Haiti and Chile Earthquakes

Special State Department Briefing on the One-Year Anniversary of the Earthquake in Haiti

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–January 7 , 2011. 

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. If you look back at 2010, one of the most compelling stories of the year was the tragic earthquake in Haiti just about one year ago. And the international community, led by the United States, mounted an enormous, sustained recovery effort in the aftermath of the earthquake.

And two people here with us – Cheryl Mills, Counselor to Secretary Clinton, and Raj Shah, the Administrator of USAID, the two of them have spent probably more time than anyone else in the United States Government focused on the challenge that Haiti represents in the aftermath of the earthquake. And as we approach the one-year anniversary, I thought it was a good time to bring them both down to give you an update not only where we stand in Haiti today, but the way forward.

And we’ll begin with Cheryl.

MS. MILLS: Good afternoon. How are you all? I want to start by just appreciating – saying a vote of thanks to you all, but also to many others who cover Haiti, because one of the things I think everyone always assumed about Haiti was that one day it would leave the front page and it wouldn’t be an enduring story of interest and an enduring opportunity for ways in which we think about, as a world community, we support others. And I think one of the things that the media has done a good job of, and certainly that many of the partners around the world, in addition to the people in Haiti, have done a good job of is continue to stay focused on the job that needs to be done in Haiti, and the job is still enormous.

And so I think the fact that the role that you all play, but also that so many others have played, has been critical because, obviously, what happened in Haiti transcends most of what we could ever imagine at any given time, and certainly every day people get up in Haiti who – to lives that are now new normals, family members that are no longer with them, and certainly here at the State Department and in other places across the government we had those who we love and support, who we also lost in Haiti. So I do want to start by acknowledging the very human tragedy that the earthquake and its toll took on so many people, most notably the Haitian community.

I think one of the reasons why Haiti is such an enduring power is that it has really the ability to transcend even in the face of an extraordinarily challenging framework. If you think about where Haiti started even before the earthquake, that you had a country where 80 percent of the people were living on less than $2 a day, the unemployment rate was in excess of 70 percent, and 50 percent of the young people – children – were not in school, and less than 12 percent had access to electricity; you started in a fundamentally very challenged place. And yet, Haiti has always captivated – certainly in our country – the imagination and also the community and the natural relations that are built through the diaspora of how to think about the connections that would be necessary to actually help Haiti be the Haiti it seeks for its future.

When we think about what the earthquake did in terms of the toll that it took not only of human lives of more 200,000 people and injuring 300,000, but also on the terms of what it means to strike at the heart of a capital in terms of losing your – so many public servants and also losing the facilities that actually – they actually get up and work in each day. It also created a loss of an opportunity for people to even gather in their normal place – their homes, right? Because so many people almost – certainly in excess of a million and a half of them, lost their homes. We began at a very, almost unimaginable place.

Raj will be able to speak to you and certainly answer questions about the success that I think the leadership of USAID was able to provide in our rescue and relief effort with respect to how we were a partner to Haiti in its most trying hour of need and what was actually accomplished in that space.

I want to focus on the fact that today we still have a lot of other challenges that still are there for a moment, and then, obviously, answer a lot of questions. And that is we still have about a million people in tents; that’s certainly better than 1.6 million people in tents, but we still have a million people in tents. We still have about 9 million cubic meters of rubble that needs to be removed; certainly better that we’ve removed somewhere between a million and a half and two million, but it’s not all the rubble that needs to be moved. And there can be no rebuilding without the removal of significant amounts of rubble.

There has always – there is also the need for – the enduring need for jobs, because the unemployment rate still is what it is. And so to the extent the international community, multilateral donors, and others are going to be good partners, we also have to be partners in how we go about doing the thing we find hard in the United States, and that’s how you grow jobs and how in Haiti you provide for economic growth.

I think there are a number of things for which we can be properly pleased to see the progress in, but there are many things for which we are going to need a lot more progress, and I think that will be the challenge for the next year or two. Because while progress happens over time, Haiti’s needs are immediate, whether or not those needs are for cholera, whether or not those needs are for transitional housing, whether or not those needs are for jobs; those needs are immediate and we have been taking steps to meet the immediate needs while also planning for the long term.

