1:00 p.m. EST
Mr. Weisenfeld: Thanks for coming. It’s nice to be here.
I thought I’d just talk for a couple of minutes to set some context, although I expect that since you guys are reporters and you’re covering the issues in Haiti you’re probably already very knowledgeable, and I’m sure there’s a lot of press coverage that’s happened in the last week or so given the six months anniversary.
Obviously we, the United States government, USAID as principal agency in charge of the humanitarian response, continue to have a very important focus on the ongoing humanitarian events in Haiti. We are extremely focused, as well, on planning for the reconstruction effort.
I think everyone knows the statistics. The disaster in Haiti’s of a magnitude that we haven’t seen in terms of destruction of a capital city since World War II, frankly, with the large numbers of deaths, over 230,000 people dead; two million displaced; 28 or 29 government ministries destroyed; and figures for civil service deaths, which vary a lot. The papers tend to report around 17 percent. The closest we could figure out is it’s between 10 and 20 percent, but even at the low end to lose 10 percent of the civil service work force is just kind of a devastating impact on any kind of government. And Haiti was a country that, as we all know, was the poorest country in the hemisphere before this, which dealt with weaknesses in the capacity of the government to deliver services to people around the country. So that kind of devastation in a country that was that poor, that is an overwhelming and daunting challenge.
The immediate humanitarian response, nonetheless we feel pretty good about the immediate humanitarian response. When I say we, I really speak for the international community because the United States was one player in it. We were obviously a very large player because there was a large presence of the U.S. military, and USAID was designated by President Obama as the lead federal agency. We designated Administrator Rajiv Shah to take the lead in coordinating a whole of government effort. Given the magnitude of the disaster, we really did feel that it was necessary to bring the full capacities of the United States from a variety of agencies to bear.
I know there’s been a lot of press. We’ve gotten some good press on the results, I think. It’s easy to see that the needs and the challenges are enormous, but I think the press coverage has recognized some of what we’d like to highlight in that there was no subsequent disaster, major deaths from a disease outbreak. The delivery of water and potable water in Haiti is now better than it was before the earthquake. We’ve seen diarrheal diseases down 12 percent below the pre-earthquake level. We’ve done the largest distribution of emergency shelter in an urban setting ever in the history in Haiti. We’ve vaccinated more than a million people. And despite some concerns about outbreaks of violence, the situation has been relatively calm and stable. There has been some violence and it’s certainly worrying, some of the individual cases of violence, but we’ve seen a stable political and stable security situation in a context where you have 1.6 million people, more or less, displaced in Port-au-Prince, and another 400,000 to 600,000 people who left Port-au-Prince. I think those are significant accomplishments. Nonetheless, we’ve seen lots of reasons to maintain an important focus.
Again, the media has provided good coverage about the fact that we are already in the hurricane season, and any kind of major storm passing through the city of Port-au-Prince when you have a displaced population that large is extremely worrisome, so we’re very concerned about that. We’ve made major efforts to do a number of things worrying about that. One is back in April through working in conjunction with the UN agencies and our Department of Defense colleagues who were still there back in April, we supported an effort to identify the displaced camps that were most at risk for flooding and landslides, and physically moved about 7500 people to essentially higher ground, and did a series of mitigating actions or engineering fixes in a variety of camps, about 20 total, to reduce the risk for floods and landslides.
I think in Port-au-Prince in particular, when you get hurricanes the winds tend not to be that strong in Port-au-Prince. What most people die from in Port-au-Prince is the rains and the floods. So the concern has been directed at leveling ground, distributing gravel, clearing drainage canals, building ditches so that water can be channeled, so that we reduce the risks of flood. It was a large effort and a lot of money has been spent on that, and that’s an ongoing effort. We’re still continuing that to this day in additional camps, and we’ll remain focused on that.
As we also are trying to get people into shelters. That obviously is the better medium to long term solution, getting people into shelters.
I also mentioned we’re very focused on planning for the reconstruction effort. From the magnitude of the damage it’s obvious that it’s going to be a multi-year effort to reconstruct Port-au-Prince, and to turn Haiti into, the phrase that’s used often is to build back better. So to build Haiti back better is an effort that’s going to take a number of years. So we’re extremely focused on doing that and looking at doing it in support of the government of Haiti.
