About the Author: John Dickson is currently serving on the ground in Port-au-Prince, Haiti as a Public Diplomacy Director for the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
On February 13, a month and a day after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah came back to Haiti for the third time to meet with President Preval and his team as well as UN officials and NGO representatives. Dr. Shah was joined by General Doug Fraser, Commander of U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), charged with overseeing the U.S. military support for the humanitarian assistance/disaster relief. Dr. Shah and General Fraser traveled to a cash-for-work site outside of Port au Prince and met with their own teams to assess what has been accomplished to date, the immediate challenges ahead and the long-term road of reconstruction.
When asked about what has worked well, Dr. Shah said "It's sometimes hard to describe the successes because the needs are so tremendous. But this was the largest and most successful international search and rescue effort ever assembled in history. We've seen real progress with more than two million people served with food rations; with significant increases in water availability that meet humanitarian targets; and with health and medical interventions that range from immunization to prevent the spread of disease in the future and surgical capacities with literally thousands of surgeries being performed."
General Fraser referred to the role of the U.S. military evolving as capacity on the ground among Haitian and international organizations. He said numbers of U.S. troops have declined from a high of over 20,000 to 13,000 currently. He said that he would assess the roles for U.S. troops a "capacity standpoint, not necessarily a timeframe. So as capacity meets demands, then we'll look for transition."
One example of that transition took place Saturday, when members of the 82nd Expeditionary Unit of the U.S. Marines worked with Jordanian soldiers to deliver 904 bags of 100 pounds of rice at a food distribution site (see photo).