Press Conference by Senior Officials Launching the "Helping Shelter Haiti" Exhibit

Friday, March 12, 2010
"Helping Shelter Haiti" Exhibit

RAJIV SHAH: Well, good afternoon and thank you for joining us today. Today marks two months since the earthquake in Haiti. And in the days and weeks that followed the earthquake, the president was very clear with us. President Obama asked for a swift, aggressive and coordinated response on behalf of the entire U.S. government. And in fact, so many agencies from across this government, including the one you're in today, USAID, stood up to respond to that challenge.

Together with the government of Haiti, what unfolded was essentially the largest international relief effort ever seen. Search and rescue teams from more than 30 countries mounted the largest and most successful urban search and rescue effort ever, and U.S. teams alone had more than 130 saved lives. Through the World Food Programme, we worked collectively to reach more than 3 million Haitians with food and other items, in a very difficult and challenging circumstance. I want to thank them for their great leadership in that effort.

In health, we have seen thousands and thousands of patients, conducted surgeries and actually have left surgical equipment with Haitian organizations, NGOs and hospitals, so that today Port-au-Prince has more surgical capacity - 56 facilities with surgical capacity - than existed before the earthquake.

And more recently we've been in a race against time to help support relief efforts in advance of the rainy season in late April and May. That race against time has involved a series of investments and efforts in public health, and together with partners we've helped vaccinate more than 300,000 Haitians. More than 730,000 people have received shelter of some type, and I think today we'll talk through a little bit more of what that means. That doesn't mean that all the needs have been met. This was a tragic circumstance that affected millions of Haitians, and so there's much more that needs to be done, and it needs to be done aggressively.

Earlier this week the president reaffirmed his commitment to make sure that we were meeting the needs of Haiti and doing that in an emergency mindset. He spoke with President Préval in an Oval Office meeting and then, subsequently and prior to that, with our combined interagency relief teams, to express his continued commitment and to charge us with continuing to work to prevent further catastrophe from happening.

So President Préval's visit was an important opportunity for us to continue a dialogue that really started a few days after the earthquake, when Secretary Clinton and I went down to visit the president. To facilitate our work going forward, the U.S. Agency for International Development has established a Haiti task team. The task team will allow us to continue to work with our interagency partners from Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense and so many other agencies, and will continue to ensure that the entire U.S. government is firmly committed to an aggressive and coordinated effort to protect and support the people of Haiti.

I've asked Paul Weisenfeld, who previously served as our mission director in Peru, to spearhead this team. Paul had come to work with us immediately after the earthquake happened, and just went back to Peru to pack his home and get married, and move here. (Laughter.) So we're thrilled to have Paul, and congratulations, Paul. The Haiti task team will include representatives from the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. armed forces, DHHS and many others.

Part of Paul's team will focus in the here and now on shelter, which is one of the reasons we're here today. As you know, with the rains we have people who are in a very vulnerable situation. I think the numbers are anywhere from 140 to 200,000 Haitians in Port-au-Prince are identified as quite vulnerable to the rains. So Paul will speak to this issue in more depth. Randy Lyness, who's also with us, from an important partner of ours, CHF International, where he's the regional director for the Americas.

CHF International has been an important partner in establishing transitional shelter and emergency shelter for people in Haiti, and actually executing a full range of programs in partnership with the U.S. government. I had the opportunity to visit a CHF program that provided jobs to Haitians, that would get into really tough circumstances to start clearing rubble, clearing roads and rebuilding their communities. And the opportunity to witness that firsthand is really amazing. It does speak to the resilience and strength and commitment of the Haitian people. So I'm thrilled that Paul and Randy are here with us today, and I'll let them continue with you. Thank you.

PAUL WEISENFELD: Thank you very much, Dr. Shah, and thanks to everyone for coming today. As the administrator said, I'm Paul Weisenfeld, and I'm the newly named coordinator for the Haiti task team here at USAID. Within 24 hours after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti on January 12, two months ago today, the first USAID disaster-assistance response team, or DART team, as we call them, arrived in Haiti. And we also activated here in Washington a response management team to support our folks working down in Haiti.

The expertise of the folks here in Washington, and more importantly the DART team in Haiti in shelter, settlements and protection, health, logistics, food, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene proved critical in helping see Haiti through the next few days. And their efforts have been tremendous in laying a solid foundation for the significant commitment to Haiti about which the president, the secretary of state and the administrator have spoken.

