Category Archives: United Nations

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti is here to keep the country stable as it builds a more democratic and less volatile form of government. Established in 2004, during the violent overthrow of President Aristide, it has 9,000 uniformed personnel, including 7000 troops and 2,000 police, supported by almost 500 international civilian personnel, and 1,200 local civilian staff

The old military airfield – pictures

Some pictures taken during a registration drive at the old military airfield in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Same pattern as last time – we gave out flyers, sent in the sound trucks to inform and entertain, created a bit of a party – and then the registration began.

I love some of these photos. It is amazing how high-spirited Haitians remain, especially if you offer some hope. Music can be enormously powerful in these situations.

After I create a set like this, I like to make a quick iphoto slide show, and add on a nice nostalgic tune – in this case to Fool on the Hill by the Beatles.

It’s quite an experience – you see and do all these overwhelming things during a day, but it goes by so fast you don’t really register them until later. A relaxed photo viewing session, set to music, puts everything into focus, the historic nature of these events. This is really significant stuff. I sincerely hope the world doesn’t walk away this time.























On being berated for not doing enough

A letter by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator John Holmes was leaked to the Washington Post.

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations’ top humanitarian relief coordinator has scolded his lieutenants for failing to adequately manage the relief effort in Haiti, saying that an uneven response in the month after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake has undercut confidence in the world body’s ability to deliver vital assistance, according to a confidential e-mail.

Well, so be it.

No doubt many things could have been done better. For example, it would be better if so many emergency workers didn’t only come for two weeks. I understand everyone has lives, family, friends etc, but this constant throughflow of people really does make it difficult to get things going.

But I wanted to comment on what was not in the article. (And this is no reflection on Colum, who wrote an entirely fair story based on the Holmes letter. And this is in a purely personal capacity, no reflection of my organisation).

A lot of UN people died here. We were decimated.

This is not even mentioned any more.

For the first week, everyone was running around shellshocked, with no working communications.

We lost friends, partners and children. Families were ripped apart.

We were victims. Yet we have not been allowed any time to grieve, to cope with our loss. We are not considered victims, despite our lives being traumatically disrupted. Would have been worth a mention, I would have thought.

And people gloss over “logistical difficulties” as though it is a mealy mouthed excuse.

It is not. Haiti is a very poor country with very limited infrastructure that has just suffered a catastrophic earthquake, disrupting social systems, disrupting all governance, leaving roads clogged with traffic, rubble everywhere; with a road from the DR that floods, a small airport and a half-broken port. This isn’t just a logistical difficulty – this is a herculean challenge. Why is it so hard to get this message across?

It is as though one month after the world’s largest natural disaster we are expected to have reversed two hundred years of stunted development.

Have you ever tried adding a garage to the side of your house? How long did that take? Getting the planning permission, desgning the garage, contracting the builders etc etc. In the richest countries of the world, with working government and infrastucture, from start to finish how long would that take? A couple of months?

In Haiti, an entire capital city has to be rebuilt, with no infrastructure. With the rains now falling. With a hurricane on the way. With regular aftershocks and a new earthquake expected. While we all live in tents ourselves, moving around constantly, operating on very little sleep.

I am not saying don’t criticise where criticism is due. We must always search for better systems. It is important to recognise shortfalls.

But a little empathy would also be a nice thing.

Camp life at UN base

As we all work overtime to help Haitians recover, I wanted to touch on the crazy world we all inhabit here in UN camp.

There is a large logistics base by the airport, called UN log base, which is overrun by hundreds of aid workers, all crammed into tents and containers, trying to run an enormous logistical operation under quite tough conditions. The heat in the day is stifling; there are clouds of mosquitos, open sewers and very few showers and toilets. Overall, pretty disgusting.

IOM has had to build, then dismantle, then rebuild its offices twice already, and will have to do so again in the next few days. It’s a little like one of those games where you move tiles around slots, with only one free space, trying to make a coherent picture. Only the free space is a toxic sewer. I made a fun video of our most recent relocation.

