U.S. Assistance to Haiti Related to Hurricane Tomas and Cholera Outbreak
MR. TONER: Good afternoon and welcome to the State Department. We thought it was appropriate to begin today’s briefing with an update on the situation in Haiti, and we’re lucky enough to have Mark Ward, who is the director of the Office of – sorry, you can’t --
QUESTION: No, I just (inaudible).
MR. TONER: Oh, very good, sorry. Mark Ward from our Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, who is here to give us an update on U.S. efforts regarding Hurricane Tomas.
Mark, over to you.
MR. WARD: Thanks. We handed out some maps, right, and then – here it is as well behind me, great.
Well, let me say from the outset that we’ve been – our response has been very much in support and coordination with the Government of Haiti. They’ve had the lead in this, as they should. We’re impressed so far with the work that the Department of Civil Protection is doing. They’ve had a busy day. The eye of the storm, of course, is moving to the – now to the northwest. I won’t try to point out where it is right now because by the time I point it out, it will have moved on. But it’s moving in a northwesterly direction. It may – the eye may clip the northern claw. We’re not sure yet. It may not; it may just say out in the sea. But obviously, we’re going to get heavy rainfall, five to ten inches, maybe as much as 15 inches in some area – some areas.
Some of the towns on the southern claw are facing flooding in Leogane and in Tiburon and Saint Louis-du-Sud. We’ve had some flooding – you’ll find those towns if you’ve got really good eyes on the map we gave you – where you would expect to see them, in the southwest, where of course the storm first tracked.
The Department of Civil Protection is estimating that 50 percent of the people in the camps did leave of their own accord overnight, mostly, as we recommended, to stay with host families, with friends and family in safer housing. So far, the government is reporting one fatality on the other side of the southern claw.
As far as the U.S. Government’s response, we were well prepared. We knew that there was a very good chance that there would be a severe storm or a hurricane, and beginning in the early summer, we were doing assessments. We were prepositioning supplies that we would need for heavy weather, things like hygiene kits and water containers, kitchen sets, blankets. We had enough in the country for a hundred thousand people. When it became clear within the last week that we were going to get a severe storm, we got a lot more in, we added enough to help another 25,000 people. So we were ready for about 125,000 people. We moved quickly. When it – when we learned, for example, that the airport was about to close, we loaded up the last plane in record time. We put out the order for the plane, 9:30 at night, and the plane arrived at 8 o’clock the next morning. And that’s how quickly we can move when we have to.
Our commodities are – were spread out in the area – and this is why we handed out this map because I wanted you to see where we had prepositioned commodities so that we were ready wherever the storm would hit. The black boxes that you see are those where USAID and my office, the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, has a warehouse that’s full of stuff. And then you see the other boxes on the map show you where some of the NGOs that we are funding and others are funding also have stockpiles.
So we have stuff all over the area that could have been affected by the storm, and in fact, has and is being affected by the storm. So we’re able to get supplies out to people quickly that are going to need it. If we need more, if it turns out that prepositioning enough for 125,000 people is not enough – it probably will be, but should it not be enough, we can move more from our warehouse in Miami and we can even turn to FEMA warehouses in the southern United States. We’ve already got those arrangements in place.
We’ve worked closely with the World Food Program. They have stockpiled food in 32 different locations around the country. They also have a barge. You’ll see that boat that – we’ve got a little figure there of a boat in the middle of the water. That’s to indicate that we have this capacity of a barge where we can get food and other non-food supplies around the cities, around the water, if we have to if access is a problem. The food stocks in-country with WFP are sufficient to feed more than a million people for six weeks.
My office deployed a DART, a Disaster Assistance Response Team. You’ll remember I talked a lot about the Disaster Assistance Response Team in Pakistan a few weeks ago. We have a Disaster Assistance Response Team now in Haiti. It’s got 22 people on it.* It has deployed some of its officers also to the southern claw, some of the towns out there to be ready. We’re also, as you can imagine, coordinating fully with the U.S. military. They had a team on the ground when really left – they’ve had people on the ground since the earthquake; they’ve added people when it began to look like we were going to have a severe storm, and they have the a ship, the USS Iwo Jima, away a bit right now because of the storm, but it will soon be moving to Haiti. It has 10 helicopters, two landing craft, and personnel on board that can help us with public health issues as well as engineering; if we have some access issues they’ll be able to deploy quickly to help.
So that’s an overview. I’d be happy to take some questions. We are still very much, because the storm is still with us – it hasn’t moved on yet – we’re very much in the assessing stage, seeing where we need to deploy the relief supplies that we have prepositioned around the country. And in the coming days I’ll be able to tell you – we’ll be able to tell you more about the actual areas, that if needed help, and what we’ve been able to provide them. But we handed out the map, not – just so you could see where we’ve pre-deployed, and in the coming days I’m sure we’ll be focusing in on some of these towns in our discussion.
You want to do the calling on, Mark?
MR. TONER: That’s okay. Go ahead, Mark.
MR. WARD: Please.
QUESTION: And so, I had a question about how any of this has affected the response to the cholera outbreak, whether you’ve had to scale back any of that during the planning for the hurricane.
