...have to report that Haitian government officials and other organizations will help design and carry out the programs. The legislation also mandates that “progress will be measured against specific benchmarks.”
The Foreign Relations panel also got an update at a May 19 hearing on the situation in Haiti from federal and private-sector witnesses who have been involved in relief efforts in Haiti.
Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.), who chaired the hearing, said, “Much progress has been made during this post-disaster period in Haiti.” But, he added, “I fear … that as the number of days since the earthquake grows, the resolve and focus of the international community diminishes.”
Kenneth H. Merten, U.S. ambassador to Haiti, who is on his third tour as a foreign service officer in the country, noted Haitians refer to the quake as “bagay la,” which means “the thing.”
Several months after “bagay la,” Haiti now is in “a period of transitions—from the most critical humanitarian relief efforts to long-term development,” Merten said.
T. Christopher Milligan, USAID’s disaster-response coordinator in Haiti, told the committee, “The challenges before us are formidable. The road ahead will not be easy.”
Actor and activist Sean Penn also testified, saying Haiti lies on “the razor’s edge.” Penn, who heads the San Francisco-based J/P Haitian Relief Organization, appealed for continued U.S. help to address Haiti’s continuing—and severe—health problems, including the threatened spread of diseases as the hurricane season draws near.
As the U.S. pulls back from more than 20,000 personnel after the quake to about 500 on June 1, Penn urged the U.S. to “stay the course in Haiti.” He said Haiti is in a war, noting, “It is a war against the diseases and preventable disasters caused by nature and poverty.”
There was little discussion of physical reconstruction at the hearing. Speaking to ENR after his appearance before the panel, USAID’s Milligan said, “Right now, we’re in the process of really responding to the humanitarian assistance requirements.” In the engineering and construction area, he said, the current work in Haiti is “basic rubble removing, and we’re using a lot of manual labor to do that because it creates jobs.”
Merten said that in the post-quake period, “The U.S. military had a reasonably large engineering contingent in country. … They trained a lot of local Haitian people … to evaluate houses, buildings, etc.”
Milligan added that Haiti’s government has issued a redevelopment plan. Further, it has set up an Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, which “has approved a strategic way forward,” he said.
Another USAID official said the agency has held outreach meetings in New York and Miami for contractors regarding work in Haiti.
USAID now is focusing on humanitarian assistance, Milligan said. “The rebuilding part will be coming shortly thereafter,” he said.