Whenever I tell a friend that I work on Haiti for the Department of State, the reaction is invariably the same. "That poor country... How much more can they take, and what are we doing to help them?" I understand that reaction, as it speaks to the serious problems that too often confront that small island nation. Before the earthquake, civil unrest, lack of education, limited access to health care and high unemployment were some of the issues that Haitians faced every day.
And then January 12, 2010, happened. In less than a minute, those problems immediately increased by an exponential degree. Buildings crumbled, more than 230,000 people were killed, more than 300,000 were injured, government buildings crumbled, and infrastructure was in ruins.
Last September, when I was asked to return to the Department of State from retirement to serve as Secretary Clinton's Haiti Special Coordinator, I knew the challenges would be many. In every sector and in every aspect of life in Haiti, the earthquake left behind a daunting task. How would this nation get back on its feet, and what could the U.S. government and the international community do to help shape that recovery in a sustainable way?
Very soon after the earthquake struck, we identified discrete areas upon which we would focus our assistance efforts. Those are infrastructure, governance and rule of law, food security and agriculture, and health. We've spent time and resources, both human and financial, rebuilding homes and schools, training police forces, feeding the hungry, and teaching sanitation and hygiene. We've made some progress, but there's much more left to do. We did this, and continue to do so, with the full involvement of the Government of Haiti, and in coordination with the international community through the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.
Americans are a generous, pragmatic and sometimes, an impatient lot, and it can be difficult to understand why progress in Haiti is slow. The reality is that even before the earthquake, Haiti was by far the poorest and least developed country in the Western Hemisphere. It will take a decade or more of strong, coordinated effort to make sustainable progress that will provide a strong foundation for Haiti's future, and to help get it to where it should and deserves to be.
Now that Haiti and the international community have worked through the first year of recovery, the coming year brings a set of new, and in some ways more difficult, challenges. A cholera epidemic and an electoral crisis have added to the mix. The Haitian people deserve a government that reflects their will and their votes. That government, once in power, must quickly get down to the task at hand -- establishing the procedures and implementing plans to make the country prosper. As we approach the one-year mark after that terrible day last January, we take the opportunity to remember the lives lost and those that were irreversibly changed. We also take this time to reaffirm our commitment to the people of Haiti, and to reaffirm our sincere belief that in the coming year, Haiti will continue along the path of reconstruction and renewal.
You can learn more about the international response to the Haiti earthquake and find out ways you can help here on state.gov.