And that’s what I hope today we can engage in some questions with respect to – and do that in a way that helps inform the writing that you’re doing and the continuing sharing that you’re providing for what needs to happen in Haiti and certainly what the people of Haiti hope will happen for their country.

So with that, I’ll actually ask my colleague Raj to do his opening remarks.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Thank you, Cheryl. And that you for – to all of you that are here to take an interest and help support and provide visibility to many of the successes and many of the ongoing challenges that exist today on behalf of the people of Haiti.

I think it is important to recall that approximately a year ago we had a really tremendous earthquake that really represented one of the greatest humanitarian challenges we’ve ever faced. And in light of that humanitarian challenge with several hundred thousand people literally losing their lives and with 27 of 28 Haitian Government ministries being destroyed in the physical earthquake, the President and the Secretary asked the United States to mount a swift, coordinated and aggressive response that would measure up to and, best as we could, meet the needs of the challenge of that moment.

And I want to take a moment to just thank the thousands of military service members and civilian service members and implementing partners and humanitarian organizations that, in fact, took on that responsibility and went to Haiti and worked to really help the Haitian people recover from this immeasurable tragedy.

We’ll recall that that effectively represented the largest humanitarian effort ever mounted with the food distribution that, at its peak, reached 3.5 million people with efforts to get shelter material to 1.5 million people with nearly 2 million metric tons of rubble removed, a pace that was faster than what we saw in the first two-and-a-half years after the Aceh tragedy in Indonesia. So there were a number of things that took place immediately following the earthquake with a large global humanitarian response that really did live up to the President’s commitment for a swift, aggressive, and coordinated effort.

We also took great pains over the course of the year to work in partnership with the Government of Haiti to really try to avert further disasters. The amount of preparation and effort that went into protecting the drainage system in Port-au-Prince to protect against floods and then impending hurricanes and the rainy seasons was very important. The efforts to invest in agriculture and see in some parts of the country where we were working with the Government of Haiti, a doubling of agricultural output, was very important to helping the Haitian food system get back on track in terms of an effort to provide for its own people. And efforts to provide clean water, immunizations, and public health messages were very important in making sure that disease outbreaks were prevented and precluded. And even today, as we look at the actual epidemiology of the current cholera outbreak, the areas in and around Port-au-Prince that got the most effective humanitarian response are the areas that are relatively protected compared to distal rural environments.

Over the long term, as Cheryl points out, the success of this overall recovery and reconstruction effort will depend on both the deep partnership with the government and people and institutions of Haiti and our collective will and commitment to see the effort through. And in that spirit, we’ve taken a number of steps to try to put in place the innovations in how we work to make sure that we’re really capturing the opportunities of the moment to build back better, even in a very difficult environment.

I’ll just share two examples. One is we have invested, together with private foundations, in efforts to bring mobile banking and mobile financial transactions to the people of Haiti. And we’re seeing some real progress in that area, which we’ll be able to talk more about in the next few days.

Second is, as we’ve been pursuing some of the reconstruction efforts, especially on housing in terms of diagnosing and repairing homes that were partially damaged during the earthquake, we’ve put in place many of the principles of our procurement reform efforts, which are really geared towards supporting local institutions and local companies to develop improved construction standards and to be part of the reconstruction effort, thereby creating some of the jobs that Cheryl referenced and also creating a more vibrant local economy that’s capable of sustaining and seeing through the overall reconstruction and recovery effort.

So while we have examples that keep us incredibly hopeful, we also know the road forward will be challenging. And we remain committed to the principles we outlined at the beginning of this response – that we will be good partners with the people and Government of Haiti, that we will prioritize efforts to build local capacity and local institutions, and that we will continue to focus on this effort over the long term because we know that that’s the most appropriate embodiment of the relationship we have with the people of Haiti.

So I thank you and look forward to some questions.

