During these past few days, I have had the unique opportunity to engage groups in the Diaspora community, the media, officials in Haiti and the international community in a rather different approach toward providing disaster relief in Haiti. It is the principle that relief and recovery efforts should be led by Haiti. Today, I address you with optimism, despite the magnitude of this catastrophe. The recovery process is underway, and it is thus far a Haiti-led initiative.
Since last Wednesday, the Government of Haiti, with the support of some international partners, has been working tirelessly to assess the impact of the hurricane. Regrettably, the damage is quite extensive and much more than we would wish to see. As you may have heard through my press interviews, as we regain access to affected communities, the confirmed death toll continues to rise.
Simultaneously, however, we are beginning to see progress in essential areas:
- Road Infrastructure: Previously inaccessible roads have begun to reopen. As of Friday, the road access from Port-au-Prince to Jérémie is operational, allowing commercial vehicles to travel through with little difficulty.
- Communication Restoration: Phone connectivity has been restored, helping families and friends to reach their loved one and communicate with one another.
- Community Outreach: Extensive work has been done to reach communities that were isolated for multiple days.
- Relief Service Provision:With regained access to certain roads, the Government and relief organizations have begun providing services to the affected areas. This progress will allow other organizations to reach the communities they serve.
- Emergency Supplies: In collaboration with its international partners, the Government is currently distributing emergency supplies to the affected communities. Clean water and basic food supplies are being transported and made available to the Grand’Anse area and other parts of the Southwest region.
There are positive steps unfolding to address the urgent needs on the ground, although there remains much more to be done and quickly. Nevertheless, it is imperative that these needs are addressed in a strategic and efficient manner. I have received a number of inquiries about the most useful way to assist during this period. I encourage you to approach this process with wisdom, to avoid mistakes from the past.
The Government of Haiti feels strongly that, in partnership with other donors, it will be able to distribute emergency supplies like food and water to most affected communities. Planes transporting these emergency supplies, in addition to what already exists locally, have been landing in Haiti as of yesterday. Truck convoys containing supplies were in route to affected areas. Yesterday, the President made a plea to those who wish to help to concentrate their immediate collection efforts on building materials, rather than on emergency supplies such as water and clothes. Getting people out of shelters and back into their homes is a top priority. The Hurricane destroyed a lot of homes and compromised the roofs of many structures still standing. People are unable to return home until basic repairs can be done.
Following the plea from the President and the rebuilding plans formulated by local actors, I urge all of you to avoid duplication of efforts and wasted resources. I strongly advise interested parties to work with local organizations, including local municipalities, to ensure your generosity reaches its intended recipients with the help they most urgently need. We must respond swiftly to the devastation left behind by Hurricane Matthew’s wrath, but it is equally important that we respond smartly.
It is jarring to see the images of displaced people, flooded neighborhoods and completely flattened Haitian towns. Another valuable lesson from the past is the sensational narrative of tragedy we can expect the media to portray for the weeks and months to come. The Haiti narrative has always been an obstacle to its development process. For long-term and successful recovery to occur, I am counting on your help to change that narrative.
It is imperative that our relief efforts are coupled with highlighting the daily successes, big or small, that are rebuilding Haiti. There is hope in the reopened roads that allow emergency supplies to reach those who need it most; there is a return to normalcy when enough cleanup has occurred to allow children to go back to school; and there is sustainable progress when local actors are directing all of us on how best to collaborate with them in the rebuilding of their communities.
This is an opportunity to get development right this time in Haiti. As we continue the conversation, I rest assured that I can count on your unwavering support throughout this process and beyond.
As always, I and the staff at the Embassy are here to serve you. We encourage you to reach out to us for guidance on the best way forward.
My Warmest Regards,
Ambassador Paul Altidor