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Senate Committee Report Addresses U.S. Government Response To Haiti

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, written by two Senate staffers, who just returned from Haiti where they assessed relief efforts, draws attention to “immediate shelter and sanitation concerns” and voices “concern about the coordination of Washington’s U.S. government response to Haiti,” Politico’s Laura Rozen writes on her blog. A link to the text of the report appears on Politico’s Web site.

“Coordination of the U.S. country team [in Haiti] appears effective,” the staffers write, adding, “It is much less clear who is in charge in Washington, D.C. From USAID, the appointment of Paul Weisenfeld to lead the Haiti task force is a positive development and will ensure unity of effort from that agency,” Politico reports.

According to the Senate staffers, “[c]oordination from the State Department is much less clear … At the moment the [Western Hemispheric Affairs] WHA bureau (the regional bureau for Haiti) is excluded from leading policy efforts for Haiti. There are reports of a ‘Haiti 2020’ interagency team, led from the Counselor’s (Cheryl Mills) office at the State Department, that is formulating a longer-term rebuilding strategy for Haiti, but it is unclear what their timeframe is and what the actual contents of their policy proposals entail.” The report notes that there is “support for a single, unified coordinator of U.S. assistance in Haiti … but its success will depend on being inclusive of the expertise that interested offices can bring. WHA’s view, for example, that institution-building is the sine qua non of success, is one that we share” (2/22).

The Dallas Morning News’ “Trail Blazers” blog writes about a congressional delegation that traveled to Haiti “last Friday to determine if Haiti’s remaining infrastructure and institutions are capable of effectively administering international aid.” Lawmakers on the trip included: Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas); Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.); Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.); Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.); and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, (D-Ohio).

“The United States government has given about $636 million in earthquake assistance, according a report last week by the U.S. Agency for International Aid. That number only figures to go up as time goes along, and Burgess and others wanted reassurance from the State Department and USAID that the money would reach those in the greatest need,” according to the blog.

“The U.S. government has sent nearly $50 million to fund health activities in Haiti, according to USAID. Burgess, [who is an OB-GYN], said the medical problems remain significant, with one of the biggest needs being for low-cost prosthetics to help those who had to receive amputations. ‘The problems are different than it would be in this country,’ he said. ‘They need a lot of the low-tech, low-cost appliances and solutions'” (Benning, 2/22).

In related news, Roll Call reports on the efforts of Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) who “has leveraged her popularity in her home district and leadership on transportation issues in Congress to ensure that one of her longtime pet causes – U.S. aid to Haiti – receives her constituents’ full support.” The article details her efforts to ensure aid reaches people in need. She “also introduced a bill designed to resolve any lingering issues surrounding a snafu between Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) and the U.S. military that resulted in a temporary suspension in the evacuation of critically injured Haitians to Florida” (Hale, 2/22).

Fox News features a wide-ranging interview with former President Bill Clinton, which includes some discussion about Haiti. In response to a question about what type of aid is most pressing now, Clinton said: “I think the most pressing need right now is one that most donors can’t do a great deal about, it’s for sanitation. … Tents are a very pressing need. It’s hard for people in Haiti to understand why with all the tents for sale around the world we can’t get more there. It took me longer than I thought to take a shipment that Wal-Mart gave us. … Clothing is a need now.” Of the lack of sanitation, Clinton said it “could lead to diarrhea, it could lead to dysentery, it could lead to cholera, it could lead to tetanus, and we could have a huge second wave of casualties there because of the public health problem” (Garrett, 2/22).

Meanwhile, the New York Times examines the effects of limb amputations on the ground in Haiti. “More than a month after the earthquake, thousands of new amputees are facing the stark reality of living with disabilities in a shattered country whose terrain and culture have never been hospitable to the disabled,” the newspaper writes. “Rough estimates of the number of new amputees are based on information from overburdened hospitals that did not keep good records of surgeries. The Haitian government believes that 6,000 to 8,000 people have lost limbs or digits.  Handicap International estimates that 2,000 to 4,000 Haitians underwent amputations, and many thousands more suffered complicated fractures, some of which could turn into amputations if not managed well” (Sontag, 2/22).

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