Thursday, January 14, 2010

Briefing On the Situation in Haiti

Cheryl Mills - Counselor
USAID Administrator Raj Shah
Department Spokesman Gordon Duguid
Washington, DC - January 14, 2010

MR. DUGUID: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We have with us today Cheryl Mills, who is the Counselor to the State Department and the Chief of Staff, and Raj Shah, who is the USAID Administrator, for a briefing on U.S. efforts on Haiti. We have a brief window here today, so we will go straight to our first speaker, Ms. Mills.

MS. MILLS: Thank you so much.

Good afternoon. We just wanted to provide an update and we’ll gladly take your questions. So I’m just going to make a few brief remarks. First of all, we are continuing to see the quite challenging situation that’s on the ground in Haiti, and our thoughts and prayers are continuing to go out to so many of the Haitian people and our families and others who are there. And it is a quite, quite devastating situation. And with more visibility on it, we are seeing the scope and breadth of this, and it is quite challenging.

As the President has said, we are committed to a swift and coordinated response, a very aggressive one, and that is what we actually have been putting on the ground. A lot of our assets have hit the ground now and we are actually being able to go about the efforts of searching and rescuing individuals as well as making the kinds of assessments and the kinds of arrangements for bringing in the kind of resources we need to have to be able to ensure we can be as impactful as possible. And my colleague, Administrator Shah, will spend some time discussing that.

We have a whole-of-government approach. We have had several meetings with the President where all of the various agencies have been represented and have spoken directly to the issues. And he’s made clear what a top priority this is, and to ensure that in the end the Haitian people get the kind of support and the kind of response that’s going to be necessary, given the direness of the situation.

We’ve been in touch with Prime Minister Bellerive today. Our Ambassador Ken Merten met with him earlier today and is now going to be meeting with him again this afternoon. The Haitian Government and Prime Minister Bellerive had indicated they are beginning to be in a place where they can be more effective and being partners in the planning and the coordination for the disaster response, and they are looking forward to – now that they have been dealing with a lot of, obviously, the challenging situations and personal situations, to being able to provide that leadership. So we’re looking forward to supporting them and ensuring that they have the necessary communication and other equipment and other things that they need to be able to provide the leadership to the Haitian people.

I just would like to say with respect to American citizens there, we are continuing our efforts to ensure that we are providing appropriate support. And for those individuals who are electing to return home, we are providing passage for them to do so. To date, we anticipate there might be about 300 people who would be traveling back today. Other than that, we are not seeing a large number of individuals who’ve indicated a desire to actually leave. People who are actually staying and being supportive and helpful. And also, since so many of the citizens who are there or obviously make their lives there in Haiti are continuing to see how they can best continue with the community that they are a part of.

I just would want to make one note. We have been getting a lot of offers for in-kind donations, everything from planes to goods. To the extent that those kinds of donations are being offered, it would be great if people would make those through That’s the Center for the International Disaster Information. And they can provide both guidance and coordination with respect to those.

So with that, I will turn it over to my colleague, Administrator Shah.

MR. SHAH: Great. Thank you. I would echo Cheryl’s comments that upon learning about what we were able to survey and getting a better understanding of the extent of the damage, it is a tragic situation. We’re in a position where we’re learning every minute a little bit more information about which roads are passable, which buildings are in which condition. But it is – it’s a dramatic situation and one that is – continues to be a challenge for our teams to move around and to do the work that we hope they can do.

Nevertheless, we’ve been mounting a swift and aggressive response, and we’ve been doing that in coordination with the Department of Defense, with the Department of State, and with a number of other major assets and entities of the federal government.

We have – our first wave of responders are now on the ground as – and have been actively engaged in search-and-rescue since last night. That’s – since yesterday afternoon, actually, the Fairfax, Virginia urban search-and-rescue team, with all of its capacities, and 72 professionals, have been active now for more than 24 hours. They’ve identified a number of buildings, done a lot of surveying for us, and are also serving as a point of coordination, helping to work with the Haitian Government and with the United Nations and with other countries that are bringing search-and-rescue gear, equipment, and professionals to this problem.

We have more than 250 American relief workers actively engaged that have been just a part of the recent deployment. That number is increasing significantly as we speak as planes land at the airport that has now been operationalized as a 24/7 airlift operation.