QUESTION: Yes. I was in Haiti just after the earthquake for 13 days and I’m still in touch with some of the mayors. And the picture is not very rosy, as you are pointing. How far the U.S. is supporting the UN program, Food for Work program?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, the United States has had a broad range of programs that have supported Food for Work and Cash for Work, both in the early days of the recovery and in a current, ongoing way. I don’t have the detail of what the current level of support for the UN’s specific Food for Work program is, but I would point out that in the early efforts, most of the Cash for Work programs and Food for Work programs that were employing Haitians to do things like rubble removal and site preparation for the construction of T-shelter – transitional shelters and other housing opportunities were provided through U.S. Government grants, contracts, and commitments with Haitian partners and NGOs.

MS. MILLS: I just would also want to say one thing, just because I don’t want it to be mischaracterized, and so –


MS. MILLS: — I don’t know that I would subscribe to a view that the picture in Haiti is rosy. I actually think if you were traveling and visiting in Haiti, you would understand that the challenges that the people in Haiti confront, be they earthquake immediately related or otherwise, are significant. And so I don’t think it’s a rosy picture. I do think it’s a hopeful picture. I do think that there is a lot that, though, needs to be done and we should be cognizant of that because I think it’s important that we are both honoring and appreciating the reality that most Haitians get up to every day, which is a quite challenging one.

QUESTION: I was not mentioning – I was mentioning about the slides that you are showing behind you while you two were speaking. They were very rosy slides.

MS. MILLS: Oh. (Laughter.) We couldn’t see it. Sorry, okay.

QUESTION: The picture is not rosy, as some of the mayors are saying. Another thing was that most of the focus in the first weeks, at least, was near the airport and around the center of the city. When you drive five, six miles out of the city, it was just flat. So how far – that’s one.

And the second one was near the airport you have these pictures which were being shown to the world, the UN tents. But just behind those tents were really, really, very, very horrible conditions (inaudible). So those two, have they proved? I have heard that, no, not much has been done. So would you like –

MS. MILLS: Do you want to address the first piece of that, and I’ll do the second?

QUESTION: Sure. Well, it is absolutely true that the early response was focused on the airport, the port, other major trunk lines of communication and transportation because the goal – if you recall, there was so much rubble and so much uncertainty and so little logistics capability that the U.S. military, working with a broad range of our implementing and humanitarian partners, had to create a logistics system that allowed all the different countries to get their resources from field hospitals to commodities like safe water purification systems into the country and distributed appropriately. So that was a part of the early response, absolutely.

I think if you look at how that played out over time, the response clearly went well beyond both that immediate area around the airport and certainly throughout Haiti, even outside of and beyond areas in Port-au-Prince. And currently, the effort around health services and efforts to do epidemiological and surveillance tracking and treatment for cholera demonstrates that the commitment has been throughout the country, not just in Port-au-Prince.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. MILLS: Yeah, are you – are we –


QUESTION: Hi. (Laughter.)

MS. MILLS: Sorry. I just want to make sure I’m not, like, stepping on somebody’s toes.

QUESTION: From CNN. This is kind of a broad question, but – and you mentioned that Haiti, even before the earthquake, was in pretty bad shape. But is there any overall kind of ballpark figure on how long it’s going to take to get Haiti even back to the condition that it was before the earthquake?

MS. MILLS: I think that’s a fair question. Certainly from my perspective, there are two things that I would say. Everybody’s goal, as they would say, is to build back better. I actually think in a lot of ways in Haiti it’s building anew because it really presented a fundamentally different opportunity to build anew and not just better because you can sometimes take leaps over where you used to be.

I have a tendency to be relatively impatient, some people will say, and like to see things happen a little faster than probably is realistic. And so I think one of the things that has been very helpful to me in thinking through what’s rational and real – and I know from a lot of the development partners that I work with, this was very helpful for them – but I spent a lot of time stepping through what actually did happen in Aceh, how long did it actually take to rebuild, when did they first start seeing not the planning where it looks like nothing is going on, but actually starting to see the buildings starting to go up, starting to see the programs starting to be implemented in a way that you actually could see the transformation, and actually then understanding in the end that you had something that was sustainable that the government itself could maintain and the people itself could maintain.