I think it’s key to us that if we’re going to have sustainability, we have to work through Haitian institutions which require strengthening them. Obviously it’s been weakened tremendously by this earthquake, so at the same time that we implement reconstruction programs, we need to strengthen government institutions so that we can work through them.
And get in the modern technology. We want to look at ways in which we can use new technologies to do things in a more innovative way to help Haiti leapfrog its current technological status and look for ways where we can have a higher impact. I’d just cite one example. One of the programs we launched recently is a mobile banking initiative that we did in conjunction with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation where we’re setting up a fund to incentivize the first operator who can set up a working mobile banking system. We’ve seen that work in other countries, in Kenya, in the Philippines most notably, and Haiti is a country where prior to the earthquake 90 percent of Haitians never had access to banking services or never used a bank. But Haitians have large access to mobile phones. So if we can use that technology to provide them with access to basic banking services, that’s an example of how we can have a high impact effort using innovative modern technology to help Haiti leapfrog and improve -- If people have banking services and they can make payments easier and start to save money it reduces costs and improves the efficiency of the system and basically helps people advance more economically.
I’ve been talking longer than I wanted to. I want to make sure we can make this an interchange, but I hope that gives you a little bit of the context. Obviously we want to make this useful for you so I’m interested to hear what your questions are so we can focus on what you want to hear.
Ms. Schott: Sonia Schott, Globovision, Venezuela.
There have been so many outspoken voices regarding the aid and corruption and a lot of things to do in Haiti for six months. How do you respond to that?
Mr. Weisenfeld: Outspoken voices about aid and corruption?
Ms. Schott: Yeah. That the aid is not reaching the points that it has to reach in Haiti. So some people are a little bit disappointed after six months. They are not seeing results.
Mr. Weisenfeld: I think a lot of the outspoken voices or a lot of the press coverage has said that much of the money, what you see is the money that was pledged in the donor’s conference at the end of March hasn’t been disbursed. I think what’s missing from that picture is just from the United States’ perspective, the larger international perspective but speaking from the United States for a minute, we’ve spent in terms of ongoing humanitarian programs, we are in the process of continuing to spend over $800 million on the types of activities I described -- vaccinations, water provision. We did massive general food distribution which, again, was the largest food distribution ever in an urban setting. The provision of temporary shelters, all of the mitigation work in the camps I talked about to make sure that people are not subject to floods. That’s a massive ongoing effort. I hate to repeat myself, but remember when you have the largest numbers of urban displaced people ever, the effort to make sure that there is no disease, that there’s no viral outbreak, the massive effort has really been consuming for the international community. When people talk about well, X money hasn’t been spent, I think it’s important to recognize that there’s enormous effort that’s ongoing to ensure that we don’t have another major humanitarian disaster to deal with.
In terms of future programs, we in the United States are on top of the humanitarian effort, we’re spending over $100 million, about $175 million in programs to kick-start the reconstruction effort. I know other donors are spending large amounts, too.
Our funding is not, the pledged funding, the United States in the donor’s conference pledged $1.15 billion, and that was submitted by the Obama administration in a supplemental budget request to the U.S. Congress. So we’re in the process of working with the Congress to get that legislation passed, and we hope to receive that supplemental funding soon.
So it’s true that that supplemental funding is not being spent, but in the interim we have the ongoing humanitarian resources that are enormous, and then we have out of our base yearly budget, we had this $175 million that we’re spending in programs, as I said, to kick-start the program efforts. The kinds of things we’re doing with that, we did a major distribution of feeds and fertilizer to make sure that the Haitian farmers could continue to plant their crops and the country wouldn’t spiral down into a cycle of food insecurity. We’re doing assistance to a lot of the settlement assistance to a lot of the internally displaced people is being done through that. We’re doing what we call transitional houses where if you provide -- It’s more than the plastic tarp that’s used for emergency shelter. You provide a shell with a roof and a floor that can be improved over time. That does affect people [inaudible]. We provided funding for at least 7,500 of those transitional houses. So far we’ve got about 3,000 on the ground. The international community has about 5,000, 2,000 of which are ours. So there’s a major effort in transitional houses.
We’ve been doing, another large effort of ours -- again thinking about displaced people and the impact of hurricanes --
Ms. Schott: [Inaudible] or it is --
Mr. Weisenfeld: I should be clear. For transitional housing, the international community including the U.S. has done about 5,000 transitional houses have been erected. The United States, USAID’s portion of that is about 3,000, a little over 3,000.
