On-The-Record Briefing by State Department Counselor Cheryl Mills and USAID Administrator Raj Shah - The Situation in Haiti, 15 Jan 2010

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U.S. Department of State

Washington, D.C.

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Today, food, water, shelter, and medical support are all flowing to Haiti. The arrival of the USS Carl Vinson allows us to expand our ability to deliver this vital assistance to the people of Haiti. And as we are delivering that assistance, we are bringing more and more Americans from Haiti out from the island. But even as we are focused on this disaster response, we are also focused on the longer term - how to sustain this relief operation over weeks and months, and how ultimately the United States, working with the international community, will help Haiti rebuild.

But to provide some perspective on what we're facing today, but also to give you a sense of the longer-term challenges, we again have Cheryl Mills, our Counselor to the Secretary of State, as well as our able Administrator Raj Shah. We'll start with Cheryl.

MS. MILLS: Thank you so much. Good morning, now almost afternoon, I believe. First of all, I want to just start out by saying that our commitment, the United States commitment to Haiti, is a long and deep one. And it is one that President Obama spoke about, is not only going to be in their hour of need, but is going to be for the long term.

And that's something that President Obama just reiterated in a 30-minute conversation he had with President Preval shortly ago. They spoke for quite some time and they spoke about not only the need for the immediate recovery, but also the need for the long-term rebuilding. That's something that Secretary Clinton has been focused on for quite some time here at the State Department - the commitment to being a partner with Haiti as they were building towards economic growth and sustainability.

We've been focused on that primarily because Haiti is not only our neighbor, but also we have a unique and special relationship with Haiti, and the needs in Haiti have always been needs that have been larger than the needs that you would anticipate in such a small space. And so we had been focused on thinking about how we could ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of their agriculture, of their energy, and of their health sectors in addition to being effective partners with them as they thought about their justice sectors. And we are going to continue to think in this moment of crisis about how, as we build and rebuild for the long term, that we do it cognizant of the ways in which we can catalyze the kind of economic and sustainable growth that is rightfully part of Haiti's future. And so that is a commitment that we will continue.

We have been coordinating very closely with the Haitian Government. Our ambassador has been in touch with President Preval and Prime Minister Bellerive. They have met several times yesterday. They are meeting again today, have already had one meeting, will be meeting again. That regular contact is allowing the kinds of things that need to get done and the kind of leadership that the Haitian Government is able to assert to ensure that we are acting consistent with not only the immediate goals and needs, but also that we are working in a partnership with the international community in a way that ensures the kind of coordination that is critical at this moment, given the number of countries, the number of disaster assistance relief organizations, and the number of people who are on the ground who both are in need and are providing support.

The UN has arrived with their new UN leadership who we are closely coordinating with and who we are committed to supporting in their role both in disaster assistance and in the role that they provide in providing long-term security in Haiti. MINUSTAH has been there for quite some time. We're committed to providing whatever support, but our military who is there are there on a humanitarian and a relief mission, and we are quite clear about that.

The Secretary also called today to express her condolences to the family of Victoria DeLong, who was a Foreign Service officer who lost her life in this terrible, terrible situation. We are, of course, very deeply saddened not only by her loss, but the many, many losses of lives of Haitians and so many others who have - were in Haiti at the time that the earthquake struck.

I want to just take a moment and say thank you to the American people who have been unrelenting in the amount of support that they have shown with respect to a portal that we set up for donations to be made. That portal is for those individuals who want to text Haiti, H-a-i-t-i, and dash - and you do that by dashing - dash 90999. That portal has raised more than $9 million to date for the Red Cross, and we are hopeful that that money will be put to great use on behalf of the Haitian people. We want to thank everybody who has already been making those commitments and encourage others to do so because it provides the maximum flexibility for addressing the needs that the Haitians have on the ground right now.

So to speak further about that, I'm going to turn to my colleague, Ambassador Raj Shah.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Hello. I wanted to provide an update building on the points just raised. Of course, the conversation the President had with President Preval is a clear demonstration of the partnership that we have at that level and at all levels. Many of our disaster assistance response leaders on the ground have had continual contact with different ministries in the Haitian Government, with different levels of government there, and with their United Nations colleagues so that we pursue our work in a swift and aggressive and coordinated manner.

