Press Conference by USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah on Earthquake Relief Efforts in Haiti

Friday, February 12, 2010
Haiti Earthquake Relief - One Month Later

Administrator Shah: Good morning. It has been one month now since the devastating earthquake in Haiti on January 12th, and Haiti’s humanitarian crisis is far from over. The challenges remain significant, and as Haiti enters a three day period of mourning for the loss of life, the tremendous loss of life, we stand together with Haiti in mourning that loss and respectfully taking note of this tragedy.

America’s commitment to Haiti, of course, predates the earthquake. We had been involved working with Haiti and providing resources to Haiti to help serve its population with health and food and water and other critical basic needs for years, and our commitment to stay with the government of Haiti and help the government and the Haitian people be successful in the future will similarly be robust and long term.

Our aspiration is to work with the government of Haiti and with international partners to help Haiti rebuild, and to rebuild back to a standard that is improved upon the standard in which it entered this earthquake. We intend to be respectful partners, we intend to work with the international community, and we intend to do that in a way that is governed by the strategic decisions made by the Haitian people and its government.

Tomorrow I’ll have the opportunity to travel to Haiti with General Douglas Fraser, the Commander of the U.S. Southern Command, to meet with Haitian and U.S. leaders and to take a first-hand look at the progress that’s been made since my last visit.

To date, the U.S. Agency for International Development and all U.S. federal government partners have together provided more than $450 million in support for Haiti and for its people. This has contributed to helping to launch the largest and most effective urban search and rescue effort ever conducted. It was an effort that included urban search and rescue teams and capabilities from more than 30 countries around the world, coordinated and governed by leaders on the ground.

We’ve also made significant progress in the areas of water and food where we now estimate that nearly all people in need are getting access to water through a variety of sources -- some humanitarian, some through private markets, and in food in particular with the introduction more than a week ago of the fixed point distribution system in 15 neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince. The international relief community, the government of Haiti, and local merchants are able to now reach nearly 200,000 people with two week rations of food on a daily basis. The process has been orderly, has prioritized food distribution to women, and has been an effective one that will continue, and as it goes forward incorporate more higher energy and higher value, higher protein content foods in the basic food package. To date, more than 1.6 million people have been fed through this system, and provided with a two week ration.

U.S. medical teams have similarly supported the health sector in Haiti and meeting the tremendous medical needs that exist. U.S. medical assets including the U.S. Comfort, the hospital ship, as well as a series of Disaster Medical Assistance Teams have seen more than 30,000 patients and performed hundreds of surgeries. That work has been done in a way that’s coordinated with the government of Haiti and through its network of 43 active hospitals, and through a series of NGO partners that we have been working with for years and that have been serving the Haitian people.

As we go forward in the health sector we will prioritize public health efforts to ensure that we have effective disease monitoring, vaccine control, programs and efforts to make sure that particularly as the rainy season approaches in a few months that the population is protected from the threat of disease and the spread of disease.

Clearly, more work remains to be done. There are areas in shelter, in health, in child protection where our efforts are strong but will continue to get stronger day by day, and we’re very focused on making sure that every day we’re seeing more people and serving more people in critical need. But significant progress has taken place, and as we reflect on one month, that’s an important accomplishment for the entire international community working in cooperation with the government of Haiti.

In the future we will hope to focus our efforts on sustainable development for Haiti and an effective reconstruction that is guided by planning and decisionmaking that the Haitian government is now directing. We are working to help put Haitians back to work. We’ve created more than 8,000 jobs on a daily basis, mostly focused on rubble removal and working closely with the government of Haiti to help expand those jobs programs into secondary cities outside of Port-au-Prince where more than perhaps 400,000 people have migrated as part of a process of reducing the population pressure in Port-au-Prince.

We’re continuing to participate in international assessments of infrastructure damage and look forward to working with a broad range of international partners in advance of the upcoming donors conference at the end of March.

I’d like to just conclude with two quick points. One is the compassion and the commitment of the United States public has also been strong, with nearly half of all American families doing something to recognize or give resources to the people of Haiti. One of the tools we found most effective for that has been giving through the Clinton/Bush Haiti Fund. That’s and that’s a resource that is available for people around the world to provide resources and contributions and philanthropy to the people of Haiti at this critical time.

I’ll conclude by pointing out that all of these efforts are only successful to the extent that they serve the Haitian people. It’s the resilience and commitment of the Haitian people themselves, whether witnessed through their efforts to use mobile phones to communicate with each other and help their fellow countrymen and women get access to food, medicine, shelter, whatever they need to meet basic needs; or through their resilience through this difficult time in helping each other set up shelters, taking in through host family arrangements families that have been displaced and sharing the available resources around food, water, and other critical commodities as appropriate and as they can.

