By Ray Fleming

IF the overall situation in Haiti were not so dire and the human suffering so appalling it would be irritating to observe the urgent cries that are being heard in the British press -- and no doubt in other newspapers around the world -- for the United Nations to take full responsibility for the humanitarian relief and reconstruction programme in Haiti.

The Times called in a leading article yesterday for the UN to step forward “to provide the necessary combination of strength and legitimacy”. But the call should instead have been addressed to the British and other four permanent members of the Security Council to authorise the Secretary General to act in this decisive way because at the moment one such member, the United States, has taken upon itself the role of leader. That action was understandable for a number of reasons but it nonetheless leaves the UN and other nations with an important role to play in an uncertain position. The present moment with Haiti in chaos is not the time to argue about chains of command. Nonetheless, it should be noted, as I suggested in Looking Around last Saturday, that there is a need for a new permanent UN relief organisation ready to swing into action at short notice and take charge in disaster areas at the request of the country concerned. This matter must be returned to for urgent consideration when the immediate crisis in Haiti is over.

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