Congresswoman Maxine Waters Returns from Haiti
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) has returned to the United States after wrapping up a three-day mission in and around Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Concerned about the death and devastation caused by the earthquake and eager to evaluate the progress of recovery and aid distribution efforts, Congresswoman Waters made arrangements to travel to Haiti without requiring the State Department or military to divert resources to support her trip.
While there, she visited a number of the makeshift hospitals and refugee camps that have sprung up around the capital.
"Words cannot adequately describe the ongoing humanitarian disaster that is unfolding in Haiti," said Congresswoman Waters. "The earthquake has left behind untold levels of death, despair, and outright destitution. Though I am encouraged by the thousands of military, government, and nongovernmental operations that are happening all over the country, there is a critical need for macro-level organization and coordination of the relief effort."
During her time in Haiti, Congresswoman Waters met with Haitian President René Préval, officials from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Department of Defense, representatives from the United Nations (UN) and the World Food Programme (WFP) and staff from numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Congresswoman Waters observed that many organizations and individuals are attempting to respond to the crisis in Haiti. Many of these various organizations are convening in cluster meetings, an internationally recognized disaster response mechanism. But she concluded there is an overwhelming need for better communication among the various entities and a coordinated response, despite the valiant attempts of all the parties involved. One major obstacle hampering operations in the country is the extensive damage to infrastructure such as buildings, telecommunications, roadways, and the port, which the Congresswoman said has resulted in "a logistical nightmare."
In addition to gathering information, Congresswoman Waters was able to secure direct assistance for people in need by picking up the phone and requesting help. For example, a call from the Congresswoman to USAID resulted in two tents and other medical supplies – provided by the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which deployed its urban search and rescue team to Haiti to assist with rescue and recovery efforts – for the health NGO Amer-Haiti and the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians (NOAH) that are seeing up to 300 patients a day. Within hours of receiving the new equipment, their teams performed an operation to save a pregnant woman and her child.
"USAID and the L.A. County firefighters, who acted heroically and bravely for more than 10 days in Haiti, were able to come through again for those patients, and I was glad that I could make a difference for even a few people, but of course millions of people in Haiti need our help now" said Congresswoman Waters. "Although that mother and her baby are fine, the concern for them and for the thousands of other patients in and around Port-au-Prince is their ongoing care. We need to continue to deliver clean tents, medical supplies, and health personnel so that the hundreds of amputations and other major surgeries being conducted around the clock can be as safe and successful as possible."
Basic survival remains an immediate concern for Haitians right now. Access to food, water, and medical supplies is sporadic, and shelter and open space continue to be in high demand. President Préval estimates that the country needs approximately 250,000 tents to adequately house Haitians in need. Congresswoman Waters said, "tents are absolutely essential because the impending rainy season will further spread disease and increase exposure to the elements if people are not adequately sheltered. Tents must be at the top of the short-term priority list."
Additionally, experts on the ground continue to raise concerns about reaching victims in the outlying, mountainous areas of the capital. Some areas of Port-au-Prince have been inaccessible for deliveries of food, water and supplies.
"What has really resonated with me since returning home is the need for the international community to engage in robust and sustained recovery and rebuilding efforts for Haiti," said Congresswoman Waters. "The outpouring of initial support from the international community has been so heartfelt and overwhelming, and I know that the Haitian people are extremely grateful. I am pleading with every individual, NGO, corporation, and government worldwide to continue to look into their hearts, into their schedules and into their wallets to find out how they can help."
Congresswoman Waters vowed, "I plan to double my efforts to assist Haiti in Washington. In addition to introducing legislation to completely cancel Haiti's debt from multilateral financial institutions and other international creditors, I will work closely with former President and UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and my colleagues in Congress to continue to pursue creative and substantive ways to assist the country during its immediate time of need and in the months and years ahead."