The Haiti task team is charged with going forward with coordinating USAID's recovery efforts. As the administrator said, one of our chief concerns in contribution to the people of Haiti will be assisting with the issues surrounding providing shelter. I'll let Randy speak to the specifics of the shelter structures you see here today, but I think some of the context is important.

Every issue we face in a disaster response we see as interconnected, and those are the lessons that we've learned over the years from managing disasters in places like Indonesia, in Pakistan and Central America. When we address food issues - what food we're going to distribute - we have to consider the current health of the population, the impact the food will have on local food markets. When we think about shelter, we look at sanitary conditions; we look at contingency issues. In the context of Haiti, obviously, floods, rains and hurricanes are the critical contingency issues that we worry about.

But we also see shelter as an opportunity to put people back to work, to rebuild their communities and to provide offices for people, because in many of the poor communities around the world we see microenterprises are run out of people's homes. So if you can provide shelter to people, you can also provide an office space in many cases.

The story of the display here today is helping shelter Haiti, and the installation of this shelter is designed to tell the story of the immediate assistance, in the form of emergency food, medical and water relief - we see some of the immediate assistance over there - and how that transitions into the larger recovery effort.

In the first days after the earthquake our DART team coordinated the delivery of more than 40 plane-loads of relief. That included more than 111,000 containers of water, 75,000 hygiene kits, more than 10,000 rolls of plastic sheeting and 5,000 kitchen sets. All of those materials are critical in allowing people to start in the initial stages to rebuild their lives and ensure that we don't have serious problems with health and water.

As the humanitarian crisis stabilized, we focused on working with the government of Haiti and our chief partners in the nongovernmental organization community to identify assistance that could lead to a more stable recovery over the longer term for the people of Haiti. Rubble removal became and still is a priority. USAID, as the administrator has mentioned, has worked with its partners to put more than 14,000 Haitians back to work. Clearing the streets, identifying areas for development, that rubble removal is absolutely critical to get life back to normal.

In addition, we're working now to begin training workers to build the types of shelters that you see here today. And the people of Haiti will be the people constructing these. They'll use those skills and work with the families that will be assisted so that they can build shelters that will work for those families and satisfy their particular needs. The tactics that we employ, as I mentioned, are based on years of experience and lessons learned from other disasters. And our goal is to adapt them to the particular conditions of the country, in this case, Haiti.

In Pakistan, the international-grade plastic sheeting that you see was turned inside-out to provide better insulation from the cold. In El Salvador, the floors of these units were raised in order to provide protection from floods, and that, as Randy will explain, is one of the options that we're going to be implementing in Haiti. Helping shelter Haiti not only illustrates what we do but also demonstrates how we do it, therefore, and it most importantly shows how we learn over time how to do a better job in the development business in managing the relief from disaster through recovery to longer-term development.

One of the greatest ways we learn is through the experience we gain from our international partners, in this case, CHF International, who's a critical partner. They've been a partner of USAID for many years, in many countries around the world. I've worked with them in Zimbabwe and in Peru. And their work, and the innovations that they develop over time, allow us in USAID, working collaboratively with them, to change the lives of thousands of people, to allow people in critical disasters to get back to ordinary life.

So to tell us more let me introduce Randy. To tell us more about the structure and the materials you see here, I'm going to turn it over to Randy Lyness, who is the regional director for the Americas for CHF International. Thanks again for coming.

RANDY LYNESS: My thanks to Dr. Rajiv Shah and Paul Weisenfeld for the opportunity to speak here today. As they said, I'm Randy Lyness. I'm CHF International's regional director for the Americas, and I'm going to talk to you specifically about this shelter that we're going to be building and are building, as we speak, in Haiti. I was in Haiti three days after the earthquake, and as we're moving forward with this shelter, this is part of an ongoing relationship that CHF and USAID have in Haiti.

Since 2006, CHF has been implementing the largest USAID-funded jobs and infrastructure program in Haiti. During this time, we have created and employed over 130,000 Haitians and worked hand-in-hand with communities, local authorities and the private sector in the construction of vital productive infrastructure - essential roads, schools, bridges, drainage canals and repairing rivers to prevent erosion. Now, in the aftermath of the earthquake, we are pleased to be able to continue that partnership with USAID and their office for disaster assistance and bring long-term relief and development to Haiti.

