Briefing by U.S. Special Coordinator for Relief and Reconstruction Ambassador Louis Lucke and Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, Joint Task Force-Haiti Commander

Monday, January 25, 2010
Subject 
Relief Efforts in Haiti

Mr. Duguid: Thank you very much, and welcome to this afternoon's telepress conference. I must say at the start that we are having some problems with our telephone line. If you hear us in mid-sentence and then suddenly don't hear us again it means our line has probably dropped. We will try and reestablish connection as soon as possible. Please bear with us. We are quite eager to talk to you all today.

We have with us from the Joint Information Center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Ambassador Louis Lucke who is the U.S. Special Coordinator for Relief and Reconstruction; and Lieutenant General Ken King who is the Commander, Joint Task Force Haiti. I will ask our guests to say a few introductory remarks and then we'll go into your questions. Ambassador Lucke, would you like to begin please?

Ambassador Lucke: I'm happy to be here to try to respond to some of your questions. We are trying to respond as quickly as we can to this catastrophe of biblical proportions by mustering all of the resources that the United States government can bring to bear, first on rescue leading into relief, which is where we are right now, and hopefully seamlessly into recovery.

We have mobilized significant resources as quickly as we could. You never think this is going to go as fast as you would like it to go. We brought in a considerable number of people from USAID which is the lead agency as directed by the President.

We have brought in a Disaster Response Team. We're aided in this respect by many many hard-working government agencies who have mobilized as quickly as they can -- HHS, FEMA, Department of the Treasury eventually, and so forth. Most importantly, our partner on the U.S. side is the U.S. military who have considerable assets.

We are the lead agency on this, USAID, but most assuredly, this is a government-wide effort that requires the utmost speed, coordination, clarity of purpose, and being able to mobilize resources to impact on this as quickly as we can.

Mr. Duguid: Thank you, Ambassador. General?

Lt. Gen. Ken Keen: I'd just like to echo what Ambassador Lucke said. Thank you for having me this afternoon.

I'd just like to start by offering condolences to all the Haitian people. I know that certainly everyone throughout the world will share with us during this very tragic time, reaching out to all the Haitian people, and we feel that here in Haiti.

Having been here on the day of the earthquake, I've had the opportunity to see firsthand from the very beginning the devastation that this caused the country at large, but also every sector, the Ministers, as well as the United Nations forces that are here.

As Ambassador Lucke says, our military is in support of the United States Agency for International Development in this effort. We turned on a dime to get our resources here to respond to this tragedy. We're here working at the request of the government of Haiti and working in partnership with the Brazilian-led United Nations forces that are here.

Having just spent in the last two days out in the field with a couple of units, and Ambassador Lucke and I just came from one of those where we visited the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit which is working in the Leogane area, as well in the Petit-Goave area which is to the west of Port-au-Prince. The Leogane area was devastated, 80 percent destroyed. And what I saw on the ground there this afternoon was our Marines working alongside our Haitian community leaders, the United Nations Coordinator for Relief, getting supplies through the World Food Program. I visited a hospital where we had a medical unit that was deployed here almost immediately from Honduras, from the Joint Task Force Bravo which is part of U.S. Southern Command. They were working alongside Mexican doctors who also were coming off of the ship, which were also working with Haitian local volunteers to basically render first aid and medical assistance.

So everywhere I've been and certainly since I've been here I see teamwork, coordination and under very difficult circumstances. We have a long way to go. This is a challenge. And as the Ambassador said, it is one that I think we all reflect on and we look at and recognize that every day we get a little bit better than the day before, and we see that as we go out into the community.

So again, I welcome any questions that you might have.

Mr. Duguid: Thank you, gentlemen. Operator, we're ready to go to our questioners.

Question: [Peter Green].

I'm wondering if you gentlemen can tell me anything about the safety environment in Haiti. Any kind of, have there been shootings, machete attacks? What is the actual situation? And if you have any numbers on that.

My second question is if you have any estimate on how many bodies have been buried and how many are left to be buried.

Lt. Gen. Ken Keen: With respect to the security situation, I would describe it as relatively calm. I meet with General Floriano Peixoto, the Commander of the Brazilian-led UN contingency. They have the overall mission for security and stability. Obviously they've been doing that mission for years and have made significant process with that.