Just focusing on USAID for a minute, the assessment of the current housing and building stock is also a major effort. One of the things that we assumed in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, given the extent of the destruction which most people thought most of the people who were displaced would need new houses. What we started to do, what we’ve been doing for several months now is habitability sections. We’re funding engineers who are training Haitian engineers and working with the relevant Minister in Haiti to assess the structures of the buildings. We’ve already paid for the assessment of 170,000 houses and buildings, and 46 percent of those have been assessed as habitable. That’s a very pleasant surprise. We did not imagine early on that that extent, that a number that high would be immediately habitable. So as everyone worries about large numbers who need to have houses constructed, that’s a large number who can already go back to their houses.
Twenty-three percent we’re categorizing the houses as green, yellow or red. Green, immediately available for occupation, we determined the structural state by engineers; yellow are houses that can be repaired at minimal cost within a few days and can be habitable, and that’s another 23 percent. So that’s already 69 percent of the housing stock can be habitable. And once we realized that, about three weeks ago we did another grant with an organization to start repairs on houses, and we’re seeing some houses being repaired for as little as $300; the average is closer to $1,000. So getting that work done and getting people to move back to the community is going to be a large effort. That combined with transitional housing efforts should get a large number of people back to their houses. When you’re talking about 1.5 million people, that’s a large number of people. So we’re only beginning to scratch the surface.
Sorry, a long answer to a short question.
Ms. Schott: It’s okay.
The first part was the humanitarian need and now it is reconstruction. Are they paying for [inaudible]?
Mr. Weisenfeld: I don’t have the list off the top of my head. Certainly fewer. I would qualify what you said by saying that in a normal humanitarian disaster there is a brighter line between the humanitarian and the reconstruction phase. That’s not really the case here. As long as we have the large numbers of displaced people we’re going to continue worrying about the humanitarian needs, the medical needs of that displaced population. So the humanitarian crisis is going to continue for, I hesitate to guess, but for some time in the future. We’re going to have overlapping duties managing the humanitarian concerns, making sure we don’t have another disaster as we start to ramp up on the reconstruction side.
In terms of countries, there were about, I think the figure is over 100 countries were involved at some level.
Ms. Schott: Do you have some names or some numbers?
Mr. Weisenfeld: I know the Colombians provided assistance. The largest country that’s been involved is no doubt, in terms of Latin American countries, is Brazil. The Brazilians are there in a large way and they are in charge of the military effort led by MINUSTAH. The Brazilians are certainly one of the most important partners internationally, and I wouldn’t limit that to amongst Latin American partners. Brazilians are one of the most important partners overall.
Ms. Schott: What about Venezuela?
Mr. Weisenfeld: Venezuela is certainly there. I don’t recall off the top of my head what relief Venezuela provides, but they did provide humanitarian relief, and Venezuela has pledged over $100 million moving forward which provides them with a seat on the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission co-chaired by former President Clinton and Prime Minister Bellerive. The Venezuelans have provided, have pledged a significant amount of resources.
I think as with many donors, everyone is working through their planning. I don’t know off the top of my head what the Venezuelans had in mind for their use of resources.
Ms. Schott: It is not a general plan, how to do, or --
Mr. Weisenfeld: Excellent question. I should say on my last country, I spent four years in Peru. The AID missions are [inaudible] assistance, too, so it came from all over.
In terms of how it works, obviously every country is sovereign, so countries can always decide what they want to do. The procedure that we’re following in Haiti, we want it to be Haitian led. We want it to be led by the Haitian government. The government has established an interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, the IHRC. You sometimes see it referred to, I guess, because of the way it’s said in French, as the HIRC. That is, again, co-chaired by former President Clinton and Prime Minister Bellerive, and that commission is patterned after the successful reconstruction commission that was established after the Indonesian, the Asian tsunami. The Indonesian Commission that was set up. And the idea is to use that as a way to give voice to the Haitian government’s priorities. So donors and NGOs who are proposing projects need to present them to the IHRC and the IHRC will look at the full range of things that are being done.
For instance, if we have an agricultural sector program we would like to pursue, we’ve developed it with the Ministry of Agriculture, but we need to present it to the IHRC and they will look at what the French are proposing, look at what the Canadians are proposing, and make sure that people aren’t working at cross-purposes or they’re not all working in one place and ignoring another place, and people are following common standards and systems of measurement and everyone through the IHRC is supposed to submit their information on their results so that it can be tracked in kind of a GIS donor tracking system so people can see once a program starts, people can see what the programs are and what the results are.
