Press Briefing by USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah on the Earthquake in Haiti

Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Haiti Earthquake

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Hello. We've been working very hard, so this was a good chance to come together as a team to talk through some difficult issues and make sure we were living up to the President's expectations.

When the President charged us with responsibility for responding to the tragic crisis in Haiti after the earthquake, he charged us to have a swift and aggressive and coordinated response, and we've been doing that from the very beginning. Many of the departments represented in the room today sent people and assets and resources to Haiti almost immediately, with an effort in health, efforts in water and sanitation, efforts in agriculture and food, and a broad range of other federal emergency assets that could address this crisis.

Today was a chance to take stock of the performance and to make sure we were doing everything we possibly could to accelerate our efforts and do even better by reaching more people in Haiti with needed and critical supplies of food, water, shelter, and other critically needed items like medical kids and access to medical services.

We had a broad range of principals in the room. Secretary Napolitano spoke about the role that FEMA has played that has been critical in standing up the capacity to get urban search and rescue teams into the country. Urban search and rescue has been a phenomenal effort. There have been thousands of search and rescue professionals, more than 510 American search and rescue professionals that have saved over 70 lives. So it's been an extraordinary effort by a group of real heroes.

Secretary Sebelius spoke about the efforts of the Health and Human Services Department that has sent a series of disaster medical assistance teams, more than 260 health professionals that are now deployed on the ground providing medical services to meet the critical needs in Haiti.

Secretary Clinton spoke about her personal engagement with the President of Haiti and with leaders -- foreign ministers all around the world to make sure that this was a strong and coordinated response. And Ambassador Rice spoke about the critical efforts we're making to do this work in close coordination and partnership with the United Nations, the World Food Program, and all of the different U.N. agencies.

That's just a little bit of what we discussed, but I'd say the main point I would make is that we're very focused on doing a lot more every day than we did before. And in that context we are trying to do that with a great deal of focus. In water, for example, we now have 18 major water production units up and running, providing nearly 2 million liters a day of safe and purified water to the Haitian population. In addition to that, we're bringing in truck convoys of bottled water and water on trucks from the Dominican Republic into Haiti and distributing that throughout Port-au-Prince.

We have water coming in from the U.S. military, with bottled-water distribution and some helicopter-based distribution of food and water as well.

Food is another sector where we are clearly doing more every single day. We've already deployed 600,000 humanitarian daily rations and are working to secure and provide nearly 17 million MREs, meals ready to eat, which was the request from the World Food Program. In addition to that we've procured a significant amount of food assistance, including purchasing local rice, 6,500 tons of local rice so we can make sure that the Haitian population has access to adequate food.

We could go through a number of other sectors -- in fuel and energy -- but that was the tone of the conversation, was around are we doing more every single day, because that is what it will take to meet the President's high expectations.

QUESTION: Why hasn't the Pentagon set up Army field hospitals like the Israelis have? And are there plans to do that?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: We've been working in close coordination with a lot of different donors. We have disaster medical assistance teams. We're sending medical supplies to some of the existing hospitals that are operable and that are working. And tomorrow the USS Comfort will arrive. That is a major hospital and medical facility with the capacity to work with 1,000 patients. So we are aggressively putting all of these resources there so that we can make sure we're providing health and medical services very broadly to the entire health system there.

QUESTION: When are you hearing that this effort might turn from search and rescue towards full humanitarian?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, I just want to point out and highlight the heroism of our search and rescue teams. Our Fairfax, Virginia, team was the first team to get into Haiti. They coordinated the effort for so many other teams that came from all around the world. Our search and rescue teams actually just recently had yet another rescue today -- I think just a few hours ago.

So they're going to keep working and they're going to keep searching because, you know, I think the woman that was pulled out yesterday afternoon had her husband and her daughter right there, she was a 50-year-old Haitian woman pulled out of the rubble after six days, and the whole crowd started singing and chanting "USA." And I think it's a great example of what can be done with their persistence and commitment. So they're still on a rescue mission.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, the planning principles are basically to make sure that things we do collectively as an international community to support the relief effort are as sustainable as possible. And so water is a good example. Our preference is to support local production and purification and distribution of water as opposed to bringing in water from the outside.

We are bringing in -- I think 70,000 bottles have already been distributed of outside water, but the main effort is around creating sustainable local production. Our estimates in Port-Au-Prince are that the current production levels are about 8 million liters a day, so we want to get that up significantly. And that's what it will take to create the conditions so that we don't need external assistance in the current form.

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