food, water and sanitation services. Needs were expected to increase in the short-term, as access was still “very difficult”, with the airport congested and seaport badly crippled.

Despite such challenges, humanitarian assistance was increasingly reaching Port-au-Prince and Fond Lagon, among other areas. A $575 million flash appeal had been launched and the Secretary-General had approved $25 million to be allocated from the Central Emergency Response Fund. Of the $575 million, $115 million – almost 20 per cent – had been received. Humanitarian coordination was being led by the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti, and military coordination was being prioritized. Logistical clusters were being led by the World Food Programme. While the situation remained calm, there was still serious concern over the threat to law and order.

In that context, John McNee ( Canada), Chairman of the Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti, called on donors to provide continued relief, reconstruction and humanitarian assistance to help Haitians get back on their feet as quickly as possible. He also urged a quick and commensurate response to the Flash Appeal. As humanitarian assistance moved to recovery and reconstruction phases, sustained efforts should centre on the long-term development needs of the Haitian people. It was crucial that such efforts be grounded in the priorities of the Haitian Government and help strengthen its lead in reconstruction, according to a UN press release.