Ms. Schott: And how often they submit a plan for the future? Or --
Mr. Weisenfeld: The IHRC was established, the first meeting was in June. I believe June 7th, if I remember the date correctly. And it’s creating a new institution, creating a new legal entity is not an easy thing, obviously. So the first meeting was June, more or less the 7th, and obviously they’re focused on making sure -- A key thing they need to do is what are the procedures? Everyone wants to know. If we have to submit something for your review, how does that look? What are the procedures? What’s the paperwork like? So they’re working through those issues.
But there has been a series of donor meetings to talk about planning, and in certain sectors we’re further along than others. In the agricultural sector there have been a long series of meetings led by the Minister of Agriculture with the French, the Canadians, ourselves, the United Nations agencies, and there’s fairly clear and advanced thinking on how to approach the agricultural sector.
Ms. Ortega: Yemeli Ortega, Agence France-Presse (AFP), France
I would like to know if all the conditions are set for the next election in November in terms of government institutions and security.
Mr. Weisenfeld: I think you know that President Preval announced elections on the 28th of November. A joint presidential/ parliamentary election. There has been a series of studies or assessments to look at what needs to be done to make those elections happen. We funded one, the United Nations funded another, and all the studies said it’s going to be an enormous logistical challenge, but it’s something that can be done, was the conclusion of the studies. And we’re committed to helping the Haitians move forward in doing that. I think Preval and the Prime Minister have been very clear that they think it’s important for continued political stability to go through the electoral process and have a government seen as legitimate by its people.
Is everything in place? No, obviously everything’s not in place. Six months before a U.S. election nothing’s in place, so there’s a lot of work that has to be done. Registration has to be done, particularly for the displaced population. A communications campaign to educate people, determining what the polling stations are. There’s work determining exactly what the procedures are, as to who’s an eligible party because the elections were in process before the earthquake. So there’s a lot of work that has to be done, but it will be an international effort to support it. The OAS has already announced that they’re very interested in taking a major role in supporting it. The United Nations will take a major role. We will provide funding from the U.S. side for the -- We intend to work with the Haitian Electoral Council, the CEP. We will support the OAS and the UN as well as international observation and local groups for domestic observation.
Ms. Ortega: The people on the ground, are they conscious that there will be, that they have to vote like in six months? Is the tragedy so big, that I don’t know if absenteeism will be so great that --
Mr. Weisenfeld: I haven’t seen polls on that. I think to really know what people think about the election we’ll have to look at polling data. There are a number of polls that are actually, I’ve seen some sample questionnaires of two major polls that are about to be launched in the coming weeks, both of which will look at the election, what the public view is of the election, so those will be very interesting to see the results of.
There are a series of, obviously there’s a local meeting, there are news stations that have reported on this locally and through radio, and most Haitians get their information through radio. There is a program called News You Can Use that we support through USAID to provide information to Haitians. It provides information on the basic, the key news items about reconstruction. Then we’ve provided information to let people know that the elections are coming up. But there’s also other key information that we need to get out there such as where you can get clean water, and how you get information on access to medical care, information on contacting the police in case of events.
Ms. Ortega: My question actually is because if there is a lot of [inaudible] and fairly no one goes to the polls, to voting, so if you want to strengthen the new government then there should be some considerable percentage of people that go to vote, I think.
Mr. Weisenfeld: Yeah, I think the extent to which the government, the backing of the people always depends on what the turnout is. I certainly can see that. At this point I don’t think we know. I think Haitians historically are a very active political population, so I think we’ll have to see and we’ll have a clearer sense once some of the polling data comes out.
Ms. Aemisegger: Celine Aemisegger, EFE Spanish News Agency, Spain.
Is there any [inaudible], going back to the [inaudible] Haiti, how to control [inaudible]?
Mr. Weisenfeld: How to control corruption?
Ms. Aemisegger: No, how to control corruption in Haiti, or how to limit the, or how to allow the aid coming to Haiti, that could reach the points or the people in need. So how to, any [inaudible]? Because with aid comes all sorts of corruption.
