UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations is confident there will be no security vacuum in Haiti as U.S. and other foreign troops withdraw from the earthquake-struck Caribbean country, a top U.N. official said on Tuesday.
The U.N. police and military force has a mandate to provide security in Haiti, but U.S. and other foreign troops took over humanitarian security, notably safeguarding the delivery of food and water, after the magnitude 7.0 quake on Jan 12.
The U.N. will take over humanitarian relief in a “phased” way as the foreign troops depart, acting U.N. mission chief Edmond Mulet said in New York.
U.S. troops are already withdrawing, while Canadians will leave on March 15, he said.
Some have criticized the relief operations, as being too slow to respond to the crisis. But Mulet said he was confident in the U.N. force, which was boosted in January when the Security Council unanimously agreed to increase the number by 3,500 to 12,651.
“With the additional troops ... I think we’ll be able to provide the necessary stability and security in Haiti,” he said
A former U.N. special representative to Haiti, Mulet assumed command of the U.N. police and military force soon after the earthquake struck.
His predecessor was killed along with other top commanders of the U.N. Stabilization Mission when its Port-of-Prince headquarters collapsed during the quake.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon led a memorial service in New York on Tuesday to honor the 101 U.N. personnel who died.
Humanitarian relief will have to be provided in parallel with recovery and reconstruction efforts, given the threat that rain and hurricanes pose to Haiti, Mulet said.
The rainy season begins in earnest in early April and the hurricane season in early June, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
Mulet estimated that assistance would be needed in Haiti for at least another 12 months. Haiti’s Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has estimated it could take the nation three or four years to return to its pre-quake state.
The humanitarian priorities are “shelter, shelter, and shelter,” Mulet said, noting that sanitation is also important with the coming rainy season. More robust accommodations will have to be provided for people living in tents, which will not be able to withstand hurricanes.
Part of the relief effort will be to consolidate scattered camps to make it easier to provide food, water and security, he said. The government has identified five pieces of land on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince where the U.N. is working to set up tents.
“The government — rightly so — is against the concept of having large camps or settlements,” Mulet said. “We don’t want to reproduce slum areas.”
It would probably be impossible to know exactly how many people died in the quake due to the lack of a proper civil birth registry, but Mulet said he believed the toll was not less than 220,000 or 230,000.
Editing by Chris Wilson