Tony Banbury, acting deputy head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, says that U.N. peacekeepers view Haiti as both the best and worst place to work right now.
Tony Banbury, acting deputy head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, says that U.N. peacekeepers view Haiti as both the best and worst place to work right now. Sakchai Lalit/AP
The acting deputy head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti said Tuesday that it's important not to rush to long-term solutions in the quake-hit country.
"One of the greatest challenges after a sudden-onset natural disaster is that the relief community, the United Nations, we have to do everything at the same time," the official, Tony Banbury, told NPR's Madeleine Brand. "The Haitian people don't have a day to wait. They deserve and need tents now, but we shouldn't rush to a longer-term solution until we have a very good one, and we're discussing what the solution should be with the government now."
Banbury said the U.N. is closely scrutinizing various proposals in Haiti in order to ensure that efforts like setting up relief camps don't harm the local population down the road. He said one proposal involved building camps for 100,000 people, but the impending rainy season, water sanitation and public-security issues posed major challenges.
"If we have a tent city that turns into a slum, and we have to dedicate security resources to it and draw it away from, say, relief efforts, that has big and bad implications," Banbury said. "And so we're determined to avoid all of the common mistakes we've seen in the past."
As part of its relief effort, the U.N. on Tuesday launched the Joint Operations and Tasking Center, which will receive priority requirements such as food, water and shelter from the humanitarian aid community. The center will seek to coordinate and integrate the operations of international relief organizations, U.N. security forces and the U.S. military.
"It's the one place where all the operations will come together in Port-au-Prince," Banbury said. "And with that in place, as of today, I'm confident that we're going to be delivering well-coordinated, well-planned operations."
The Jan. 12 earthquake devastated Haiti and its capital, Port-au-Prince, and it also adversely affected the U.N. The U.N. headquarters in the country were destroyed, and much of the organization's staff was killed, along with its entire leadership in Haiti. Banbury said that for U.N. staff, the work in Haiti was difficult but necessary.
"For a U.N. peacekeeper, Haiti is the worst place to be now; it's the best place to be now," he says. "It's so hard to be here because friends of ours were killed. I have replaced someone who died in the earthquake, and the people here have all lost a friend.
"It's difficult. But the Haitian people need our help, and this is where we want to be."