Remarks to the Press: Administrator Samantha Power Press Conference in Haiti with Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Michele S. Sison, and U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller

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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Toussaint Louverture International Airport
Port-au-Prince, Haiti

MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Christopher Johnson and I'm the U.S. Embassy Spokesperson. Thank you, everyone, for attending today. Today, we have in attendance, U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, U.S. Southern Command Commander Admiral Faller, of course, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, and Dr. Jerry Chandler, the Director of the Directorate of Civil Protection.

We will start some remarks with our representatives here and then we will follow with a question and answer period.

AMBASSADOR SISON: Thank you and good afternoon. As the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, I want to say that all of us at U.S. Embassy Port-au-Prince are sharing our condolences with all of those in the south who lost loved ones. We've just come back from a trip to Maniche. It has been a whole of U.S. government response.

Of course, our president, President Joe Biden, quickly named USAID Administrator Samantha Power to head the U. S. response on the humanitarian disaster response. And we are proud to welcome her today, along with SouthCom Commander Admiral Faller, Mr. Prime Minister, Dr. Chandler of the DPC. It has been an honor to lead our Port-au-Prince Embassy team here, as we support the people of Haiti in this time of need.

And I will turn the microphone over to USAID Administrator Samantha Power.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good afternoon, everybody. Before we start, I will just say a brief word about the devastating reports from Afghanistan today. While I do not have any new information to share, I just want to express my deep and heartfelt sorrow to all of those injured in today's attacks and to the families of those killed.

I also want to join Ambassador Sison in expressing my sincere condolences to the people of Haiti who have been affected by this devastating earthquake. I want to thank Prime Minister Henry for being here and for the leadership and the dedication that he and Director General Chandler have demonstrated since the onset of this terrible disaster. One that has taken the life of more than 2,000 Haitians, and upended the lives of hundreds of thousands.

I also want to thank Admiral Faller, Ambassador Sison, and Rear Admiral Davids for their tremendous partnership as we work to save lives and respond to the needs of as many people as we can here in Haiti. Though we all represent different parts of the U.S. government, at the direction of President Biden, we have come together as one team to coordinate a response that prizes the welfare and dignity of the Haitian people.

Today, we had the chance to witness the impact of the earthquake and the response firsthand. First, we flew over the affected terrain and just to see the mountains and the narrow roads, many of which were damaged or blocked with landslides is to be reminded of the challenge of accessing many, many parts of the affected area.

We stopped in Maniche and spoke with families who have been devastated by the earthquake. According to the Mayor of Maniche, of the nine thousand eight hundred homes in that area, more than 5000 were destroyed. We saw a school that had been completely flattened, putting at risk the start of the school year, of course, for hundreds of children. We saw a health clinic that had been partially damaged and is now overwhelmed by need. And we met with families who are in dire need of shelter. The needs that we encountered in Maniche, as you well know, are being experienced by many, many families and citizens of this country.

And we also met with USAID Haitian surge staff. These are Haitians who were part of the immediate response effort after the earthquake. Joining with the Haitian Civil Defense and the Haitian government, and all of the U.S. government responders, we have been able to assist or rescue through medevac, more than 450 Haitians. And using U.S. government assets, deliver more than 200,000 pounds of vital aid. As we build on this initial response, I am pleased here to announce that USAID will provide an additional $32 million as part of a broader American response to support people here affected by the earthquake.

The Prime Minister and I spoke about the Haitian government's sense of the priorities of the people, and how not only USAID, and not only the entire U.S. government, but the broader international community can best meet those needs. This $32 million of funding will provide additional shelter, health, food, water and other urgent life-saving assistance.

I will close now in order to allow you to hear from others, but before I do, I just want to stress one thing. We hear a lot about the lessons of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, and perhaps the most important lesson is that no development agency, and no army or diplomatic corps can just import a perfect humanitarian response from afar. You need local expertise and local leadership to reach communities in need. And for years, since 2010, we have been working to strengthen Haitian capacity. And the most important predictor of our ability to meet these needs is this ongoing partnership with the Haitian people. And that is not only true right now in this urgent lifesaving phase, but as we go forward and begin planning and programming around recovery.

Thank you so much. I look forward to taking your questions after.

