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Remarks by Congresswoman Waters During CBC Special Order on Haiti

January 15, 2010
Floor Statement

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) included the following remarks in the Congressional Black Caucus Special Order on the disaster in Haiti:

"I was absolutely devastated to learn of the earthquake that struck Haiti late yesterday afternoon. I fear that an earthquake of this magnitude, with its subsequent aftershocks, has dealt a serious blow to the livelihoods and lives of many Haitians and to the important economic, political and social developments that were underway in the country.

Haiti is already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  I have traveled to Haiti many times, and I have seen the poverty and desperation of the Haitian people with my own eyes. There is widespread unemployment and underemployment, and more than two-thirds of Haitian workers do not have formal jobs. There is a high risk of infectious diseases, including diarrhea, hepatitis, typhoid fever, dengue fever and malaria.  The infant mortality rate is nearly 6 percent, and almost half of the adult population cannot read and write.   

Many people have worked hard over the years to assist the people of Haiti.  I have worked with officials in the U.S. Government and international organizations to bring economic development to Haiti.  Meanwhile, dedicated people working with charities and non-governmental organizations are on the ground in Haiti trying to end poverty and help the Haitian people build a brighter future for themselves and their children.

I have also worked very hard over several years to bring debt cancellation to Haiti, which owed over one billion dollars in debts to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other multilateral financial institutions. Last June, the World Bank announced that all of these debts would be completely canceled.

Yet for the people of Haiti, every step forward seems to be followed by three steps backward. In August and September of 2008, Haiti was struck by four hurricanes and tropical storms in rapid succession:  Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike.  The loss of life and the destruction of infrastructure as a result of these storms were devastating.  The storms destroyed more than 22,000 houses and damaged an additional 84,000 houses.  Almost all of the agricultural land in the country was flooded, causing more than $200 million in damage to the agricultural sector alone and exacerbating hunger throughout the country. The storms also damaged or destroyed roads, bridges and other essential infrastructure.

I had hoped that this year would be a year of recovery for Haiti.  Yet this earthquake appears to be far more damaging than the storms of 2008. We do not yet know the full extent of the damage, but certainly thousands of Haitians have lost their lives, thousands of others have been injured, and many survivors have most likely lost their homes or livelihoods.

Despite the devastation that has occurred in Haiti, I am encouraged by the prompt actions of President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and other government officials to mobilize available resources and coordinate relief efforts.  I urge the U.S. Government, the international community, nonprofit organizations and individual people to take all appropriate actions to respond to this earthquake and help the Haitian people recover from this terrible tragedy.

My heart is with the people of Haiti at this dark hour, and I commit myself to doing everything I can to help them through this terrible disaster."