Mr. Weisenfeld: Corruption is an issue that every country in the world struggles with, right? We struggle with corruption in the United States at national and local levels. So everyone --
Ms. Aemisegger: In Haiti is more dramatic because the needs of the people, so --
Mr. Weisenfeld: It’s more heartbreaking if you see a country where the needs are so great and money is wasted, no question. I guess I could talk about internationally, and then from our side.
Internationally, one of the main reasons that the IHRC was set up was to give confidence to donors that money would be spent effectively. So donors can contribute money.
There are actually two mechanisms, which gets a little confusing. Donors can provide resources through the IHRC. The IHRC’s procedures are being set up by major institutions. They’re receiving assistance on a pro bono basis. That’s useful to talk about. I failed to mention NGOs, now that I’m thinking about it. The private sector contributions. McKenzie and Company is a major U.S. consulting company; and Price Waterhouse, one of the largest, most respected accounting firms, are both providing pro bono assistance to the IHRC to help them establish procedures. And the kind of information platform I mentioned with the GIS system is part of a mechanism to provide transparency on the expenditure of resources. And they will have concurrent -- the idea is to have auditors on staff and provide concurrent audits to ensure that they can track and explain in a transparent way how resources are being spent. That’s the notion. Those systems are being worked on and set up now.
The second international funding mechanism is the Multi-Donor Trust Fund managed by the World Bank. It is often also referred to as the HRF, the Haiti Reconstruction Fund, but it’s one and the same thing. At the Donor’s Conference at the end of March, the international community agreed to set up this Multi-Donor Trust Fund so the World Bank set up an HRF. Donors can provide money to the HRF.
One of the large areas of need is budget support for the government, because as you can imagine, the revenues of the government dropped precipitously after the earthquake, largely because government revenues come from taxes from businesses and customs duties. And no one was bringing in private sector imports at that point. It was only humanitarian resources that were exempt from customs duties, which is a good thing because you want to provide humanitarian resources at the lowest possible cost. But it means a reduction in government resources. The government needs money to function.
Another data point that you’ll hear is, to get off topic for a minute. When the World Bank led a post-disaster needs assessment and looked at the extent of the damage, they calculated the loss at 120 percent of Haiti’s annual GDP. The highest they had ever recorded in a disaster before that was 40 percent. So the extent of the damage was just extraordinary.
What that means for government revenues is that they plummeted. The government couldn’t pay civil service salaries, they couldn’t manage schools, that’s disastrous. So there is clearly an urgent need to provide cash resources to the government of Haiti to essentially ensure that they can do their basic functioning such as paying civil servants.
Now donors are necessarily concerned about if we just give cash to the government how do we have any guarantee that it’s being spent properly, and that was the reason that the World Bank was authorized to set up this HRF. So the World Bank is responsible for tracking expenditures. So donors can provide their budget support resources to the World Bank, and the World Bank will report back to us and they will have folks on the ground to make sure that they can account for the expenditure of resources.
On our side, on the U.S. side, we will have, we’re setting up an Inspector General Office with three or four people in Haiti, totally dedicated on Haiti, to do concurrent audits, to audit simultaneously with us as we implement programs, because we are very concerned about ensuring accountability. That you have the level of resources that are promised, people have a legitimate expectation that they know that it’s being spent not just that you can say it’s absent fraud, but that it’s being spent effectively, that it has the kind of impact that we would expect.
So our task team is in Washington that I lead that oversees the efforts from the Washington side, and we have an Inspector General person dedicated to our team up here, and then we’ll have three or four down in the field. Three or four Americans and then local staff.
Ms. Mesfin (IHA, Turkey): My question is really about the security of children in Haiti and what the U.S. and the international community, securing I guess the status of orphans and orphanages and how that situation has improved or has deteriorated in the six months since the earthquake?
Mr. Weisenfeld: Sometimes I can remember figures, sometimes I can’t. The issue of children, it’s another heart-wrenching story.
The estimates are over 100,000 children were killed in the earthquake, with a similar number seriously wounded and 124,000 who lost one of their parents; 7,000 who lost both of their parents.
You talk about numbers and it doesn’t convey the human stories. And when the numbers are that high, it’s almost hard to get your head around. The numbers of injured, I don’t have good data on how many, what’s the overlap between children who are physically injured and who lost their parents, those obviously are the ones who are most heart-wrenching. People who need, prosthetic children, prosthetic devices, and don’t have families to return to.