ADMIRAL FALLER: Good afternoon. United States Southern Command is here in full support of the U.S. government team leader, Administrator Power and supporting our U.S. Ambassador, Ambassador Sison.

Our focus has been to work closely with the team here to deliver the needed aid as rapidly as possible. And as Administrator Power said, the suffering we saw today indicates that we still have a lot of work to do. We have a large number of helicopters, ships, transport planes, and importantly, willing and passionate people, members of my team here to help.

Our task force is led by Rear Admiral Keith Davids, he works closely with the U.S. lead, Tim Callahan, and Dr. Chandler. We're going to continue to work tirelessly to get the needed aid to the people of Haiti who deserve this help. And our hearts and prayers go out to all of you and all the people who have been affected by this disaster.

Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER HENRY: (via translation) Good afternoon. Madam Ambassador, Madam Administrator, Admiral, it’s an honor to be here with you today.

I'd just like to say, I'd like to ask the Ambassador to transmit to the U.S. government and to the American people, our condolences to those who perished or were injured in the attack in Afghanistan.

Our country's in a difficult situation, both socially, politically and economically. And this earthquake can aggravate everything. From the first hours -- from the first minutes after this earthquake --

I can testify that our friends were present. They came to see what we needed before we even had to ask. They came to offer their help for search and rescue for people who were trapped under rubble minutes after the earthquake. And I want to thank you.

We have a big challenge ahead of us. We have a lot of people in the street. They don't have houses that are suffering from natural disasters, the rain is getting them wet, the sun is burning them and we need to address this as soon as possible. And we thank our friends who have come to help us. And who has allowed us to take our responsibility for the people to find the assistance that they need.

We say that the community has power. We appreciate the solidarity of our friends, we appreciate the solidarity of people who are living in these communities and who are extending a helping hand to the community. If we put ourselves together, we can address this big challenge.

Thank you, again, for the help you are providing during this very acute phase. But the biggest task we will have is in front of us. And it's only together that we'll be able to achieve it. The biggest task is that we have to redress these communities, put them back on their feet and that the economies in these areas can start again. We are hugely preoccupied for the back to school season. And we thank our friends right now who have decided to help us help our students go back to school.

I will end to say thank you, even before our call for help to help us address the urgency. That the American government offers substantial help. Solidarity must continue. And together, we'll build back a better Haiti.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister.

Now we'll start with your questions. First, I will call on [inaudible] from Metropole.

QUESTION: (via translation) Ms. Power you’ve presented what you noticed in Maniche you discussed there were a lot of destroyed homes and you announce an additional $30 million of assistance in this response. I’d like to know if within the USAID programming that you address housing reconstruction?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Let me first say that there were people we talked to on the ground whose houses had been completely destroyed and their number one ask was for emergency shelter.

I met a 69-year-old woman who was in a family of six who, when it is not raining, is sleeping outside with the rest of her family. And when it rains now, she is sleeping in what used to be -- what was the attic of her home, just under where the roof before, that is now the floor you walk in on, or crawl in on. Imagine a 69-year-old woman entering a space about this tall in what was the attic, in order to escape the rain at night.

And this is something the prime minister stressed as well which is the importance of repair and emergency shelter.

When it comes then to how the United States and other countries in the international community go forward beyond this emergency phase, we know that there will be shelter needs alongside longer-term public health medical needs, water needs, and sanitation. So, we look forward to continuing the very, very specific discussions with specific communities and how, with all of the needs across so many sectors, we build this recovery together.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Next question goes to Jackie Charles, the Miami Herald.

QUESTION: Administrator Power. Last week, USAID said that they didn't think that Haiti was ready for tents, but I'm sure that in your discussions with some of these people that it was tents, but a lot of people have asked for and [inaudible], but I'm wondering whether or not your opinion has changed, and also with reconstructions in there of Maniche said that they need help, but they're looking for international community help to help with reconstructing houses [inaudible], they’re starting to rebuild and if you're into these buildings [inaudible].

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, first of all, let me say that given how difficult so many of these communities have been to reach that I will get to your question, but I want to thank the Haitian Civil Defense and our Haitian partners who were able to reach some of these communities quickly. But I also actually want to thank the press, I want to thank you. Because many of you were reaching communities and reporting on the immediate needs in ways that helped inform our effort as well.