The structure you see here is a scale model of what we call a transitional shelter. After the immediate shelter needs are met by tents or the lean-to structure that you see here, people need somewhere safe and sanitary to live, somewhere where they can live for up to two years, and sometimes even more, while full construction and recovery takes place - a shelter that they can often reuse and integrate in the long-term reconstruction process.

CHF International, again in partnership with USAID, developed this type of shelter first in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras and Central America. We used it in El Salvador after the 2001 earthquakes. And we adapted it for Colombia for the needs of people displaced by violence so that it could be taken down, rebuilt in the all-too-common event of further displacement. And we used it, as Paul mentioned, we used it in Peru in 2007, in the August earthquake. It was at that point that the International Federation of the Red Cross adopted this model and they use it worldwide today.

The shelter is built of a sturdy wooden structure, with the corrugated steel roofing and has specialized plastic walls. It's not just any plastic; it's a special plastic of lobin fiber that is durable and will last for quite some time. This is all built on top of and anchored to a solid base, which can be built with the recycled rubble and cement. As Paul mentioned, in Haiti especially with the issue of the rains, it's important that we raise the floor a little bit to avoid flooding. It is designed to be earthquake and hurricane-resistant, and takes one or two days to build, depending on how many people you have. And we usually employ three to four skilled carpenters and a similar number of unskilled community workers to help in the construction.

By employing the local community in the construction, we help build the skills of the people who are going to live in them, and also give them a sense of ownership of the shelter. This is a key component to CHF methodology and our approach. You involve the community at every point; that way the work will be sustainable in the long run. This model here is an eight-foot by five-foot structure. An actual shelter for a family of five will be 10 feet by 20 feet. We adhere to the international standards of 40 square feet, or 3.5 square meters per person. One of these shelters costs approximately $800 to build, and we'll be building approximately 5,000 of these for Haitian families in Port-au-Prince and the Petit-Goave regions.

But CHF is always looking to be innovative in shelter to meet community needs. In the Haitian context, we're looking to experiment with guttering in order to exploit potable rainwater and we're working with partners to explore the use of solar lamps. And we're going to use the steel-frame structures that are cost-effective, hurricane and earthquake-resistant as well, and useful for both the transitional shelter and long-term reconstruction. The steel structures can be covered either with the plastic that you see here or more durable material and built around them to become a long-term home for a Haitian family.

At CHF International, whenever we respond to emergencies, we always ask: How can we ensure long-term development and how can we ensure that long-term development take place from the earliest possible time? Transitional shelter is one of those ways. We teach construction skills. We build appropriate shelters for the region. And through this approach, we begin the process of long-term reconstruction and recovery.

I'd like to express my personal thanks, and on behalf of CHF, to USAID, for funding this kind of responsible, good development approach. If you have any questions about the shelter, I'd be glad to answer them in more detail. I also have Dr. John Walden here with us, who built the shelter and can answer more technical questions. Thank you very much.

MS. : I think that now we'll take one or two questions for the administrator and then he's going to have to depart.

Q: Hello. My name is Martin Klings from - (inaudible) - media. I would like to know what are your expectations for the donor conference at this point.

MR. SHAH: Well, you know, we expect the government of Haiti to present a plan for their redevelopment and reconstruction, and expect a broad number of donors, as there's been a significant international push in this area - to make significant commitments to work together, in an accountable and coordinated way, to help support that effort. The United States has been a partner of Haiti's for some time and of course will continue to play a significant role, as the president noted in his remarks this week.

Q: Dr. Shah, I would like to know if you could summarize for our listeners and viewers in Haiti the rationale behind this exhibit here today.

MR. SHAH: I might defer the questions about the exhibit to others who could do that in more detail, but I'd say that the bottom line is, we are working aggressively to support the government of Haiti and the various partners that are working to protect families that are vulnerable to the upcoming rains. And that will involve a full range of strategies, including a variety of different types of shelter strategies. This transitional shelter is about transitioning people from an acute emergency situation to something that they can live in for a longer period of time while they're rebuilding their communities and their homes.

MS. : Thanks, everybody.

MR. SHAH: Thank you.


USAID Information Center, Washington, DC

Last updated: June 01, 2012

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