What can you do about that in that kind of setting? Some of it is a medical issue. There is a need to provide medical care to those who are injured whether it’s prosthetic devices or whether it’s psychosocial support. We’ve been working with -- We don’t [inaudible] programs directly, we work through NGOs and local [inaudible]. We’ve provided resources to institutions to provide psychosocial counseling, and to work on the acute medical needs, particularly prosthetic devices because Haiti’s a country that did not have any capacity for manufacturing prosthetic devices at all before the earthquake and now there’s an enormous need.
The other key issue is getting kids back to school. That’s how you kind of restart normal life. Getting kids back to school with the kind of support they need. So we have expended resources on repairing schools. A lot of it is rubble removal from schools. The rubble is an enormous obstacle to everything. The lowest estimate is 25 million cubic meters of rubble. Probably 50 times the amount of rubble that was generated from the destruction of [inaudible]. An enormous amount of rubble. So removing rubble from schools, repairing schools, I can’t recall how many we’ve done. 120-something schools we’ve repaired to date just on the USAID side, but there’s a larger international effort. As we repair schools we provide the basic materials -- furniture, schoolbooks, equipment. And we’ve been providing training to teachers in psychosocial support. I think that’s the second part of it.
Within the camps, there’s an effort to provide child-friendly spaces, areas where children can play on their own and receive psychosocial support and try to get back to a normal life.
Haiti tends to have a number of orphanages and I think the long term view is obviously to move children out of orphanages into some sort of more home care type system. That’s a government of Haiti led effort. It has to be a government of Haiti led effort. We can’t do that on our own. So we’ve provided support to, I can’t recall the name of the minister off-hand, but to the government ministry that works on those issues to help them develop appropriate policies and oversight of institutions to ensure that they can, make sure that institutions are well managed that are caring for children, and that they can have systems to try and place children in homes.
Ms. Mesfin: Delawit Mesfin, IHA, Turkey.
How does the priorities fit in with the three you already had, so how do --
Mr. Weisenfeld: Good question. The priorities come from the strategy. There are a couple of things in the strategy. One is economic and/or political stability. Haiti’s a country that has a history of political instability and there are many examples around the world where a natural disaster can bring a country together or it can generate instability. I think from Latin America, you have Nicaragua following the Samosa regime. The government’s failure to respond in a way deemed by the people as demonstrating care and concern can generate instability.
In Haiti we’ve had, since 2006, we’ve had notable progress. It’s a country that’s had a long history of economic, political problems. Generally problems for the education sector, for everything, but those are the fundamental core. But since 2006 we’ve had positive economic growth and we’ve seen a politically stable and economically stable and a stable security environment in Haiti. So the heart-wrenching part of all this is that the earthquake happened after we’d seen four years of progress. So we want to make sure that we can continue on that path of progress. So promoting stability from a security perspective is key.
MINUSTAH plays a major, major role there. The Brazilians are really doing the lion’s share of the work in promoting stability. We provide a major amount of support to MINUSTAH, more than $100 million a year in cash support to pay for the peacekeeping operation of MINUSTAH. I forget if it’s $100 or $200, but we provide more than $100 million a year.
We provide, this is not USAID, but the U.S. government through the State Department works on training for the Haitian National Police. Some of the recent polling data shows that the Haitian National Police, historically in Haiti the Haitians did not have positive views of their police force. The Haitian National Police now are one of the most well respected institutions in the government. And when Haitians are asked who they want to get, if they have a criminal problem who would they turn to, they overwhelmingly say they would turn to the Haitian National Police. So I think the results of years of efforts from police support on the side of the U.S. government and on-the-ground mentoring from MINUSTAH have really born fruit, so we want to continue to build on a stable, secure environment for Haiti and make sure -- You’re not going to have economic growth, you’re not going to have recovery unless there’s stability. That’s one set of important priorities.
The other one is economics. Countries do not recover from a disaster, whether it’s a small disaster or a large one, unless the economy recovers. If the economy doesn’t recover then the international community’s providing humanitarian assistance in perpetuity. That’s not sustainable for us. We’ll lose the backing of the American taxpayer and [inaudible] taxpayer, are not going to let us provide free medical care to Haitians forever. So the economy needs to recover so that they can do that themselves. That means private sector investment. It means getting the basics of the economy back on a firm foundation. If you think about Haiti, over 60 percent of the Haitian population are engaged in agriculture. The economy is fundamentally an agricultural economy. Agriculture was not directly impacted by the earthquake in the sense that crops don’t fall down from being shaken, but agriculture is a very complex sector that involves lots of links to markets and the major domestic market, Port-au-Prince, was destroyed. So that has a spillover effect on the economy. If farmers don’t have any place to sell their products, then they’re not going to plant. If they don’t plant, then people are hungry. If people are hungry -- It becomes a vicious spiral very quickly.