That process really is a three-to-five-year process. The real challenge is you’ve got to live in that in-between period. And so the question would be is: Well, what should be being done by year one and year two in a way that actually makes someone’s life a livable life? And I think from my standpoint, that really means we have a unique obligation in Haiti – and I don’t mean just, we, the USG, but everybody – to figure out how to address the rubble and the housing issue. Because it’s hard to live in those two spaces without those two things getting aggressively better.

And the other thing that I think also has to get aggressively better, but I acknowledge that this is something that all over the world needs to get aggressively better, including here in the United States, and that is people need jobs. How do you actually create jobs, or how do you create the opportunity for kind of private investment that actually means people will see meaningful increases in a number of jobs? Those are the three areas where I feel like even if you won’t, for three to five years, see something that’s kind of transformational, you – we have to, in the next period of time, be able to address those in a fundamental way. Otherwise, whatever we see in the long term won’t actually have had people get there in a fashion that’s consistent with what I think we should all embrace as tolerable.

QUESTION: And could – I just want to follow up on this. The government itself, the Government of Haiti, what is its capacity right now, would you say? Again, I know it’s kind of a broad question, but are they functioning? You said – what was it, 26 or 27 or whatever, were —

MS. MILLS: Twenty-eight or twenty-ministers, yeah.

QUESTION: Twenty-eight or twenty-nine – destroyed. So is there a functioning government right now, according to what you think?

MS. MILLS: Yes, there is a functioning government. Here is the challenge of the functioning government, though, I think, for any government, one who has faced the kind of challenges that Haiti has, first of all, not only an earthquake but subsequent to that, the hurricane and subsequent to that, cholera. They’re flat out with a lot of challenges that the average government isn’t even confronting, and they start out with a much more challenged governmental capacity and space. And so that means that they are starting out at a place that is a lot harder to confront the kinds of challenges that have been – that they’ve been blessed, unfortunately, with.

I think the other challenge is that they are also at a period where they’re getting ready to go through an enormous amount of political transition, and I think that always, for Haiti, is a little bit of a challenge. They are going to go from the sitting president to a new one. How they get there is always a little bit of a challenge in Haiti, and that is the process that I think we all in the international community want to ensure we are supporting in a way that ensures that the people of Haiti both get the leadership that they voted for, but they also get the kind of leadership that they need in the future. And I think that is itself going to be a challenge as well.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Could I add – could I just add to that briefly? I’ll just add that if you look at health services, water sanitation and hygiene, transport and logistics, the use of mobile connectivity to provide information services, banking platforms, and if you look at agricultural performance, which is still what 60, 70 percent of the Haitian people depend on for food and sustenance, you have performance that was – is essentially faster – you have a faster recovery than most international standards.

If you look at rubble and housing, as Cheryl points out, that’s of course been slower but still on track with international standards, but we all want to do much better, and no one more so than the people of Haiti. The economic and governmental capacity pieces are obviously the most important, but also – and the most enduring, but will take the longest time to fully develop and fully get to a place where you’re providing the type of opportunity and the type of resilience for the Haitian economy that it will need over time.

So we are looking at that, and I just would make the point that our commitment to all of these aspects continues to be really just as strong as it was the moment after the earthquake.

QUESTION: Hi, Lesley Clark with the Miami Herald. I wanted to ask an election-related question. You had a number of Haitian Americans yesterday who told the Vice President that they don’t want the results of the November election to be carried through. What are you prepared to do if the OAS results show that the preliminary results should be honored? Sort of, what’s the – and can you talk a little bit about your concerns about continuing election problems, sort of erasing some of the fragile progress that’s been made?

MS. MILLS: So I think you’re speaking about the OAS mission right now, which is doing a review of the —

QUESTION: Which could come out —

MS. MILLS: — election results, which is —

QUESTION: — the day of the anniversary.

MS. MILLS: Which are at least anticipated to be forthcoming shortly. Certainly, we have supported the OAS mission from the standpoint of wanting to ensure that there was a comprehensive review and that that review spoke to what were the results in a fashion that actually was consistent with what the people of Haiti voted. We are very interested to see what the results will be. We obviously expressed our reservations with the announced results in a statement that we issued right after the election because it was inconsistent with at least the preliminary analysis, information, quick counts and other things that we had been privy to.