On the flip side, it is actually really fun interacting from people and organisations from all over the world. A small bar is crammed with aid workers and soldiers of every cast and colour; quaffing a few overpriced beers after a tough day. A PX sells various drinks and nibbles, as well as giant TV sets (who would buy one, I don’t know) and rows of hair conditioner, but no shampoo. The single street of the central compound was for days littered with people hanging out by the curb, chitchatting, ocasionally pulling out a guitar and strumming. A camp dog appeared, which nibbles people with sharp teeth, is widely loved, and is creatively known as “camp dog”. Tonight we heard a Middle Eastern call to prayer at sunset, possibly from the Jordanian battalion.

Over the past few days we have slowly been moving into tents at a new Swedish camp, 15 mins from log base, staffed by Vikings who are militant about handwashing. The sleeping tents are giant white rubberised affairs separated into 16 little cubicles each – with a cot and mattress, and European plug sockets (very useful for a system that uses American plugs).

But it has hot showers! Ah, a hot shower after two weeks of a rancid cold dribble. People pay between 20 and 40 bucks a night for this privilege, but also get a slow wifi and two meals a day – one decent dinner (no pudding) and a rather meagre breakfast (to my British palate anyway) of cheese and porridge. In the evening aid workers gather around two long ranks of tables, and tap late night emails into laptops, chat about the day, sip a whisky and wind down a bit before getting up again at the crack of dawn.

People are getting very tired, and its beginning to show – especially in those who lived through the quake. People are also rotating in and out quite often – which can also be hard to manage, as every two weeks you have a whole bunch of new faces to get to know.

Tough it is. But it also very special; we are all very aware we are part of something rather remarkable, and it keeps everyone going.

Helping Haiti, in photos; a simple way we can all keep the issue alive

I plan to start posting many more photos of what is going on here – the sights we encounter when we distribute items, help organize temporary settlements, create shelter and so on. They can all be found at my flickr photoset called Working for Haiti.

I’ll pick a few every couple of days and post them. I will also be regularly posting videos on my youtube channel markyturner. My first video, of a distribution in all its complexity, is here.

If you like any of this media, I would strongly encourage you to repost, share on facebook and other social media – whatever you can. (All photos are taken by me, except where explicitly stated otherwise; I have permission to disseminate them all).

The international press is going home, day by day. That leaves people like us to keep the message alive. With the decline of journalism, we all assume a responsibility.

Everyone with a computer is a media person these days. Let’s do what we can to keep Haiti present in the world’s conscience.







(this photo take by Jean-Philippe Chauzy)


More lost friends; photos of the fallen

Another awful day of bad news.

The full extent of the losses to our community is finally hitting home, as hope disappears.

This morning we learned of the death of the wonderful, vivacious Alexandra Duguay, whose house we visited only a couple of weeks ago. Also at that house party was Andrew Wyllie and family. Andrew survived, but we have learned his family did not.

I am left staring at this photograph, taken of Alexandra, Andrew’s boys and my own son Dorian, after Alexandra had pinned up a flamboyant new road sign to Impasse Tulipe, where she had just moved. (Many roads in PAP remained unmarked or badly signposted; so like Alexandra to take the initiative and simply make one). Everyone pitched in. Only Dorian remains, through sheer random chance.

Happier days

Dorian in his own way is quite aware of what happened. He keeps asking how we can save the people, how we can build Haiti again and make it strong. He started crying at the prospect of no longer being able to play with some of the friends he met.

We also heard of the loss of Andrew Grene this morning. On the same day that Anna and I visited Alexandra, we had gone to Andrew’s house for a wonderful lunch – which was briefly attended by Hedi Annabi, also fallen. Andrew showered our children with presents, a terrifically sweet gesture.

The weekend before we left, we had brunch at home with Emily Sanson-Rejouis, Emmanuel and their three beautiful daughters, Kofie-Jade, Zenzie and Alyahna. The children were so sweet together, scampering around the patio. We were looking forward to many more play dates; and I was excited to get to know Emmanuel better. He was in a similar position to me; a UN spouse (though formerly a UN employee himself), looking to make the most of our time in Haiti. I wanted to help on a philanthropic project he was working on to provide low cost t-shirts to NGOs. We were planning to play tennis.