We have coordinated engagement with a number of other partners, partners from Canada and the UK, Belgium, and others to make sure that we are deploying our assets in an effective way.

There are more than eight urban search-and-rescue teams actively working. I mentioned the Fairfax team. We have a team from Los Angeles that has been working today, and multiple teams coming from Miami as well that are in the process of doing their work.

We have – we’ve been doing a number of things in the areas of health and medical planning and work. The United States Agency for International Development has a long history of working with a range of nonprofit partners and contract partners in Haiti that have been actively involved in providing medical care and medical services to the Haitian population. We are activating that network and exploring how we can expand on their capacities and capabilities to provide access to medical care, trauma services. We’re looking at bringing in direct emergency medical assistance teams that will be on the ground there very shortly and that will be able to provide the kind of tertiary trauma support that’s, of course, needed.

And we’re making active plans for the transport of food and water and other critically needed commodities – tarps, other kind of equipment that can help enable greater access to shelter for both – for the Haitian people that have suffered in this terrible tragedy.

All of this is taking place as we speak and is accelerating quite significantly. It really does amount to the first wave of response. There’s a second wave, of course, that the President alluded to earlier today that we have a significant military capacity, a number of resources from the 82nd Airborne, the USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier, and the Comfort U.S. hospital ship. Those assets will be deployed and are on their way to being engaged in this effort. So this will be a significant effort that is really about trying to, first, save lives in this first critical 72-hour period, then lay the groundwork for providing access to critically needed commodities – medical services, food, water, water purification – and then lay the groundwork for rebuilding.

So the teams are there. They’re working hard. I want to thank, in particular, the Fairfax, Virginia team that was the first team on the ground doing this work and took great risks, but has had some early successes.


MR. DUGUID: I think we have about seven minutes for questions, so please keep them brief, and we will try and get as many as we can.

Matthew and then Kirit.

QUESTION: Yeah. I’ll keep it very short. Just two things. One, is there any update on American casualties? And two, P.J. said this morning that, quote, “We’re not taking over Haiti.” And yet the President has made it very clear that this is going to be – that you’re taking – basically, you’re taking ownership of this crisis. And so I’m wondering who exactly is in charge of the civilian side? Who’s in charge of the military side? Are you, Administrator Shah, are you going to be the Paul Bremer of Haiti or is this going to be done somehow differently?

MS. MILLS: Let me address part of that, and obviously, I’ll let my colleague Administrator Shah speak for the questions that you put in.

With American casualties, we are still obviously continuing to do our search. We are at an instance where we at least know of one of instance of an American casualty. We are continuing to be working through the rubble for others, and so we are hopeful. At this point, we still have several Americans that are unaccounted for of which we are aware at this time, and several folks who are USG that are unaccounted for, so we’re going to continue our search. And once we have a more specific update, we will actually provide one, likely by the end of the day.

I do think I want to say one thing with respect to Haiti, having spent a fair amount of time there in the last nine months. I mean, the Haitians are a very proud people, and properly so. More particularly, this is a government that is committed to providing the kind of partnership that would be necessary to be effective with an international community. This is a president who actually did have a prime minister and a team that provided a plan for how Haiti could be rebuilt after the hurricanes, and more particularly how Haiti could also go about seeing the kind of vast economic growth that it should see.

I am confident that this government is not looking for the United States to take over. They are looking for a good partner. And we are confident that we will be that partner and that we will provide the kind of leadership that’s necessary to support and bring together the communities that are out there wishing to help. But we have no intention of supplanting the leadership of Haiti. And indeed, we actually see our role as ensuring that the leadership of Haiti is able to provide the leadership that the Haitian people properly expect them to provide.

QUESTION: Just to interrupt, one thing to clarify. You said one casualty. Do you mean fatality?

MS. MILLS: The person is no longer alive, yes.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Yeah. I would just echo that comment that I think we have, example after example – we’re working in partnership with the Haitian Government, with the people of Haiti, with the United Nations. Much of early search and rescue, some of our overnight capacities were engaged in the UN compound and in rescue efforts there. We’ve been working with – on government sites. We’ve also – we’ve been meeting regularly and communicating regularly with members of the government. Our task team leader, our DART team leader, the Disaster Assistance Response Team, is very engaged working with the Embassy, the ambassador, and with members of the Haitian Government to make sure we do coordinate our efforts very closely.

