The authorities in Haiti have increased their estimate of the number of people killed by the devastating 12 January 2010 earthquake from 212,000 to 230,000, with the final figure likely to be much higher.

Twelve days afterwards, it was believed that 150,000 people had perished in the immediate aftermath of the tremor which measured 7.0 on the Richter scale. But many more lives were lost in the succeeding days and weeks, and the capacity to monitor the situation was almost wholly absent at the beginning, such was the appalling impact of the disaster on the country's fragile infrastructure.

Rescue workers and officially believe the final figure for fatalities will exceed a quarter of a million people, making the earthquake a catastrophe on the scale of the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004-5.

Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, the Haitian government communications minister, said this week that the government now counted 230,000 deaths.

She explained that the new figure was not definitive and did not include bodies buried by private funeral homes in private cemeteries, or the dead buried by their own families.

Doctors added that diarrheal illnesses, acute respiratory infections and malnutrition were already claiming lives by the dozen.

Although the half-million people jammed into germ-breeding makeshift camps have so far been spared an outbreak of contageous disease, health officials fear epidemics. They are anxious to vaccinate 530,000 children against measles, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough as soon as possible.

Aid officials stress that continued donations and assistance are vital, as the tragedy begins to recede in world headlines and the long-term development and recovery implications start to loom.

There have also been concerns about the number of violent prisoners who have escaped from jail and are reconnecting with the networks of criminal gangs who have caused so much difficulty in the past.

"I can say the security situation in Port-au-Prince and all over the country is globally stable," Edmond Mulet, acting head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, said at a news conference.

But he added: "I'd like to make a call to the people to denounce the criminals who left the prisons," Mulet said. "They're on the street. We know they are reorganising secretly. We have to look for them before they act."