So we are inspired by the great commitment of the Haitian people and we look forward to continue to work on behalf of the Haitian people as the President has directed us to going forward.

Thank you, and I’m happy to take questions.

Canwest News: Hi. Sheldon Alberts from Canwest in Canada.

Two questions. I wonder if you could characterize a little bit further the situation regarding food and water. You say it’s improving. Has the crisis in terms of food and water distribution passed at this point? Or is there still more work to be done? And I’m wondering if you can give any update in terms of the numbers of people still in homeless camps within Port-au-Prince, whether those numbers are decreasing. You said that people have been leaving town. I’m just wondering where that is at, because when I was last in Haiti of course there were still several hundred thousand people living in homeless camps.

Administrator Shah: Thank you. I should start by just pointing out to your point that this remains an urgent humanitarian emergency, and that is the frame of mind we have. The President has directed us to be swift and all-encompassing in our response. And we are not in any way suggesting that we would modulate that or pace that. This is an all hands on deck effort for the United States and for all federal partners in the U.S. federal government and we’re working as aggressively as we can.

That said, water is an area where we all had dramatic concerns about the lack of available water early on in this crisis and through a number of innovative efforts, most notably engaging and partnering with private water contractors that was the primary vehicle, these trucking companies that take water, as you’ve seen, into the settlements and into camps and into neighborhoods by more effectively contracting with them, by brining water in from the Dominican Republic, by bringing water-making capacity in through various purification machines and production machines. We’ve actually been able to get local water production and distribution up to a level where we believe it is meeting most needs.

We continue to survey, especially in areas outside of Port-au-Prince and continue to work aggressively in the water sector, but that is an area where we think the effort has been robust.

Food is a similar story. We’ve been very focused on reaching at least two million people with a two week ration of food. We’ve tracked very closely to make sure that food commodities, people have access to cooking and are able to cook and use those commodities. That has been the case. So our distributions have been based on rice distributions and have been expanding to include vegetable oil and pulses and lentils, but that will all continue to be a priority going forward, but we’ve reached now more than 1.6 million people. We have a system in place that’s quite orderly where coupons are being distributed to women so they can preferentially receive rations at six distribution sites run by NGOs and with security provided by MINUSTAH forces and by the United States and the Haitian National Police. Those distributions have been orderly and safe, and I think that is an important point of progress.

Of course we’ll continue to track food availability. We’ll continue to provide food assistance and food support, and we’re also continuing to expand our support to the agriculture sector so farmers in Haiti have effective feed and fertilizer and other input to make sure that there’s an effective growing season and harvest this year.

On the homeless camps, our initial estimates were that more than 1.2 million people were displaced in Port-au-Prince. We believe 400,000 people, that will include mostly displaced people, but also some that were not in that original 1.2, have migrated out of Port-au-Prince into a variety of secondary cities at the direction and support of the government of Haiti. Through our data collection efforts in those cities it appears most of those families have gone into host family arrangements and have adequate shelter, although we monitor that carefully, and of course in some places settlements continue to proliferate.

In Haiti itself, that still leaves significant population in Port-au-Prince itself that are spread in various settlements, in various temporary settlements. We think there are more than 600 of those types of settlements throughout the city and we’re working very closely with the government of Haiti to identify rubble removal activities, latrine construction activities, and other ways to provide support including plastic sheeting and improved shelter to families in those settlements.

AFP: Jordi from Agence France Press.

Today the Washington Post posted an article that said that there are some concerns among head groups. They feel that this massive relief effort can divert money to other causes. I’d like to get an answer from you. The article also mentions that the White House might be providing a supplemental to keep facing the effort in Haiti. Could you confirm that? Can we talk of some amount?

Administrator Shah: Let me address your first point. I think as we all focus on the relief effort and focus on executing that relief effort with a real sense of urgency and service, we are very conscious of the fact that we want to take steps to make those efforts as sustainable as possible for a stronger, more resilient Haiti. One example would be when we sent our Disaster Medical Assistance Teams into Haiti with specialized equipment, surgical capabilities, we have worked to transition many of that equipment and some of the technical support to local NGOs and to local hospitals so that that relief effort actually helps both provide immediate relief and over the long term helps build a more robust help system for Haiti.