Only Emily and Alyahna still live. Another family was at that brunch too, but I haven’t enough details to know their full story yet, so don’t want to write anything. UPDATE: Tragically, we have heard that Cleiton also died, leaving behind him his wife Irene and his son Jannick. I would like to write more about him; he was a lovely guy, UN Security, former Brazilian police, who I chatting with for a long time on New Year’s Eve.

And then I think of Christmas and New Year, which we spent at the home of Patrick Hein – who miraculously was pulled out of the rubble – and Cecilia Corneo, whose whereabouts are still not known. And many others at that party.

It’s devastating. Everyone we met, every party we attended, everyone we had a meal with or invited over has either perished, or lost someone very close. And there is so much we still don’t know; the situation of the wonderful Haitians – Finante, Denise, Benson, others, whom I wrote about in my pre-quake posts – who worked with us, how they are coping at this awful time. I hope I can get back soon.

More names of the UN’s fallen are announced; Digicel

Another grim day, and the official list of fallen UN friends is growing.

A recent list posted on one of the many Facebook support groups included some of Anna’s closest colleagues.

Mr. Guido Galli, Political Affairs Officer, (Italy)
Mr. Karimou Ide, Security Officer, (Netherlands)
Ms. Andrea Loi Valenzuela, Human Rights Officer, (Chile)
Ms. Lisa Mblel-Mbong, Human Rights Officer, (United States of America)
Mr. Frederick Wooldridge, Political Affairs Officer (United Kingdom)
Mr. Guillaume Simieski, Political Affairs Officer, (Canada)


By now everyone is aware of the huge amount of work being put in by search and rescue teams, medical staff, other humanitarian workers. Our deep thanks go out to those who continued to dig for survivors – even today we had news of people being saved.

But I also wanted to give a brief mention to the cellphone network Digicel, which is unlikely to receive many public accolades. Over the past three years this mobile phone company has revolutionised communications in Haiti, making cheap telephony available and affordable to millions. The impact has been significant.

After the earthquake, communications were one of the greatest challenges. But Digicel – according to this announcement – now appears to have brought the situation under control. The importance of having working communications over the coming days and weeks cannot be overstated.

Good for Digicel.


The Digicel network is now functioning well in Port-au-Prince with more and more customers connecting to it and being able to make and receive calls, text messages, email and BlackBerry Messenger messages.

With coverage in the rest of the country good, Digicel is also ensuring that all of its two million plus customers in Haiti can stay in contact with friends and family by giving each and every Digicel customer US$5 of free call credit – totalling US$10 million.

Since deploying a team of technicians to Haiti following the earthquake on Tuesday, January 12th, Digicel has been working to restore its network in Haiti to full capacity.

A full assessment of the network has been carried out and the situation is as follows:

– All of Digicel’s three switch sites which serve the country are operational. One is damaged but an interim solution has been put in place until new equipment arrives
– 70% of the network’s cell sites are on air. We are working on restoring service to the remaining 30%
– Roaming is fully operational
– There is still some congestion on the network when making and receiving international calls
– An assessment of what network equipment is required has been completed and new equipment has been ordered and is en route to Haiti
– More teams of technicians have been assembled and are en route to support the existing teams on the ground

As well as the US$5 million which is being donated to NGOs by Digicel directly, Digicel has set up the Digicel Haiti Relief Fund. By Friday evening – just two days after it went live – a massive US$300,000 was donated by Digicel customers across our 32 markets worldwide.

In addition to previous aid drops over the last five days, Digicel has assembled a 110,000lb cargo of medical supplies, food and water ready to go to Haiti from Jamaica.

Digicel would like to thank people across the world for their contributions and to encourage them to keep giving to help the people of Haiti at this difficult time.