So focusing on restarting the agricultural economy is a fundamental priority of ours. That’s why we’ve already kick-started that out of current funds before we received the supplemental with 4,000 metric tons of fertilizers, and 300 metric tons of seeds that were distributed. Those should be harvested between the end of this month and the first half of August, so we’ll soon have data on how successful it was.
Agriculture’s always a risky business. You can never predict what the harvest will be, but we’ll know fairly soon how good it is.
Energy is another clear priority of ours. Again, thinking about how do you get the economy back on firm ground? We had identified pre-earthquake energy as a major sector in need of investment. The Haitian National Energy Company, EDH, requires a subsidy from the national government of over $100 million a year to fund, so it is A, a drain on the national economy. That’s $100 million the government can’t use for other urgent needs, whether it’s health care or schools.
But I forget, I think it’s only 20 percent, some fairly low percent of Haitians have regular access to electricity. So they’re paying an extraordinary amount, and it doesn’t provide the service that they need. There’s not consistent access to electricity, and that’s a drain on the ability of the country, of the manufacturing sector, to export and to grow.
Again, that’s an area where we see significant investment, to try and improve the functioning of the energy sector.
Health. Haitian health care is -- The earthquake revealed the extent to which there were major holes in the public health care system. The Haitian public health care system was not capable of responding to the health care needs generated by the earthquake. Again, if you have people with poor health it affects the dignity, the lives of the live, but it also affects economically the productivity of the country. So health is another major area we will address.
The last one is something we were not intending to work on before the earthquake but the whole infrastructure sector, principally housing. That is, again, has to do with human dignity, with ensuring that people are safe from humanitarian crises, and housing construction can help stimulate the economy. But beyond housing construction we hope to get involved in some bulk infrastructure, meaning a port or a secondary airport. I think this was mentioned in the New York Times or the Washington Post over the weekend. One of them talked about the inefficient operation of the ports is a drain on the economy, and we certainly agree with that in terms of there’s a need to invest in port functioning.
If you think about the government of Haiti’s priorities, one of their priorities is, I talk about sector priorities but an overall strategic priority of the government of Haiti is decentralization, to build secondary or we call them alternative economic growth centers. It’s a problem that’s not peculiar to Haiti. All over Latin America and the Caribbean countries where you have the capital city and everything happens there. And if you’re not there, you’re out of luck. That creates perverse incentives.
So if everyone wants to go there and it continues to drain resources from elsewhere it doesn’t make for a diverse economy. So the government is very interested, now that you’ve had between 400,000 and 600,000 people migrate to other cities, is there a way to provide services and economic opportunities to people where they’ve moved so we can start to build alternative economic growth centers.
Ms. Schott: Have you been on the ground six months later or --
Mr. Weisenfeld: I was there last week and I’m leaving tonight. For the rest of the week. And I will go for most of the month of August as well.
Ms. Aemisegger: Has the Dominican President said last week, said there was little or no impact at all at the population, the construction for humanitarian effort in the last six months. Do you see that as well, or do you think there has been actually an impact? Or what --
Mr. Weisenfeld: What has consumed our efforts this far has been the crisis. It’s hard to see what hasn’t happened. But the things that haven’t happened are major disease outbreak, a major outbreak of violence, because of the vaccination effort, the water, the food distribution. You don’t see that, but that I think is a major accomplishment.
I think what we need -- We need to redouble efforts on building housing. That is visible progress that people will see, and it responds to critical humanitarian needs.
Like I said, we already have 7,000 families who have moved back to those [inaudible] houses, based on our habitability assessments. We have internationally 5,000 transitional houses that have been constructed. That’s 12,000, which is a significant number. But given the need, there’s an overwhelming need, so we really do need to move more quickly. No one can say that we’re satisfied.
I think on the humanitarian immediate response, I think there are successes to point to. In terms of moving forward, when you look at the displaced population no one can say that we’re satisfied because we have to move more quickly.
