Among the approximately 250,000 people lost in Haiti's devastating January 12 earthquake, more than 100 members of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), including several members of the mission's top leadership. The United Nations has identified the earthquake as the single greatest loss of life in the history of its operations. I recently traveled to Haiti with U.S. Air Force General Douglas Fraser, head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), where the United States is helping several countries to contribute troops and police personnel to a revitalized U.N. peacekeeping effort that is key to setting the stage for Haiti's long-term recovery.
As General Fraser and I landed in Port-au-Prince, I could see structures of all kinds damaged or collapsed, from shantytown homes to landmarks like the National Palace and the Caribbean Market. Millions of Haitians were left homeless in the aftermath of the earthquake and remain displaced. Many are now residing in a network of spontaneous settlements or have left Port-au-Prince to stay with family and friends outside of the city. Daily living conditions remain incredibly difficult for many, but the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and SOUTHCOM's Joint Task Force -- Haiti have been working intensively support relief efforts and improve camp safety in advance of the rainy season. These mitigation efforts, which include sandbagging, retaining wall construction, canal clearance, and other activities, have made conditions much safer for those who will likely remain sheltering in these settlements through the spring and summer as Haiti's recovery continues.
General Fraser and I began our visit with briefings on the recovery efforts from U.S. Ambassador Kenneth H. Merten, USAID Mission Director Carleene Dei and the U.S. Government's Haiti Response Coordinator Chris Milligan, as well as SOUTHCOM's Joint Task Force. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the United States deployed 22,000 military personnel to support relief efforts as part of America's commitment to provide urgently needed humanitarian aid to the people, Government, and MINUSTAH. Later this month, a team from the Louisiana National Guard will lead a SOUTHCOM “New Horizons” mission to help communities rebuild, as well as provide humanitarian aid and medical assistance to communities through the end of the summer.
We also met with Brazilian Army Major General Luiz Paul Cruz, MINUSTAH Force Commander and the nine U.S. military officers serving as MINUSTAH staff officers. Despite losing many personnel and being displaced from mission headquarters, MINUSTAH has continued its mission of maintaining a secure and stable environment throughout Haiti. MINUSTAH is playing a key role by providing security for internally displaced persons, clearing roads, removing rubble, and other vital tasks.
While much work remains ahead, I am proud of the role that the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs has played in supporting MINUSTAH through our Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI). GPOI is a U.S.-led initiative launched in 2005 that has trained and equipped more than 110,000 foreign peacekeepers from around the world. Almost 98,000 troops from GPOI partner countries have deployed to 20 U.N., African Union, and other regional peace support operations around the globe.
GPOI partners -- Bolivia, Guatemala, Jordan, Nepal, Nigeria, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, Sri Lanka, and Uruguay -- are currently deploying military troops or have formed police units in MINUSTAH. In addition, GPOI funds are being used to provide equipment to a Rwandan peacekeeping unit that will deploy to MINUSTAH in the coming weeks.
GPOI is an important part of our response to increased global demand for soldiers, police officers, and diplomats to serve on international peacekeeping missions to stabilize some of the world's most challenging hotspots. The United States has long been the world's top financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, providing on average more than one quarter of the international organization's budget to support more than 116,000 “blue helmets,” police, and civilians working to secure the peace and protect at-risk populations in nineteen peacekeeping missions around the world.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton have committed to strengthening America's support of international peacekeeping. Through stepped-up diplomatic efforts to mediate conflicts and strengthen UN peacekeeping capabilities, GPOI is ready now more than ever to do its part in the name of promoting peace and stability, in Haiti and beyond.