Those are the types of examples that I think are important because in an ideal situation our relief efforts are helping to rebuild back a stronger and more resilient Haiti.

Your second question with respect to funding in a supplemental, I’ll perhaps just say that the United States is very committed to making sure we are there for the long term, that we are a significant supporter of reconstruction efforts along with relief and recovery and that we’re doing that in a thoughtful way that’s in cooperation with a broad range of international partners. I’m not prepared at this point to describe specific numbers, other than the $450 million that we’ve already spent in support of this effort.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Business People Magazine from Russia. I have two questions.

One, you said the United States is committed for a long period of time to help Haiti. More or less, what kind of terms we’re talking about? Six months, one year, one year and a half?

Second question is, you are mentioning assistance that is provided by the American government plus regular American citizens. Do you have any information about big American business? How American business is helping Haiti?

Administrator Shah: I appreciate both those questions.

On the long term commitment, the United States government has actually been in Haiti for years and years and years through the U.S. Agency for International Development, but also through a variety of other partners. Our program to support the reduction of HIV/AIDS, and a number of other presidential and important initiatives. So those programs continue.

We are looking at how to reorganize those initiatives and those efforts to be most responsive to clearly significantly changed circumstances on the ground. But Haiti was very much a country that was on the march. It had a good development plan, strong leadership, and it was moving forward before this earthquake, and we hope that our presence there and our commitment to be long-term partners, along with so many others in the international community, will allow that to be successfully realized over time.

On the second issue with respect to American businesses, American businesses have been involved very broadly. In some capacities businesses have been donors providing everything from tents to food to seed for planting for the harvest. So a number of important specific commodity donations or financial donations have been made. A number of American businesses took it upon themselves to fly planes filled with supplies and commodities to Haiti and did that as quickly as they possibly could.

American business will also be an important part going forward as it was in fact the case that a number of important American businesses were exploring investment opportunities in Haiti, and we hope and suspect and will work with those partners to maintain that high level of interest because that will be an important component of rebuilding a stronger and more resilient Haiti.

DPA: Thank you very much. Silvia Ayuso from the German Press Agency. I have two questions.

The first one, are there already any estimates of how long will it take Haiti to recover, at least a basic part? Because some people are saying like a decade. Other people are saying it will take them at least 20 years to be where they were.

The second question is, there have been many many critics to the Haitian government that every person who has been in Haiti said the Haitian government wasn’t visible for the Haitians. How are you working with them? And are you aware? How is the situation with the Haitian government?

Administrator Shah: Thank you.

On the first question with respect to how long it would by various estimates for Haiti to recover, the World Bank and a number of other international partners, as the United States, are participating actively in this process, have launched a formal review and audit of the damage done in Port-au-Prince and in neighboring communities, but also of what the overall needs will be to help Haiti rebuild according to a plan that the government of Haiti had developed and has been pursuing that is based fundamentally on some decentralization of the population outside of Port-au-Prince and developing economic opportunities that are sustainable in those other cities in Haiti, and in port communities in particular. And investment in agriculture and energy being at the forefront of that revitalization. Those are all things that we’re doing with the international community and when that assessment is ready I think we’ll have more robust estimates of what the actual damage has been to what the financial needs would be, and what the recovery path might look like.

That said, there are a number of opportunities now to start doing things as we talked about in the health sector to conduct the relief in a way that helps rebuild stronger capacity sector by sector. That’s true in health, it’s true in water, to some extent it can be true in food and agriculture.

Your question about the government of Haiti’s strength and visibility, we have been working very closely with the government of Haiti. Secretary Clinton had met specifically with President Preval on her visit there early after the earthquake happened, we’ve been in fairly close contact with President Preval, with the Prime Minister, with members of the Cabinet and the leadership. It is the case that there are UN Cluster Meetings that are sector meetings that happen every day. Those meetings are in part informed and led by members of the government of Haiti and by Haitian leaders who are able to provide the direction for what we then help execute.

For example, in the jobs programs that we discussed, those jobs programs are, those are people clearing rubble and placing that rubble in specific sites at the direction of the government of Haiti. So it’s a close and robust operational partnership in that context but I think it is important to recognize that Port-au-Prince being the capital and being the seat of government and capacity, that this was a real significant loss for so many ministries and for the government overall. So they are rebuilding their capabilities, they are actively involved with us and we’ll continue to work in that partnership.

Press Trust of India: Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India.

It’s been a month now after the Haiti earthquake and every year we see one or two major national calamities happening. What are the lessons we can learn from this Haiti experience which will be implemented in any other future upcoming national calamities?