So, I'm not familiar, actually with the statement that you're referencing, but I can tell you, in Maniche there was USAID sheeting being used to provide very imperfect shelter in some, and only some, homes.

So, there is no question that there is more need for these tarps and for other ways, again, for these emergency shelter needs to be met. But I will say that what I heard from the people that I spoke with, and what the rest of our team have heard in other communities that they have visited, is that they want to stay home. They expressed no interest in displaced person camps or kind of large tented facilities. They were living right around the structures that had been destroyed or damaged and that is right now where our focus is.

But I think the Admiral, our DART Team, the Ambassador, and I, certainly will not forget what we saw today in terms of the need for this immediate shelter support, particularly in light of the storm season upon us. And last thing I would say is, talking to the Prime Minister, each community has its own specific needs so, we, as USAID and the U.S. government, we can't generalize.

There are some communities that didn't experience this kind of destruction of homes but now face profound challenges getting access to clean water. There are communities that have managed to keep the markets going and other communities that are almost entirely dependent on food assistance in the short term. So, this is why our partnership with the Haitian people is so fundamental.

We need to listen to the communities themselves about how they prioritize. And in the same way that Admiral Faller has done such an important job mobilizing other countries, like France and the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic and Colombia to support the military component of this response. The United States and our diplomatic community is going forth now to try to mobilize a response to the UN humanitarian appeal, which was just issued. And that appeal understandably, is quite significant, $187 million which speaks, again, to the gravity and scope of the needs that are out there. So, we hope that all donors will step forward and contribute to meet these needs.

MODERATOR: [inaudible] Haiti Press Network.

QUESTION: (via translation) Thank you, Ms. Power, for your intervention earlier. The Haitian government [inaudible] unexpected earthquake. And more and more the Haitian people are saying that they do not need food aid; they need things that will last, things that will help them rebuild homes. Will the USAID or the larger, broader U.S. government work with the Haitian government to help make that dream a reality, to get people into their new homes?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yes, I mentioned earlier, the so-called lessons of the Haiti earthquake of 2010. One of the things that we saw in 2010 was tremendous generosity from Haitians, who had means to contribute, Haitian-Americans that were able to contribute, and other U.S. citizens who rushed to donate, in that instance, canned food, blankets, and other goods.

The big-heartedness of these contributions was incredible. But these goods, which were not coordinated with the needs on the ground, many of them overwhelmed the Port-au-Prince airport, got stuck in customs, and unfortunately caused major delays in getting other needed supplies to the Haitian people.

I think your question speaks to something not dissimilar, which is a temptation to give food when what people need, maybe, is the money to begin to rebuild their homes. So, since the start of this response, USAID has been emphasizing a cash-is-best approach when it comes to private contributions. Creating some flexibility for the Haitian people and local Haitian organizations to make the judgment about what they think is the most important priority. And what we really want to see happen is for the purchases, whether of rebuilding supplies, or of food, for those purchases to be done locally.

So, this is something that we have conveyed to the very generous Haitian diaspora community in the United States. But the spirit of this is what we as USAID and other donors are seeking to bring to our governmental and intergovernmental response as well.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: The next question goes to NPR, Carrie Kahn and Harold Isaac.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for the opportunity, Ambassador Power. Just quickly on Afghanistan, if you give me the chance. With the situation in Kabul, can the U.S. guarantee security to and from the airport for the evacuations they say is continuing for USAID employees and other U.S. citizens and Afghan allies? And then I have a question, of course, for Haiti.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you for the question. I can't comment on the situation in Afghanistan or the evacuation operation beyond stating that our hearts are with the Afghan people and Afghans at risk. All of the Afghan partners that we have worked with over this 20 years.

QUESTION: And thank you for your help in getting out NPR employees and our Afghan partners, we very much appreciate it. Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you.

QUESTION: And then, toward Haiti. You were talking about lessons learned and you've gotten every question in the book, so here's another one. First of all, you say that you will coordinate, coordination. It wasn't just cans in the airport that were tying up customs. It was the billions of dollars that wasn't getting out and the accusations of corruption and waste. But so, speaking to that, there was a lot about coordination. And you say you will coordinate with the Haitian government. With all due respect, Prime Minister, the Haitian government is in chaos of its own right now and disorganization. How specifically can you do that with the situation [inaudible]?