I wanted to provide an update on the leadership of our work in Haiti, on our search-and-rescue efforts, and then introduce the major components of our relief operation. Our disaster assistance response team, led by Tim Callahan, is in the process of doubling in size. We're bolstering its capabilities to use satellite imagery and improve its planning capacities to make sure that it has the resources and the capacities to really help be strategic and targeted about putting assets and putting commodities in the hands of the nonprofit organizations and other types of entities on the ground that can deliver those services to people and that we can map that in an effective way and make sure we're covering affected areas in a broad and effective manner.

Our urban search-and-rescue teams, there are now 24 total teams on the ground actively engaged in search-and-rescue. Most of these teams have between 70 and 80 individuals and are fully equipped. Four of those teams are from the United States. Of course, our Fairfax, Virginia team was the first one on the ground and has been actively providing service support and leadership to make sure this effort is coordinated and effective.

We continue to send additional capabilities and will continue to send teams, but our belief is now that there is a significant urban search-and-rescue effort underway. And it is still attempting to save lives. There is still an important open window of time - today, tonight, and perhaps even parts of tomorrow - when we have the ability to save lives - Haitian lives, American lives, and the lives of partner government and people that are there on the ground.

We are also mounting today a major relief operation. This, of course, has been in planning and works for - since the beginning of this crisis. The United States is mounting this operation in close coordination between the FEMA, the USAID, a number of other civilian agencies, and the Department of Defense, that as the President noted, is today - now has the aircraft carrier, the Vinson, there. And that will dramatically improve our capabilities to provide critically needed commodities and service support to the NGO partners and to other partners and directly to the Haitian public, as necessary.

There are a few important principles of this relief operation that I wanted to highlight. Our first and foremost goal is to meet basic needs: food, water, shelter, blankets, tarps. Those are the types of things that we are focused on meeting in a sustainable and effective way.

Second, as with our urban search-and-rescue operation, we want this operation to be deeply coordinated, both across civilian and military assets of the United States and, even more important, across all of the different relief efforts that are taking place with other countries and other organizations. So we've been actively engaged in staying connected with those partners.

Third, we want this to be the groundwork for a sustainable redevelopment of Haiti and of Port-au-Prince. As the counselor has mentioned, we've had a longstanding and important relationship with Haiti with significant financial flows and significant partnerships to improve the development and health outcomes for that population. So we want to do things now that lay the groundwork for being effective in that area in the future.

And fourth, we really do want people thinking out of the box. In this next few days, we are confident that we'll be able to provide the traditional channels of distribution, the NGO partners and the other humanitarian relief partners with enough commodities and support to saturate their basic distribution capacities given the limited capacities that so many partners have in this current context. We are working with those partners and trying to ask - and we want to thank so many of them for really being creative in thinking about how they might do things differently to expand their reach and expand their ability to reach affected populations. And that will continue to be very important to make sure we have the broadest reach possible.

I'd like to run through a few quick numbers to provide a sense of scale. On food, we already have mobilized and have en route 600,000 humanitarian daily rations. These will be provided via the aircraft carrier as the mechanism of entry. In addition, we are mobilizing - we have mobilized $48 million worth of food assistance. This will be enough food assistance to provide several months of food for the affected population of 2 million individuals. And in addition to that, we're continuing to work with the World Food Program and a range of other partners to mobilize even greater commodities of food and items of food and different capacities to improve local milling efforts and other efforts to make sure that Haiti has the food it needs now and into the near future.

On water, we are in the process of mobilizing 100,000 10-liter containers, collapsible containers, so that people can access potable water and we can prevent some of the challenges that will occur if that is limited, especially in the area of public health. We believe 20,000 of those will arrive today as part of the initial lift of commodities that is on its way.

We have four major water purification systems identified, plus the water purification and production capacities of the military assets, the ships that will be there. So we are confident we'll be able to improve the situation in terms of access to potable water. We have six more that have been identified and* other storage and warehouse facilities that USAID manages around the world, and we're mobilizing those to be able to enter Haiti as soon as possible.

And finally, we're working aggressively on a range of other commodity categories like shelter, blankets, and tarps, and working with our partners on the ground to identify how those can best be deployed. But we are confident we'll have the ability to send significant commodities, significant materials, and significant supplies, and we are working with our partners to identify the very best ways to make sure they're distributed to an affected population.

Thank you.