But there are some unique things we can provide at this time of crisis and this time of need. So for example, part of that Fairfax team has been sitting at the airport and helping as other search-and-rescue teams come in, provide communications, equipment, and information to those teams, pointing them towards parts of Port-au-Prince that have not yet had search-and-rescue teams working there. And they can do that because they’re connected to our larger response effort. That’s all done in coordination with the Haitian Government and with Haitian partners. But those are unique things that we are able to do, and we’re committed to doing everything we can do to really help stand up an effective and aggressive response.

MR. DUGUID: Thank you. Kirit Radia, ABC News.

QUESTION: Hi. Kirit with ABC. I was curious what your plan is with this amount of aid that’s backed up at the airport right now. It seems that a lot of the roads are blocked. Can you tell – gives us an assessment from your DART teams whether those are starting to open up, how you’re planning on getting this aid out to the affected areas? It seems from the reports we’re hearing that it’s all kind of concentrated in one place right now.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, while the airport is the primary way to get people and technical capacity and equipment in, we do have – the Southern Command is operating the airport together with the Haitian Government and is running it around the clock so that we’re maximizing our ability to get planes in there to unload them and to move them forward. There are going to be times when things do get jammed up there, but we’re moving them as fast as we possibly can. We are also looking at a range of other strategies for making sure that we get things from the airport out into town fast, get the teams deployed as quickly as possible.

Many of the urban search-and-rescue teams come with their own capabilities to get around and to be self-sustaining, and so that’s important in this first 72-hour period, because you obviously want them deployed as quickly as possible. But we have teams working on that. And we feel confident that we can get that done in the next few – in the next day and a half, get as many more search-and-rescue assets engaged in that effort while we still have time to save lives.

QUESTION: Not necessarily search and rescue – I think that the aid is just sitting there still. I mean, how do you get that out? That’s my question. It’s not the search and rescue. The actual pallets of aid that are arriving off all these ships from all the –


QUESTION: -- different countries is just sitting there.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, so part of it is it depends on which commodities we’re talking about. Our team leader and our Disaster Assistance Response Team have identified a set of priority needs and priority commodities. Those things are actually flowing into – per their surveying, are getting out there quite quickly. There are lot of things that are coming that aren’t – that weren’t – that are coming from other countries, coming from other sources that are there that will become part of that supply chain, but are not currently part of that supply chain.

It’s one of the reasons why it’s actually for people willing to give and the generosity of the American people is best displayed by giving cash at this point. That’s the most effective way to provide individual support, and there are a number of different ways to do that.

MR. DUGUID: We have time for one more question. Michele.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask Cheryl about the United Nations mission – I mean, what it was able to accomplish leading up to this, and how do you help the UN rebuild what it had?

MS. MILLS: Well, I think one of the things that has been very successful that the UN and Haiti had done, and certainly MINUSTAH, had been in providing the kind of security and stability that allowed the kind of progress that we were seeing in Haiti. And I think in a lot of ways, one of the things that we are grateful for is that we have the commander from MINUSTAH back in Haiti now and is able to actually deploy his teams in a way that actually reminds the civilians that are there that we actually have the support and capacity to be able to help.

I do think that as a general matter, there are so many things that Haitians themselves were actually already beginning to do – they had been successful in beginning to attract investment and actually to stand up the kinds of resources and arrangements that would actually make it attractive for individuals to decide that they would start investing in Haiti. And so that’s one of the things we want to continue to pay attention to and be thoughtful about. Because certainly now in this – what will ultimately become in the long term a rebuilding exercise, it’s going to be critical to make sure that the investments and the investors who had been looking at Haiti appreciate now more than ever the kind of support that’s going to be necessary.

Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: No, I would just echo that I think – the one thing I would add is as we’re doing this overall, we’re trying to be very conscious of putting in place resources and assets that meet the immediate need and also will be appropriate and sustainable for the Haitian people. We want to do things now that will help create the basis of effective service provision and effective rebuilding of part of this society, so that’s something we’re taking very seriously.

MR. DUGUID: Thank you, Ms. Mills. Thank you, Administrator Shah. That’s all the time we have at this point, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for coming to the State Department today.

# # # PRN: 2010/054

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