There are pockets of isolated incidents, but everywhere I go when I talk to folks about the security situation and describing it, it is no worse than it was before the earthquake, and obviously there were incidents then. But every community that I've been into today, as I mentioned, to the west of Port-au-Prince; yesterday I was in Cité Soleil as well as several days ago, I've talked to the police commander there a number of times. I was in fact in Cité Soleil before the earthquake two weeks ago Monday. And he acknowledges and tells me that he's seen no increase in violence. Now that's not to say we're not watching it very closely. I know that General [Fasoto] is very vigilant in watching the security situation where there have been incidents, where individuals have obviously been violent, have attacked others. Looting has been reported in a number of locations. I can't give you exact numbers, per se, but what I would say is there have been no security incidents that have impacted our ability to deliver aid and there have been no incidents against any of the U.S. forces as we go out and do our job.

So from my perspective, we're, in that particular area, doing very well.

Mr. Duguid: Ambassador, any thoughts?

Ambassador Lucke: I think a lot of the credit for what is an overall sense of if not call, one of resilience and patience, is really a compliment to the Haitian people. They have been through an absolute traumatic experience that has continued, that they are afraid to go into their buildings; they early on were sleeping in the streets. Many Haitians have felt the need to leave the Port-au-Prince area with government encouragement in some cases.

Our experience in terms of the delivery of food has been, just as the General has said. Overall there's not a security issue but there are certain pockets of insecurity.

Many times we heard of alleged incidents where a warehouse was supposed to be in the process of being attacked, or a convoy where food trucks were supposedly being confronted by crowds, and it absolutely turned out not to be true. There's a lot of misinformation that goes around, but our sense in general is that we have far more pressing problems than security and we can talk about that a bit in the future.

The second part of the question?

Question: Was on bodies and the burial needs.

Ambassador Lucke: This is something that the Haitian government is really taking a lead on. I think the latest figure of fatalities is somewhere well in excess of about 150,000. We are seeing enormous numbers of injuries, orthopedic and so forth, that are going to require treatment for a considerable period of time, and we're mobilizing all of our resources to address that.

In terms of body recovery, this is something that's going on all the time. The Haitians have been very responsible, I think, in their approach to this. Removing those they've been able to recover early on in this crisis and in dealing with it in a way that I think is the only way that they could. They have developed actually a policy for the removal of bodies that inevitably is going to happen over the next period of time.

Question: [Oren Dorrell].

Thanks for taking the question. We're kind of interested in hearing about Americans who were in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. Do you know how many, I understand from previous briefings that there were 12,300 Americans in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. What we're trying to find out is how many survived, how many died, how many are still missing? How many have left the country? What's happening to those who died? The bodies.

Mr. Duguid: I have some figures for you.

As far as the number of Americans in Haiti, our best estimate before the earthquake was actually 45,000 American citizens. Now many of those will be dual-nationals who lived here most if not all of their lives.

The ongoing process of working with Americans who wish to leave Haiti is something that we're doing each and every day here, so our numbers are continually changing. But if I can give you the latest that I have.

We have confirmed 54 American fatalities. We are trying to confirm another 36 American fatalities.

We have evacuated 15,667 people by land and air routes. We have accounted for -- this is the U.S. Embassy Port-au-Prince -- has accounted for 20,000 Americans still in country.

Now you can do the math on that and try and subtract that from 45,000 and you will come up with a number. Please don't -- and I'm not fast enough with math to do that number. Please don't consider that number to be people who are missing. Many Americans who live in foreign countries never both to register with the embassy. And therefore, they may very well be very safe. We had an estimated number of Americans here. We certainly know that in any country where Americans are present, not all choose to register with the embassy and therefore we don't know that they're here. But experience has shown us how to make an estimated guess at the total number. So the total number of 45,000 was an estimate.

We are now trying to confirm a number of cases that have been reported to the State Department for missing individuals, and if anybody does have a question about missing individuals in Haiti you can go to the State Department web site, www.state.gov and there is an entire resource page on Haiti including a "people finder" where you can try and locate people who you may think are missing.

