Cheryl Mills, Counselor and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah opened the State Department's daily press briefing today with commments on the upcoming one-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti.
Ms. Mills said: "...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."
She continued, "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."
Administrator Shah said, "...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."
On January 10, 2011, Haiti Special Coordinator Thomas Adams and InterAction President & CEO Sam Worthington will participate in a live webcast at 10:30 a.m. EST to discuss the way forward in Haiti. You can submit questions about Haiti to them in advance of the webcast here.