About the Author: Susan Reichle serves as USAID's Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance.
I first began working to promote development in Haiti as a Presidential Management Intern just one week after the country's coup d'etat on September 30, 1991. After the initial evacuation of our staff and stabilization of the situation, the embassy needed people to begin implementing our large humanitarian assistance program. Over the next three years, I spent almost 18 months on the ground, traveling around the country monitoring our extensive food aid program and designing and managing new programs to support education, civil society, human rights and justice at a time that they were desperately needed.
This work was immensely difficult. One of my closest counterparts, the Minister of Justice Guy Malary, was assassinated as we worked day and night to revive justice in Haiti. Despite the horrific oppression of the dictatorship of Raul Cedras, there was also a sense of hope that struck me as I traveled around the country. And I learned through my time there two tent-pole tenets of our work in Haiti: the U.S. government is firmly committed to Haiti's long-term development, and the Haitian people are incredibly strong and fiercely resilient.
I was reminded of these truisms throughout my trip to Haiti last week with Eric Schwartz, the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Migration, and Refugees. In conversations with everyone from junior information officers to Major General Simeon G. Trombitas, Commanding General of Joint Task Force-Haiti, I was struck by the deep commitment of all working on the ground with international and NGO partners in support of the Government of Haiti and the Haitian people to the long-term betterment and transformation of Haiti.
From USAID to the Department of State to the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Defense and the many others from different agencies who are here -- we are all committed to efficiently and effectively delivering American assistance to catalyze real change.
But even the most renowned international experts working in partnership with local professionals won't solve Haiti's problems overnight. This work will take generations. However, we're advancing one step at a time and with our international partners are addressing short-term problems in tandem with longer-term challenges.
In the lead-up to this spring's rainy season and in cooperation with the Joint Task Force-Haiti (JTF-Haiti), we've deployed extensive mitigation measures to protect the more than one million internally-displaced Haitians left homeless by the earthquake and now residing in spontaneous settlements around Port-au-Prince. This work includes canal clearance, retaining wall construction, slope stabilization, building of wash areas, gravel distribution, construction of sewer systems, light installation, and the identification of settlement residents who will be in eminent danger with the onslaught of the rainy season and whose safety depends on their relocation. JTF-Haiti played a critical role working with our civilian teams to accomplish these tasks and I was pleased to hear in meetings with NGOs and local partners on the ground that they appreciated the role the U.S. military played in supporting civilian efforts.
At the same time, we're working with the government of Haiti, the United Nations, and NGOs to encourage those in spontaneous settlements to return to their homes once they've been deemed safe, or "green” (approximately 43 percent of homes in the Port-au-Prince area). Along with our partners, we're considering a number of different proposals for how best to do this and at the same time ensure that those moving back have the psychosocial support and employment opportunities necessary to make this transition. An integrated approach including psychological, social, economic, and humanitarian support is essential for this process to move forward.
As we complete the transition from emergency response to long-term reconstruction we're also looking at where we want to focus our long-term efforts after the earthquake. After 50 years of work in Haiti, there are so many lessons that can help us maximize our investments in the future of Haiti. For example, the WINNER project, a USAID watershed management effort that covers a massive area north of Port-au-Prince, reflects best practices derived from project experience from USAID and other donors over the last 30 years. It's now the model for watershed methodology being used in Haiti and around the world by other donors. In the days following the earthquake, USAID signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the government of Haiti to dedicate 30,000 acres operated through WINNER to emergency food production in the coming months. And we're working closely with staff here on the ground to make sure that other projects respond to Haiti's evolving needs and have optimal impact and benefit.
Perhaps most importantly, WINNER was developed in close partnership with local agricultural experts and is now 100 percent led by Haitian managers. And just as we were working with them to rebuild Haiti's agricultural sector before the earthquake, we'll follow the government of Haiti's lead and partner with Haitians every step of the way in the coming months and years, including through the Interim Haiti Relief Commission, to not just repair the damage the earthquake caused, but even more importantly to improve on what existed before it struck.
January 12 brought an unfathomably tragic event that forever changed Haiti's landscape. The images of that day are indelibly seared into the memories of every Haitian and affected people across the globe as we came together in the race against time to save lives. More than half of all American families donated to the Haiti earthquake relief effort. The tremendous response to the disaster must now be continued during the recovery and reconstruction of Haiti.
After my trip last week, I was once again reminded of the true resilience of the Haitian spirit and the commitment of the international community. While tragedy has struck Haiti, I am confident that Haiti will achieve the vision of the late Justice Minister, Guy Malary, and so many other Haitians that have dedicated and sacrificed their lives to build a better Haiti for their children.