Question: Do you have a sense yet of how many are actually missing then?

Mr. Duguid: That's what we're trying to work on. We won't have that sense right now. We know there are a number of people who have been reported missing and we have reports of somewhere, I don't have that number in front of me and I think if I were to try and give it to you I would be misleading. The State Department has the number of cases that they are working on at the moment, and I encourage you after this call to contact the press office at the State Department to ask for that number.

Question: They told me to get on this conference call. Can you give me the number evacuated again? I have 15,367, is that right?

Mr. Duguid: 15,667.

Question: Thank you.

Question: [Laura Haines].

How long does the United States plan to stay in Haiti? And do you have at this moment a kind of calendar ahead of you, like in one month we have to do that; in three months we will be there. Do you have that already in mind, or not at all?

Ambassador Lucke: No, we're not really planning in terms of weeks or months or years. We're planning basically to see this job through to the end.

The rescue phase has come to an end, is coming to an end. Relief and recuperation followed by recovery is going to basically be seamless.

The United States has had a long presence in Haiti in terms of its economic development programs. We had a very robust economic development program already in Haiti when the earthquake hit on January 12th. We're going to have a long and I'm sure robust development, economic development, humanitarian assistance program, if needed in Haiti in the long term.

What we have to do is get out of this current period of crisis, sort of reestablish conditions for recovery, take care of the various, help the Haitian government and the various other agencies, the UN, put our efforts together in order to be able to address the immediate and then the medium term and long term issues.

I certainly think that the United States, I'm sure the United States is going to be one of the partners of Haiti on long term reconstruction, however that comes to be defined. That is going to be quite a process. You see the level of devastation here, the destruction of the central infrastructure which really wasn't that strong to begin with. You see the absolute, the perfect storm of devastation was wreaked on a poor, very poor capital with such basic, or lacking infrastructure anyway.

The road ahead is going to be very hard and arduous, but we're determined to work with our partners, bring our resources and our expertise to bear. We've done this in other places on a far lesser scale, perhaps, but we're going to be here for the long term.

Question: I have a follow-up, if I may. Basically what people all over the world are trying to understand is how long, in your opinion, do you need the U.S. military in Haiti to help you in this reconstruction effort?

Mr. Duguid: We'll answer that, but if I can ask callers to limit their questions to one, because we're dealing with very bad phone lines and if we have follow-ons from everyone we'll limit the number of journalists who actually get to pose other questions. General?

Lt. Gen. Ken Keen: I think in short, we will be here as long as needed and as long as our government determines there's a mission here for the U.S. military.

Clearly, our response as we have done in many other places for responding to natural disasters is [inaudible] emergency assistance to mobilize as quickly as we can because we have the capabilities to deploy, as we did here, and we have done in other places around the world. But clearly agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development, other international organizations, stand up capabilities and take over responsibility to restore infrastructure, to provide basic necessities for the people, and [inaudible] and we obviously [inaudible] troops. But I'm not going to put a timeframe on it because that depends on the capability of the local government and other international organizations to do that. But that's what we're working toward and that's what's happening here.

Question: [Kevin Brooks].

Sir, my question was do you have a timeframe on when the cleanup and recovery is going to be held?

Ambassador Lucke: The cleanup and recovery period has already started. As of about four or five days ago even, we were mobilizing some of our NGO partners to organize themselves and start job creation programs that are going to directly deal with questions of, issues like removal of rubble from streets, removal of some of the crushed, demolished buildings that have fallen into the roadway and areas that need to be cleared for markets or whatever. It's a win/win in that we need to do this to start creating the conditions for reconstruction, but we also need to do it to get Haitians to work.

So we have several avenues that we're following on this. The [inaudible] programs are being directed towards that. The emergency relief work has a component where we're able to put people to work to create these better conditions. And also one of our offices in Washington, called OTI, Office of Transmission Initiatives, is also working to mobilize Haitian labor, create jobs, get money in the economy, at the same time do things like clear roads, repair structures. So we're moving on as fast as we can. We expect to have at least 25,000 jobs created by the end of January.