Administrator Shah: Thank you for that question. We’ve started a number of lessons learned activities just on the response and the recovery effort to date. I think there are important lessons for how we as an international community can mobilize ourselves quickly and efficiently, how we can deploy resources on the ground ever more effectively.

This was a unique situation where a number of new technologies, in particular SMF texting, really did help provide significant information to populations. I was walking through a settlement in Haiti and in an environment where people were still at that time looking for food and water and shelter. They were actually charging their cell phones on a 12 volt battery with an inverter and a power strip. It gives you the sense of the resilience of that system and the fact that people were actually using some of these new technologies to do things very differently.

In terms of the long term lessons, I think there are important ones that we’re conducting, and as part of the World Bank assessment that we’ll participate in people will look at what will it take to do anti-seismic construction in a way that meets code and is affordable and effective and appropriate. I think there are a number of protective steps that the government of Haiti wants to take to make sure there are more resilient communities that result from this effort.

Jiji Press: Ai Awaji from Jiji Press, Japan. Thank you so much for doing this. I have two questions.

The first one is, are you satisfied with the level of support you are getting from international partners? Or do you need more contributions? If so, what kind of contributions you would like to see from other countries?

The second question is would you tell us a little bit about the security situation down there?

Administrator Shah: I appreciate that. On are we satisfied with the international support, I will say it’s been a tremendous international response, and it goes well noticed and acknowledged that so many countries have provided such significant resources. In the health sector alone you can visit a hospital and walk literally through two or three or four different countries that have set up field hospitals right next to the university hospital to see patients and provide treatment.

The level of cooperation between those teams on the ground is also extraordinary. Sharing medical equipment, seeing each other’s patients. I think that’s the kind of example that you see in so many sectors and is emblematic of the really significant international effort.

I think the challenge going forward is maintaining that urgency and maintaining that high level of commitment from so many broad partners. That will be something that I think will be highlighted in this upcoming donors conference at the end of March and will also be something that we’re working actively with a number of partners on as an active part of that international effort.

In terms of security in particular, our teams working with MINUSTAH and the Haitian National Police have been monitoring the security situation and of course there are times when there may be looting or some disruptions related to security, but overall the reports are of a fairly constant security environment. I think it is worth noting that especially when it comes to food distribution, as that was such a critical focus, that that has been largely conducted in an orderly and peaceful way which is a great credit to both the security forces, the Haitian National Police and primarily to the Haitian people.

DPA: I know that you’re still assessing the reconstruction, but everything was destroyed. Is there like already set up a list of priorities? Where to start? Government buildings, hospitals, houses? Is there like a scheme already made?

Administrator Shah: I think that’s exactly the purpose of this assessment. That said, we know that the government of Haiti has already set some priorities for us and so we together with international partners are working to help certain government ministries work in a new building facility. We’re helping to set up different facilities for other government ministries and also actively working to maintain the operations of the airport and the ports. So there have been some key logistics and infrastructure priorities, but it’s really up to the international assessment that’s being conducted to do a comprehensive review and set very specific priorities and targets for reconstruction.

Press Trust of India: This is on Afghanistan, if I can ask a question on that.

Mr. Gordon Duguid, Moderator: You have now.

Press Trust of India: Thank you. USAID is involved in a lot of activities in Afghanistan and there are two things which are being reported in local Afghan media over there. One is the USAID approach of contracting and subcontracting is one of the reasons for beating corruption over there.

Secondly, once USAID does all these things through NGOs, the main manpower, the quality manpower in Afghanistan comes through the NGOs and don’t go to the government sector which lacks a lot of capabilities.

How are you addressing these two issues over there?

Administrator Shah: I think in the interest of brevity and staying focused on Haiti I’ll say a few words about that, but in the context of what we’re doing in Haiti to address those issues. I think that’s what’s relevant here.

The first is as we explore how we do contracting, we are looking at a broad range of tools and some innovative ways to make sure that we really stick to the principle of building as much local capacity as possible in the execution of the work that needs to be done. That happens most effectively when we partner deeply with Haitian firms and the Haitian government and others, and when we put strong controls in place to make sure that that’s executed effectively.

It’s something that USAID is looking at but also with a broad range of international partners because I think the international community appropriately is highlighting the need to conduct the reconstruction effort in a manner that builds as much local capacity and leadership as possible.

So that’s the basic principle for us. That’s true in Afghanistan and it’s going to be very true in Haiti.

Thank you.

Foreign Press Center, Washington, DC

Last updated: June 04, 2012

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