ADD Journalist Jason Maloney told me: “Not just the company but its employees: I met a Jamaican Digicel worker who had come up to Saint Marc to buy basic medical supplies after 36 hours of digging people out of the ground by hand, and all he wanted to do was get back to it.”

Confirmation of the death of the UN’s Haiti leadership – Hedi Annabi, Luiz Carlos da Costa and Doug Coates

This (below) from the United Nations Secretary General today. Losing its civilian leadership is an enormous blow to the mission and the UN system as a whole. Amid Haiti’s unimaginable pain, the United Nations’ own tragedy is already on the level of the traumatic 2003 Baghdad bombing; it seems there will be many more names to relate before the crisis is over. Of those UN officials that survived, many have left the country. The mission will need to rebuild its staff from the ground up.

This will be a huge undertaking. Haiti is on its knees; absolutely dependent upon international assistance. The long-term implications are potentially staggering; millions may need to be fed and sheltered for weeks and months to come, with almost no domestic capacity to do so.

A $562 million appeal launched this week “is intended to assist an estimated 3 million affected people over a period of six months, with half of the funds being earmarked for emergency food aid, with the rest targeted at health, water, sanitation, nutrition, early recovery, emergency education and other key needs.” Depending on how the situation develops, it seems possible the UN’s mandate in Haiti will need to be revisited, potentially expanded. Assuming the country’s weak government has been affected as much as the rest of the country, the UN may be facing one of the most challenging tasks in its 65 year history.


Statement of confirmation of death of Special Representative of the
Secretary-General in Haiti, Hédi Annabi,
Principal Deputy Special Representative, Luiz Carlos da Costa,
and Acting UN Police Commissioner in Haiti, Doug Coates

I am deeply saddened to confirm the tragic death of my Special
Representative to Haiti, Hédi Annabi. His Deputy Luiz Carlos da Costa
and the Acting Police Commissioner, Doug Coates of the Royal Canadian
Mounted Police, are also confirmed to have perished.

In every sense of the word, they gave their lives for peace.

Hédi Annabi, a Tunisian national, was a true citizen of the world. The
United Nations was his life and he ranked amongst its most dedicated and
committed sons. He was passionate about its mission and its people. He
gave of himself fully — with energy, discipline and great bravery. From
his start as a desk officer for Cambodia to his involvement in literally
every peacekeeping operation the UN launched for over a decade, he was
the gold standard of service against which all who had the privilege to
work with him were measured.

An icon of UN peacekeeping, there was no better representative of the
international civil service. A mild man with the heart of a lion, he is
remembered by those who knew him for his dry sense of humour, his
integrity and his unparalleled work ethic—he was the first in and the
last out every day for his entire career.

He was proud of the UN mission in Haiti — proud of its accomplishments
in bringing stability and hope to Haiti’s people, proud of his UN staff.

Luiz Carlos da Costa, from Brazil, was for many, many years a legend of
UN peacekeeping operations. His extraordinary professionalism and
dedication were matched only by his charisma and warmth, and his
devotion to his many friends.
Over decades, he brought many of the finest and most talented staff to
the United Nations. He was a mentor to generations of UN staff. He knew
them; he knew their families; and his heart was always open to hear
their story and to help them. His legacy lives in the thousands that
serve under the blue flag in every corner of the globe.

Doug Coates was a long-serving member of the international law
enforcement community. He was a true friend of Haiti and the United
Nations. He was a great police officer who believed to his core in the
importance of rule of law and justice.

Our hearts are with them, the families and friends of Hédi, Luiz, Doug
and the many other UN heroes who gave their lives for Haiti and for the
highest ideals of the United Nations. Their dearest wish, I am sure,
would be that we carry forward the noble work that they and their
colleagues performed so well.

Denial of Reports of UN Ordering Medical Personnel to Leave Haiti Field Hospital

This from UN Dispatch. I thought I should link this, it as I mentioned these reports in my security blog yesterday.