The obstacles really are tremendous. And the major one is -- most of the obstacles have to do with land, and land in a couple of senses. The overwhelming amount of debris.
Ms. Aemisegger: Where is that going, the debris? That was another question.
Mr. Weisenfeld: That’s one of the problems. One of the problems is where to put it because Haiti is a country where 80 percent or 70 percent, I’m sorry, I don’t remember numbers precisely, 70 to 80 percent of the country has a slope of 20 degrees or more, so there’s not a lot of available land on that half of the island Hispaniola. So where do you put the debris? It’s just very difficult. There is one dump site that has been managed so far to put the debris. We have been working, we brought in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and we’ve brought in a private engineering firm to look at debris management and they’ve, I just saw a report this morning, identified seven or ten, I forget the number, potential sites. Ideally what you need is a series -- We’re hauling debris from all over the city to this one site way in the north and the traffic is terrible. So it’s just slow because of the distance and the amount of traffic. So ideally you need a number of debris sites around the country where you can dispose of this. Sorry, around the city. And ideally you’d cut roads to these sites so they’re off of the main traffic, and then you can start working on an accelerated pace and import a lot of heavy equipment to do it.
Also ideally you’d set up a number of crushers at these sites because some of the debris can be crushed and reused. It can be used for road repair, it can be used for construction, for housing. It has to be remixed. It can’t be reused in its current form because the reason it fell down is because it wasn’t mixed properly. If you go to Haiti you’ll see a house that’s fine and then the one next to it collapsed. It has to do with the, when I was there last week the engineers explained to me the way they lay the rebar and the way they mix the cement. So it fell down because it wasn’t good, and we don’t want to reuse it. You need to crush it up and remix it again. But it is a resource that can be used.
That’s a bit effort because it requires separating it out and then it requires a process. It does require a master plan that looks at all of those things. So we do have some reports now on potential sites for debris management. There are some engineers who are proposing that we create -- we the international community create an artificial reef off the coast and use the debris to do that. That requires, I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that to you guys, because that would require an enormous amount of environmental studies beforehand to make sure that it’s the right thing to do. But all of that is to say that there’s still a lot of planning that has to go on on debris management. So debris is a difficult, difficult issue given the quantities.
I’ve been told that it took almost two years to clear the debris from the World Trade Center. This is, I guess a year and a half. This is far, far in excess of that.
The other thing I’d mention about debris is people say that there’s no progress on debris. The U.S. alone through our cash for work programs has removed 750,000 cubic meters of debris since the earthquake happened. We pay communities -- we organize communities and pay them to remove the debris out. We’ve already injected close to $10 million through paying people to do this. So that has a double benefit of getting debris removed and then providing cash in people’s pockets so they can jumpstart the economy. 750,000 cubic meters is not an insignificant amount, but given the overall amount we still have a long way to go. The government has removed some more debris on its own, and we’re trying to get the figures on that, but I don’t have it.
But some of the debris has to be done by hand. If you go into the poor neighborhoods, you can’t get heavy equipment in there. And then people, there are valuables in the debris and houses, and there are human remains, and it’s not, as in the World Trade Center, it’s not something you can do rapidly. You don’t want to -- not everyone wants you to bring in a bulldozer and destroy everything when you have human remains and personal valuables mixed in with things. So some of it’s going to be done slowly.
But you can see places where we’ve removed debris. If you just drive down the main street it looks like nothing’s happened, but people remove it from neighborhoods, they put it in the street, it gets removed from the street, then they remove more from the neighborhoods. So you can go back three, four times over a three week period, and unless you walk back into the neighborhood it looks like it’s all the same debris, but it’s different piles that have been removed.
There is a lot that’s going on. We absolutely need to accelerate it. We’re nowhere near moving as quickly as we need to on debris removal, but I do think it’s overstated to say that nothing’s happening.
The other difficult issue with land and this question of are things moving forward, is land security. Land tenure, rather. Haiti did not have an adequate system for providing clear land title to people. Port-au-Prince had 70 percent renters. So figuring out, we’ll have situations where it was a multi-family house with three renters and it was destroyed, and then an NGO will put up a single family transitional house on that plot. Who’s the right beneficiary to get it, and who has title to the land? Even though there were renters on there, the owner may or may not have had title. It’s a very difficult morass to work through.
Thank you very much.
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