Question: The reason why I was asking, I'm actually, I work with a company that we've been trying to get into Haiti. We have heavy equipment and things of that nature and we were actually going to put a large percent of the Haitians to work for us.

Mr. Duguid: The jobs creation is necessary and it is something I think, as you saw Secretary Clinton's remarks before she was on her way to the Montreal Conference, job creation has to be part of any recovery plan.

Question: [Latifa Akrim].

Thank you for the opportunity. I'd like to know how agencies here in the United States can get involved in the cleanup, the removal, and other work that you have done. And also, if there's a process for individuals who have family members in Haiti to get them sponsored in this country. What would the process be to make that happen?

Mr. Duguid: We're looking for some clarity on the second part of your question.

On the first part, how people can get involved in helping Haiti, I'd refer you to the six on the web site, again, which has been flooded [inaudible] for how individuals can have a [inaudible], on individual family members. I was unclear as to what your question actually was.

Question: People in the United States that have family members in Haiti that now are homeless and on the street and don't have food and clothing and places to live, if there's family here that wants to get their family members out, what is the prospect to make that happen? Who would the contact person there be?

Mr. Duguid: There's not any single contact person. This is how American citizens [inaudible]. People that had some particular section working non-stop the night of the earthquake. We had out in front of the embassy on any given day recently, about 2,000 people, all of whom have some American connection. And if there is anyone who has an American passport, they do not need to come to the embassy at all. They need to go to the airport here in Port-au-Prince and they will be put on a plane that will take them to the United States. Or in some cases we have taken people off by land to Santo Domingo. If someone is a known American family member that they do have to come into the embassy and they will deal with our staff and American citizen services, trying to help them in their particular circumstances. Each case is different so I can't give you a blended description of how things go, but our consular staff have been working non-stop on doing this very thing.

Ambassador Lucke: On the first part of the question, there are plenty of good qualified agencies, organizations, that have been working in Haiti for years, but there's also a new mechanism that has been put in place, the Clinton/Bush Haiti Fund, which is on-line and operating, raising a lot of money fairly quickly. That is certainly one that's part of the U.S. government effort here. There are other organizations. Clearly the ones that you would think about, Red Cross. There are many, many NGOs, both some sort of civil as well as religions based NGOs that are well known and working here. Certainly the best thing to do is to provide money and not material goods.

Question: [Ed Shakespeare].

My question is with regard to humanitarian parole and also to Haitians who had already been seeking U.S. visas. Specifically those before the disaster who had applied and had been approved for the kind of visa available to foreign relatives of U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

We know there are about 19,000 Haitians that have applications pending with the visas. What is the process with that?

Mr. Duguid: Our first duty as a U.S. embassy and consular staff is for the support of American citizens overseas. And after any disaster anywhere in the world, non-immigrant visa issuance is suspended. That is standard practice.

If someone currently has a valid visa, there is no issue. They would simply find the commercial means by which to travel to the United States.

If someone has a pending visa application, that application will be picked up again once we have helped all American citizens with their travel arrangements or whatever help they're seeking at the embassy.

As I said, we have some 2,000 people a day -- it's not the same 2,000 people. We have 2,000 people a day coming to the embassy, most all of them with an American connection. Either they are non-American family members of an American citizen or they have some other connection of that sort.

The process has not changed for any of our services. The law is very clear on immigration, the law is very clear on the issuance of visas. The first duty of the embassy is to work through all of the appeals for help by American citizens, and then we'll get back to the standard work day of looking at non-immigrant visa applications.

This particular embassy before the earthquake has perhaps 200 visits a day of people seeking some sort of assistance or application process. As I said, we're now getting 2,000 a day and that number is growing.

Question: You talk about the U.S. citizens. I'm speaking about that specifically, like those that have their mothers that they have applied for and they have been approved already. So is there a process to speed that up? At least to help them. It's still helping U.S. citizens that are down there --

Mr. Duguid: We are helping everyone that we can, but we have to help American citizens. If there is a non-American family member, at the moment and they are traveling with an American, their travel is being facilitated. But if there is someone who is in country and not traveling with an American citizen, particularly an American minor, their applications are pending until we help move out all of the American citizens that come to us for help. This is our first duty and it's the one that we are sworn to uphold.

