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UN Rushing Aid to Haiti Following Deadly Tremors

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The United Nations is mobilizing its resources in the wake of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on Tuesday, sending its experts and supplies such as food to victims of the massive tremors in the Caribbean nation, UN officials said Wednesday.

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Josette Sheeran, who heads the UN World Food Program (WFP), said that the agency is already deploying its resources in Haiti and is airlifting an additional 86 metric tons of food -- enough for half a million emergency meals -- from its emergency hub in ElSalvador.

Additionally, WFP will provide ready-to-eat food and high-energy biscuits for those who cannot access cooking facilities following the magnitude 7.0 earthquake which has severely damaged the capital, Port-au-Prince.

"We will work with the Haitian Government, with our humanitarian partners on the ground, and with governments across the world as part of a coordinated international rescue and recovery effort," Sheeran said in a statement.

For its part, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) is spearheading the health response to the earthquake.

Immediate health priorities include finding survivors pinned under rubble, treating people with major injuries and the provision of clean water and sanitation, the agency noted.

WHO is helping to collect data on the health impact of the earthquake and is also deploying a 12-member team comprising experts in mass casualty management, coordination of emergency health response and the management of dead bodies.

With buildings and infrastructure in Port-au-Prince having suffered extensive damage, "there is no doubt that we are facing a major humanitarian emergency and that a major relief effort will be required," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters on Wednesday morning at the UN Headquarters in New York.

Expressing gratitude to nations rushing aid to the earthquake's victims, he called for the world to "come to Haiti's aid in this hour of need."

Ban told reporters that he plans to visit Haiti as conditions permit. At the moment, he is at the UN Headquarters "to save lives" by coordinating and commanding relief operations with major countries and the international community.

Ban said that he contacted major countries, including the United States, and the international community to engage relief operations in the country, where the communication system broke down and only "limited channels" were available to connect the island country with the outside world.

Ban said that he is scheduled to discuss what more can be done for Haiti with his Special Envoy, former US President Bill Clinton, on Wednesday morning.

John Holmes, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and coordinator of emergency relief operations, said that his office would soon launch a major flash appeal for funds and had already released US$10 million in emergency aid.

(Xinhua News Agency January 14, 2010)

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