I’m obviously not going to address the hypothetical of what would happen if the OAS’s mission concludes one way or the other. I certainly think that we are just as committed as we were the day after the election to ensuring that the people of Haiti’s voice and vote is respected, and to stepping through whatever is the appropriate partnership to ensure that that occurs.

QUESTION: Are you ruling out – or I guess at this point, you won’t address hypotheticals – but whether or not cancellation of the elections and a redo, is that off the table?

MS. MILLS: I mean, obviously, if the OAS mission concludes, that cancellation or redo or any of those things are steps that need to be considered, we obviously would be interested to understand how they came to those conclusions, would want to review whether or not those conclusions were one that we thought we too could support, and then would also step through what engagement that would mean is appropriate from us, whether that is engagement in supporting new elections, whether or not that is engagement in supporting whatever are the results. All of those are things we would be prepared to entertain, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you what we would do, obviously, because until we know what they conclude and how they conclude it, we’re not in the best position to be able to (inaudible).

QUESTION: And can I get in one more, in terms of whether or not you would support the president’s extension of office if no new president is in office by February?

MS. MILLS: Well, so I think – all of those are things that I think are going to really play out in the next week or so, in terms of stepping through – if it is the case that the OAS mission steps – comes out with its result, that will actually help shape whether or not there can be and on what timeline there would be a transition of government. And I don’t think I would be in a place to be able to anticipate that until I see what they actually recommend.

QUESTION: Just one more concern, which – it’s a concern addressed by most of the officials out of the Port-au-Prince who say that the U.S. is not moving out of the main – the capital city, because if you have one – even – camp, the people, the local people, gather around and it starts. And there is no – the other ports, the other cities, even when I drove from Dominican Republic through the whole of (inaudible) there’s hardly anything, (inaudible) but in this one (inaudible). Have you got a program to go beyond this – the capital city?

MS. MILLS: Well, thank you for asking that. People are going to believe that I asked you to ask that, and I did not, but I am very grateful that you did ask. We are pretty vested in the whole construct around decentralization, which the government has made one of the pillars of its action plan. That is why we actually have the north as one of the development quarters that we are focused on making significant investments in. As we are stepping through our strategy with respect to where we are going to make investments, part of what we have both provided to the Congress in our spend plan as well as outlined as our objectives are to work through a process that not only looks at how we could go about providing housing in the north – that would be an attractive draw – what we can do to support the potential foreign industrial park.

We obviously signed two MOUs and have been working through with foreign investors on how we could go about attracting them to an industrial park, and that we would be prepared to also provide the kind of electrification that would be necessary, not only in support of such an activity but also in support of creating greater access. And that’s one of the also areas that we have articulated in our spend plan that went to the Congress.

So we actually are focused on the north, and in addition to that there’s also of the agriculture that is in the north that we are interested in helping to support, and in particular, there are export crops up there in both mangos and cacao that we think is pretty impactful for the Haitian economy. So we are focused. I do think it takes a while to do all of those things, and I think that’s the hard part. When you’re sitting and planning, it looks like nothing is going on, but I also would love you to ask that question again on Tuesday. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: So one more.

QUESTION: I have a non-Haiti question. Can I —

MR. CROWLEY: (Inaudible) – I’m your man.

QUESTION: Okay. But it’s related to the USAID.

MR. CROWLEY: Last one.

QUESTION: I’m going to take it. There’s been some criticism of the IRHC. Is there a plan afoot, or is there anything – are you looking at ways of improving it or –

MS. MILLS: Well, so I think two things. And I actually would commend people just to kind of take a look at how long it took for Aceh to setup its similar commission, which was actually on a much more extended window of time and hadn’t even approved its first projects by the first year, and obviously the IHRC has. I think the IHRC has actually provided something to donors that is less tangible in – but certainly incredibly impactful. I think what we all looked at the IHRC as an opportunity as to be able to ensure that the Haitian Government’s plans actually got supported in the way they would like, consistent with their own vision, and that it also created an opportunity for the kind of coordination and collaboration that should happen.