Question: [Dan Duluth].

You mentioned earlier that security is not the most pressing problem faced in the relief efforts. Could you go over what you consider to be the most pressing, serious urgent problems?

Lt. Gen. Ken Keen: I would characterize the need for medical assistance overall being the most pressing problem. Obviously that's the immediate need and [inaudible] facing many of the Haitian citizens. It's being attended to aggressively by the international community. We visited a hospital in [inaudible], I did, earlier today. Where a very small medical element that was deployed from the U.S. military out of Honduras here is linked up with a group of Mexican doctors, and they are basically seeing about 100 patients a day, working out of a building on a Coast Guard base here.

USNS Hospital Ship Comfort is here. She has got over 300 patients on board and has performed 113 surgeries since arriving last Thursday. That is taking off the most critical patients that are being treated in the city.

The medical infrastructure that was here, what there was here was devastated. There was only one really functioning hospital after the earthquake, and that was an Argentinean hospital here. Now since then many non-government organizations, doctors, have responded around the world and they basically have stood up medical facilities throughout the town of Port-au-Prince. But again, this is an area that we're going to have to do a lot of work on, and we are working with the UN and the United States Agency for International Development, and we feel we need to stand up a hospital that has the capacity of 5,000 beds, to give you an idea in order to treat the number of patients that are going to flow through the hospital ship Comfort and also that are being treated in various hospitals.

I'd just make one more anecdote. What we're seeing now as I saw out there is things where individuals may have been injured and may have been a deep cut two weeks ago. Now they're showing up at some of these clinics where that cut, where it may not have been serious enough for them to seek immediate aid following the earthquake, they're coming in now and it's infected, and obviously if not treated properly, could result in something much more serious.

So we're seeing a lot of those show up now whereas two weeks ago it was traumatic amputations, a lot of orthopedic type of injuries. So the medical piece I think is major. The Ambassador can talk to some of the other more pressing needs as well.

Ambassador Lucke: In terms of food, the thing we're worried about is not so much the availability of food right now, it's being able to overcome issues in distribution. That varies from place to place. Roads, traffic, availability of trucks and so forth. All of this seems to get better every day, but there's been a tremendous influx of supplies from the outside. It's a little hard to get these supplies around, but it seems to get better every day. So it's really not a question of food availability, but situationally distribution has been difficult in places.

The World Food Program who is our primary partner in food and food distribution works with a series of NGOs just like USAID; Food for Peace works with a variety of NGOs. These NGOs were really damaged by the earthquake as well. Their personnel were killed, their family members were injured. Their assets were damaged in many cases. It's taken them a while to get over the shock and be able to reassemble themselves and get back to being functional, which they're certainly doing now.

So the United States has provided $68 million after the earthquake to the World Food Program for food. We've provided about 400,000 people with food as of yesterday, via the World Food Program, plus our, I say our, USAID's partners who were here before the earthquake which are World Vision, Catholic Relief, and an NGO called ACDI Boca, have been now mobilizing and are starting to distribute food. Already today they've distributed to more than 50,000.

But I will echo also the words of General King. We see outside of the food area that the two prime worries really are one, medical services or medical equipment; and two, shelter. And we are, you're seeing so many displaced people. They are not able to go back to their homes or so forth, and we are scrambling. We have the availability now of how we do this worldwide is providing plastic sheeting and we're getting this in town, it's here, we're distributing it, and this is one of our main priorities, is to address this.

Question: [Gretchen Gailey].

Given the demise of the Haitian government, has there been any discussion on how to get them set back up? Many complaints that we're hearing on the ground is a lack of communication. People don't know what to do, where to go, they're looking for answers from their government. And in the long term, who should really be leading the charge to help this nation recover? Should it be the U.S. or the UN?

Ambassador Lucke: I think all of the partners that are involved here, the U.S., the UN and various other primary friends, donor friends, have sort of a mutual responsibility and interest to help the government of Haiti become more functional as quickly as possible and visible as quickly as possible.