She's not translating for me. You're not translating.

How specifically can you work? Can you give us some specifics on this coordination? We've heard wonderful things about Dr. Chandler. Everywhere we've gone, it's always Dr. Chandler. But how specifically can you coordinate with this government now in the situation it is in?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. Well, just for starters, again, for example, on my trip to Maniche, there were tremendous needs as I've described. But the person who briefed me on those needs was the mayor of the town. Dr. Chandler's team on the ground was from that community. And it was Haitian Civil Defense in these last 10 days who have been informing our Fairfax Search and Rescue team as to where those assets should best be deployed.

The Prime Minister is going to address the political dimension of your question. But USAID, for example, has been supporting Haitian Ministry of Health programs well before the 2010 earthquake. And when we determine now how best to allocate resources to meet health needs, it is going to be our colleagues in the Ministries of Health and in the health clinics at the local level who provide us the assessments that we need in order to inform our program aid.

I think we have become better over time at knowing what we know, and all the vast information that we don't know, and that Haitians would have unique insight into, of course. This doesn't mean that there aren't going to be challenges in coordination. But as you mentioned with Dr. Chandler, the key is for anybody who is coming in from the outside, for any organization or from any country to be able to identify the appropriate interlocutors, and to interact with them in a spirit of partnership in the hopes that we can support them in meeting the needs of their people. Because I don't think there's any doubt that that is what, again, officials who are seeing these needs on the ground desperately wish to do.

And now if I may just turn it over to the Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER HENRY: (via translation) The Haitian government is facing a lot of challenges. We have political difficulties, we have economic difficulties, but despite all these issues, we are addressing the challenges of the earthquake.

If we can have a simple observation, you will see that when the aid, the administration of the aid has reached the affected areas. There's no chaos. That is not happened, the decision that all the aid goes through the civil protection that coordinates all assistance coming into the territory. It's a decision that the Haitian government made. It's true that we have friends helping us, and some friends have given us extraordinary help, honored us.

To my knowledge, it's the first time that a government decided to put a single person of contact, in the highest level of government, to the Haitian government so that all the aid that they are giving is coordinated at the highest levels in the United States. We are also honored that we saw that the person that they put to coordinate this response didn't just stay at home just to receive reports, but came on the ground to see what was happening.

Because the Haitian government is present, and we always continue to be present. Not only to coordinate the state of emergency, but to also rebuild the economy and help the populations in the south.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Ok, national television of Haiti.

QUESTION: (via translation) The question is for Prime Minister Henry. Ms. Power announced an assistance of $30 million to show that the government can self support. I'd like to know Mr. Prime Minister [inaudible] how this assistance reaches the people?

PRIME MINISTER HENRY: (via translation) The USAID Administrator announced a donation to address the state of urgency. At the same time, there is the UN system has made a call for financing to address [inaudible]. All of that assistance is going to come into Haiti so that they can receive financing. The money that they announced is not money that is going to be distributed to the Haitian government, but the Haitian government will partner with its partners so that this aid reaches their communities for people who are most in need.

MODERATOR: The next question is for Chris Sherman from AP.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. This question, also for Prime Minister Henry. What -- as you both mentioned, it will ultimately be the Haitian people who rebuild their homes and rebuild -- reactivate their economies -- what is the Haitian government doing to assist them in the recovery of that aspect?

PRIME MINISTER HENRY: (via translation) Right now, the government is addressing urgent needs. We put on the ground what we have, the people that we have, the resources. But more importantly, we put together coordination mechanisms for all the partners who are coming to help us. We already have plans we are doing [inaudible] on the reconstruction. Right now, our immediate concern is to provide them with a roof over their head, tarps, tents to address urgency. But in the weeks ahead, we are going to remove the rubble from the schools and the schools that have been damaged, so that the students can go back to school.

We're going to build temporary hangers for schools in the three affected departments. Beyond that, we are starting to organize ourselves to do a reconstruction plan, not only physical reconstruction, but also economic reconstruction of the affected areas.

MODERATOR: Okay, unfortunately that's all the time we have for questions. If you have any other questions, please feel free to approach me or my team.

Last updated: May 24, 2022

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