Independent Review of the U.S. Government Response to the Haiti Earthquake - Final Report

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
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  1. Executive Summary

On 12 January 2010, the deadliest natural disaster in modern history occurred in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a 7.0 magnitude earthquake affected over 2 million people, displacing 1.6 million, injuring 300,000 and killing 230,000. Many reasons have been identified as to why the earthquake caused such extensive damage. First and foremost, the Government of Haiti (GOH) lacked the capacity and resources to mount a swift and effective response after the event – a consequence of being one of the poorest countries in the world. In addition, lack of building codes and absence of building regulation enforcement led to the collapse of many key government and private buildings, as well as thousands of homes. Haiti is very prone to natural disasters and has suffered major human and material losses from storms, floods, and droughts in the last decade.

Haiti’s geographical and political importance to America led to an unprecedented response by the United States Government (USG), supported by the international community who reacted from far and near. The day after the earthquake, the President of the United States asked for a “whole of government” response, mobilizing many agencies and departments in the response.
In addition to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Department of State (DOS), the standard responders in international disasters, many other U.S. agencies weighed in with management personnel, equipment, special expertise, and other forms of support. Many individuals, starting from the highest levels, devoted themselves to the intervention, working around the clock without respite and well beyond the call of duty. The human tragedy brought out the best in the government team, where all involved were fully and sincerely engaged in doing their best to help the beleaguered Haitian community. These efforts were unequivocally extraordinary in their scope, commitment, and compassion. Whatever mistakes were made or inefficiencies generated in the process were clearly largely due to the unprecedented nature of this exercise.

The ultimate objective of the study is to improve the U.S. Government response to global catastrophes by informing decision makers about the strengths and shortcomings of the Haiti response, and by offering recommendations about how best to organize response to major humanitarian crises. The scope of the study focused on the U.S. Government’s relief and assistance to the Haitian Government and people in responding to the disaster. Due to the circumstances surrounding the magnitude of the earthquake and the location of the epicenter, additional humanitarian and diplomatic lines of effort were required by the U.S. Government, including: providing assistance to the U.S. Embassy community; providing assistance to American citizens; and assuring general security and stability were maintained in Haiti. While this study does not review the additional lines of effort, it does take into consideration its effect on the broader U.S. relief and recovery assistance provided in Haiti.

The aim of this review was to examine three broad areas of action primarily related to relief and recovery assistance to the Haitian Government and people: (1) internal U.S. Government coordination; (2) partner coordination; and (3) response effectiveness. The timeframe of the report is from the date of the event, 12 January, through 30 June 2010. All data collected and analyzed correspond to this timeframe. The report draws on more than one hundred and fifty interviews and several hundred documents to identify lessons learned in the first six months of the response. Many of these lessons are shortcomings and need changes in the system, but many are successes. If the report focuses on the shortcomings, it is to learn from mistakes and make the management of catastrophes a little easier in the future than it was this time around.