I just came here from a meeting on that very subject with the British. We're having daily discussions with the very high officials in the government of Haiti about how to do this, and we're moving very fast. We've identified, using U.S. resources, a couple of buildings. There are various options being discussed, but the old U.S. embassy here still owned by the U.S. is going to be leased to the Haitian government for one dollar a year. The former USAID facility which is a large facility, has been already granted to the government of Haiti. And we have already done engineering assessments; we're planning to fix these buildings up. The embassy will probably take about three weeks to make functional. We figure we can get the former USAID facility up in about six weeks.

We're also discussing with the Haitian government sort of pre-temporary facilities in order to get them even better function. We have a whole list of options that they are considering. We expect to have them buy off on something very very soon. And we are prepared to mobilize once we have the assurances of financing. We'll be moving heaven and earth as quickly as we can to help them get established.

At the same time, I will say where some people have said that the government of Haiti is not very visible, in fact they're working. We certainly are dealing with many of the officials from ministries. They may be meeting around agree or they may be meeting in the office of NGOs, partner NGOs that we work with. In some cases I think they're meeting informally in other buildings. But we're certainly dealing with them so they exist. They are communicating with us. And they're trying to deal I think as quickly as they can with this enormous catastrophe.

So we are actually talking to them now about the elements that a reconstruction program would consist of.

The point is, they exist, we need to help them get better organized and quicker so they can get up and running better, quicker and faster, and we're making plans to do so. Mr. Duguid: If I can echo that, Ambassador. President Preval met with Ambassador Merten hours after the earthquake. Three of his Ministers also came in to meet Ambassador Merten and were key in trying to get the other international partners involved in early coordination efforts.

The decisions taken on opening the airport were Haitian decisions. The Haitian government, you must remember, has suffered their own tremendous losses, but at the strategic level they are meeting and they are working. However, at the level of implementation there are difficulties and I think this is where the visibility problem comes in. Only 48 percent of the police force is turning up to work.

Now the government is unable to confirm why that is. People may be dead. People may be trying to take care of their families before they come back into work. But you can have a security plan at the strategic level, at the cabinet level, but if you've only got 48 percent of your police force it's hard to be visible in implementing that. However, the government continues, just a few days ago President Preval came out and made a pronouncement on schools. Schools will reopen. They will reopen under tents. But this is a government of Haiti decision that they intend to implement and they are looking to the international community for help.They are there, and they are working.

Question: [Oren Dorrell].

I have one more question about, you mentioned the people who are homeless and I think you mentioned shelters. How long do you think people will be homeless? How many people are we talking about? I've heard a number of 1.5 million. And can you talk a little bit more about what's being done for those people?

Ambassador Lucke: I'm not sure there's an accurate figure on that. We estimate, and it's just an estimate, that there's approximately 800,000 homeless in Port-au-Prince. Some of these folks are flowing out of the city to spontaneous camps, if you will. They're settling in open areas, and we're scrambling to be able to provide them essential services -- food, water and so forth. Medical care. Along with the international community and along with local and international NGOs and the whole UN system is scrambling and we're all coordinating with each other on that to come up with plans and programs to divide the universe and do that.

Some of the folks will be returning to their home villages. Some are fleeing the area. A timeline on this is just really impossible to say.

The government is talking about resettlement projects. Some of the donors are talking about tent cities. Everybody is moving fast on this. This is being coordinated at the level of a shelter working group that's under an existing group that was already there under the auspices of the UN that we have folded ourselves into. We certainly are going to be involved in this. These plans will develop.

It's really a huge issue. The immediate thing is for us to provide temporary shelter, the rains haven't started yet fortunately, but it's not going to be that case forever, so we have to help. I think others, we're doing a project with, a relatively small project with the French government right now. The French are providing tents for a number of refuges and towns, while we provide food, water, and hygiene kits and so forth.

That's what we're doing.

Mr. Duguid: We have time for one final question.

Mr. Duguid: Thank you. If there are no further questions we will leave you for now. Thank you ladies and gentlemen. This is the Joint Information Center Haiti, and we thank our guests today and we will make an announcement as soon as we know when our next briefing will be. Those announcements are normally released about 9:00 o'clock Eastern Standard Time.Thank you very much and goodbye.

Via Teleconference Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Last updated: July 31, 2012

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