In response to troubling reports that the UN ordered doctors to leave a field hospital in Haiti (including a front page feature on, here’s an official statement Dispatch just received:

“We have seen the disturbing reports about the UN ordering medical personnel to leave a field hospital in Port au Prince. We have checked with the United Nations Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and they have confirmed that at no time did they order any medical team to leave their work sites in PaP. If any medical personnel evacuated it was at the request of their own organization. The doctors have returned to the hospital this morning. MINUSTAH will brief the press at 11h00.”

United Nations staff and their families

A sad day as more details come in; although also some good news as well, survivors confirmed. A Facebook group has been established to allow people to discuss the whereabouts of the missing, and already has hundreds of members. In this era, the UN – as others – has turned to social media.

Haiti’s wider tragedy, the plight of millions of ordinary Haitians, will rightfully remain the focus of the headlines, but for the United Nations this is also a very personal crisis, leading to the loss of many many staff; people who dedicated their lives to trying to make a difference. It may seem a small drop in a large ocean, but is deeply meaningful for our community.

Right now, the focus remains on trying to save what survivors may remain, and to put in place systems to care for the dispossessed. This is entirely right. The UN has two related, but separate, jobs: to alleviate the suffering of Haitians as a whole, and a duty of care to its own staff. It is a very stressful time; many people are in deep shock. There has been an outpouring of offers to help from throughout the system and it is doing what it can given the logistical challenge. Communications remain limited.

In the longer term, I suspect that the UN will face some important questions regarding the issue of the UN families there. Haiti was a non-family duty station, but in practice – as the country grew more stable – many did in fact have close relatives in the country. Husbands, wives, small children. Even Mr Annabi, the head of mission, stayed ther with his wife.

I believe this was positive. UN officials are people too, and the presence of families, children, helps keep a community healthy. The cost of cutting off internationals from ‘normal’ social life can be severe, leading sometimes to behaviour which undermines the job they are asked to do. But for various reasons, there was reluctance to formally acknowledge that.

As a matter of policy, the UN system actually has differing standards on families. For the funds and programmes, staff on a non-family duty posting are given extra resources to support their families out of the country. The United Nations peacekeeping department hoped for similar treatment, but major donors – with the United States in the lead – denied this. On an official level, therefore, it would appear that the US and others back a policy that discourages peacekeepers from having a family.

In practice, civilian peacekeepers often have a painful choice: don’t have a family (a route taken by many very good people, but with consequences for organisational culture), leave them thousands of miles away with no support, or bring them along in contravention of the rules. This makes life particularly difficult for women, at a time when the UN is supposed to be improving its gender balance.

Certainly there are many places where it would simply be impractical to keep a family, but Haiti at this time was not one of them, and the system informally allowed its staff to live a normal life. The fact that the head of the mission had his wife there underlined this. This was a good thing.

Then tragedy struck.

We have learned of dreadful cases of families split, where some survived and others did not. One story in particular haunts us. I cannot go into details.

The problem is, because of Haiti’s official status as a non-family duty station, the system is not really designed to look after its families in a case like this.

Currently, officials are working night and day to salvage what they can. Informal networks have been quick to rally around families. People have been very supportive. Individuals have gone out of their way to help, performing some gruelling tasks.

But on a systematic basis, I believe this may be a wake-up call. At the very least, the UN’s donors, in my opinion, should accept reality and provide UN peacekeeping with the wherewithal to properly support the families who have been destroyed.

An alternative reaction could be to crack down on the family issue. No more family members, even informally. Personally, I believe this would be misguided.

Instead, I would hope that the United States and others admit that peacekeeping is here to stay, and put in place better systems to account for the fact those peacekeepers have spouses and children.

The world needs peacekeepers. It asks them to do extraordinary things in the most difficult places on earth. I think it is only right to accept that some will marry and have children, and to support them in that choice.

So, a simple plea. Despite formal policy, several UN families were in Haiti during this tragedy and have been devastated. This is the reality. Everything possible must be done to administer to their needs, not just now, but for the rest of their lives.

Friends who have died

We have just heard the first horrifying details of friends who died. Children our own children played with. Families torn apart.

The UN is still trying to pick up the pieces.

The next few days are going to be tough.