While it has provided that, what it has really done too is provided an enormous amount of transparency for us among ourselves as donors that has allowed whole new levels of collaboration to occur, because you now know what Canada is doing, or you now know what Venezuela is doing, or you now know what the EU is doing. And that has meant there have partnerships that have been achieved that have never been part of the partnerships in the past. Certainly our partnership with the French in building – rebuilding – the general hospital is not one that we have had a history of. I can go through a number of different projects and also investments that are going to be made because of the IHRC because it created a unique platform.

What it’s also created though is a unique platform for the private sector to actually participate in a number of activities that we have not historically had a kind of organized way to be able to engage. And so from my perspective, I think there are legitimate concerns about how fast the IHRC was able to move, how fast it could staff up. But the realities of what actually has been achieved because of it and what it has facilitated among the international communities, both organization and investment and effectiveness, I think is the unseen but very valuable piece of it.

To me, the most obvious answer – instance of that was when they canceled one of the meetings to have it as a telephone conference call, and everybody – from those representatives from Norway and France to Japan and also nearby – thought that was a horrible thing to have done: How could we not all be getting together to address the challenges that were there? And that, to me, spoke to a different level of collaboration among donors than you normally have, because most of the time we would each be doing our own thing.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: I would just add very quickly to that that this really is – that’s been really helpful for the planning and taking this forward in a coordinated way. But – and while they are initial, there are significant activities that have been ongoing in areas like agriculture, housing, and the provision of shelter that are making the pivot from immediate relief and recovery to long-term reconstruction. And some of the early results from those – while they’re not widespread and they won’t be the types of things that will solve these problems overnight – but doubling corn and sorghum productivity in certain parts of Haiti will set the stage for a really enthusiastic and important set of investments that hopefully will replicate that progress in a much broader way throughout the Haitian countryside in 2011.

Being able to provide 11,000 transitional shelters and to review 400,000 damaged units to identify which ones can be reconstructed, and building a small-scale Haitian reconstruction industry that can use improved rebar and cement to reconstruct those back to earthquake standard, will set the stage for a much more rapid and a much more effective shelter strategy through the coming years. So a lot of what’s happened is also real activity that sets the stage for the kind of optimism I think Cheryl has shared.

MR. CROWLEY: Lalit says he’s trying to squeeze in a quick a non –

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Yeah, USAID question. Go for it.

QUESTION: It is related to South Asia. You are a part of the presidential delegation which went to India in November and then you – where you talked about the second green revolution with India. Can you give us a sense of what are the steps you are taking now for this year focus areas to take forward the statements that you made during that trip?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Sure. That was a very exciting program that we were able to launch as part of our Feed the Future effort to address hunger and poverty around the world. And one of the really unique attributes of that program was to recognize that India and Indian partners, innovators in technology and agricultural extension and agricultural science, had a lot of offer to other parts of the world, like Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of South Asia. So as a follow-up to that announcement and that program, we’re currently working with the Government of India to really bring the benefits of those programs to other parts of the world.

And what was really unique about that effort was it was both President Obama and Prime Minister Singh making a commitment to both focus on improving agricultural performance and therefore poverty and hunger reduction and India, but really finding those unique areas, whether using mobile phone-based extension systems or legume research, that where those types of efforts could make a big difference in Sub-Saharan Africa. And so that’s been the focus of our follow up from there. But thank you for asking.

QUESTION: And secondly, in Afghanistan and the drawdown troops —

MR. CROWLEY: We have to get him out of here. He’s got a meeting coming up. Quick.

QUESTION: Okay. As the drawdown of troops begins in July, is the USAID changing its strategy in implementing its programs there in Afghanistan?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Overall or in a particular area?

QUESTION: Yeah, overall. This transition starts in July there. Are you changing —

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Oh. Well, we’ve had a – we’ve actually gone through, over the course of the past two years, a pretty significant transformation of the civilian assistance program in Afghanistan to be highly coordinated with the military campaign and the military effort. So as, over time, transition occurs, our commitment to the civilian enterprise, to supporting farmers and providing health and education services and helping the government really stand up its own capacity to provide services, will continue in a very strong and continued way. So thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks, P.J.


Source: state.gov