MR. WARD: As part of the pre-deployment of supplies, we included cholera testing kits and, obviously, the clean water supplies are very important, because we anticipated that there might be access problems when the storm hit. Right now, we’ve got teams out checking the areas where we’ve had problems with cholera to be sure that we can get – keep those supply lines open. It will probably have some impact in those areas where we had trouble with cholera, but we don’t expect it to be serious. We may have a couple of days delay here and there. But right now, we just don’t know. That’s – but we did preposition some supplies should there be problems with access.
QUESTION: I’m not sure if you have any insight into this. But the one fatality that you mentioned, do you know what the cause of that fatality was?
MR. WARD: What we’ve heard is that a gentleman was trying to drive across a flooded area and it was rushing water and he didn’t make it.
MR. WARD: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Do you have any indication yet on – how affected the flood mitigation projects that you were all have been engaged in working, for example, the terracing on the hillsides or digging the drainage canals? Do you have – is it too soon to tell or do you have any indication?
MR. WARD: It’s too soon to tell. My – one of my immediate concerns is the flood mitigation efforts that we undertook in the camps, because as you know, we weren’t able to get everybody to move out. We had undertaken efforts over several months to increase drainage, make sure that the – in those government sort of approved camps that everything was tied down, everything was as strong as it could be, that we got any sort of shelters above any of the low-lying areas. And we will see if those efforts paid off. But right now, it’s too soon to say. I mean, the good news is I haven’t had any reports so far of any trouble in those camps.
Question up here.
QUESTION: Actually, it was about the camps.
MR. WARD: All right. Terrific. Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: Can you say how much money the United States has spent so far in hurricane preparedness?
MR. WARD: A dollar figure?
MR. WARD: I really can’t right now. We’ll try to get back to you on that. It’s probably going up every day, and then of course the military response has been large as well. Let’s – we’ll get back to you with a figure on that.
QUESTION: One more numbers question. The 22 DART team members, how many of them were already on the ground before this and how many went specifically in for this hurricane?
MR. WARD: These 22 are additional.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MR. WARD: You’re right. We did have a team down there from – left over from the earthquake, and some had gone in to work on cholera; these are in addition. Yeah. And of course, USAID and of course the U.S. Embassy has a permanent presence there, and a very large embassy and they’ve all – many of them have been working on this as well.
QUESTION: One more numbers question. You said that you’re prepared for about – to help about 125,000 people. Do you know roughly how many people have taken that up already, and over what period is that 125 – I mean, when will you sort of know whether or not you’ve got enough to help everybody?
MR. WARD: The 125 was there that we could help people very quickly. We know we can – as I said, we’ve got more stocks in Miami, we’ve got more stocks available to us from FEMA, and of course, we can also get manufacturers to work overtime to keep sending stuff in. I don’t know yet how much of the preposition supplies we’re going to need. That’s the kind of information I hope to be able to share with you and I hope to get and then be able to share with you in the days to come.
Right now, our teams are out just finding out who needs what where, and then they will turn to those stockpiles, work out the transport, and get the stuff there. So it is too soon to answer. But we never intended for the 125,000 – the supplies that can help 125,000 to be all that we would provide. That’s what we decided to preposition, always with the understanding that we could add more. The factor you’d have to keep in mind is this hurricane, this storm has already caused damage in other countries and may still cause more, so we’ve decided to keep our warehouse in Miami fully stocked should we need to send supplies from there to other places. If we had put everything in Haiti, it might all get stuck in Haiti. So we had to leave – we decided to leave some there, and then we’ve had a generous offer from FEMA to also help us out should we need it.
But I don’t have any indication yet that we don’t have enough in-country already. And remember, the United States is not the only donor that is providing help. The Government of the UK, the World Food Program, as I mentioned, the International Federation of the Red Cross also have prepositioned supplies in the country. So there’s quite a bit there that we need to go through first before we’re going to have to call in any more from the outside. But it’s too soon to say how much or when.
QUESTION: The United States have been deeply involved in helping Haiti in this disaster. I would like to hear from you, sir, if you can tell us about the most important lessons that have been learned in dealing with disasters of this magnitude should they be taking place or happening to other nations who are susceptible to these kinds of problems around the world. What would be the sequence of action that would be the most appropriate to prevent the problem from compounding in the future?
MR. WARD: Well, I mean, I’m in the disaster business. So my answer is going to be very biased. And my answer is very simple: Don’t wait for the next disaster; prepare ahead of time; take mitigating measures in countries where you know you’re going to have recurring disasters. We talked about this with respect to Pakistan. Take measures in between disasters so that when the next disaster hits, you’re better prepared for it. And that is always what I argue for and we do pretty well in terms of funding to be able to do what we call disaster risk and reduction measures in between disasters. The large scale of the calamities that we’ve had to work on this year, the Haiti earthquake compounded by cholera and now this storm and the Pakistan floods, I think, provides pretty good evidence that we should take disaster risk and reduction programs very, very seriously as a way to ameliorate the effect of these mega-disasters that we’ve had to deal with this year.
QUESTION: I have one question that’s probably beyond your purview, but the country –
MR. WARD: Oh, try me.
QUESTION: The country is also getting ready for elections and I wonder if any of this has delayed either USAID’s work on those elections or the timetable for –
MR. WARD: That’s a great question for Mark.
MR. TONER: It has no –
MR. WARD: I have been in meetings where this has been discussed and my understanding is that the intention is to keep with the plans.
MR. TONER: That’s correct, yeah. It hasn’t slowed down election prep.
MR. WARD: All right. Thanks everybody.