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U.S. Decreases Troop Presence In Haiti

A decreased need for troops has led the U.S. military to reduce its troops from a high of about 20,000 after the earthquake to 13,000, General Douglas Fraser said on Saturday, Agence France-Presse reports. Fraser also said the Haitian government was resuming control of the Port-au-Prince airport during daylight, according to the AFP.

“The international aid and relief efforts have improved and increased in Haiti and we’ve seen an ability to transition those capabilities to other needs around the world,” he said. According to Fraser, the change is “a transition of immediate relief capability to an enduring capacity here in Haiti,” the news service writes (2/14).

Fraser, chief of the U.S. Southern Command, “would not specify during a weekend visit what U.S. troop levels would be in the coming months. ‘Remember that the capability and the capacity the United States military brought in was for immediate relief,’ Fraser said,” USA Today writes. Though the flow of patients to the USNS Comfort has “eased,” the “need for medical facilities remains overwhelming in Port-au-Prince,” according to the newspaper. Air Force Maj. John Mansuy, the operating room nurse in a tented unit in the Cite Soleil slum, said, “We’re pretty saturated. This is the chokepoint” (2/15).

On Friday, a delegation of 12 U.S. lawmakers on a trip to Port-au-Prince told Haiti’s president they would seek additional funding to aid the country’s recovery, the Associated Press reports. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “did not specify how much more money would be requested. The United States has already provided more than $537 million in assistance and deployed thousands of military personnel to help with the recovery,” the news service writes.

Pelosi said, “It was a very somber and a very sober meeting … but there were a lot of exchanges of ideas and we heard a lot of good information from President Preval which I think we can take back and put into some kind of action plans” (Katz, 2/12). Ahead of the trip, Pelosi said, its aim was to “demonstrate the ongoing American commitment to the Haitian people – that they will not be forsaken or forgotten,” according to USA Today’s “On Politics” blog. The blog includes a list of the 11 Democrats and one Republican who went to Haiti (2/12).

Meanwhile, Reuters looks at the U.S. commitment to Haiti since the earthquake and the long-term implications. “Obama sent millions of dollars in aid and a massive influx of resources … He also boosted an appeal for Americans to donate for Haiti, which has yielded hundreds of millions of dollars, by naming two former presidents, Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton, to lead the drive and keep it above party politics. … But a month later, the recovery is still largely in emergency response mode” (Zengerle, 2/11).

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday that his government would provide up to $12 million to build a temporary headquarters for Haiti’s government, Canwest News Service/Vancouver Sun reports. The news service reports that Canada “has allocated $555 million [$479 million USD] over five years in aid for Haiti, making it the second largest recipient of Canadian foreign aid, after Afghanistan” (Mayeda, 2/16). “Canada is the second biggest donor to Haiti after the United States,” the BBC reports (2/16).

Media Outlets Report On Ongoing Aid Effort

According to Haitian President Rene Preval, it will take three years to clear the rubble from the earthquake, the AP/New York Times reports. “In a rare exclusive sit-down interview, Preval told Associated Press Television News on Monday that Haiti faces a long reconstruction process that will result in fewer people living in the capital, Port-au-Prince. ‘It will take 1,000 trucks moving rubble for 1,000 days, so that’s three years. And until we move out rubble, we cannot really build,’ Preval said” (2/16).

When it comes to the aid response, the emergency health phase is “mostly over” and shelter and sanitation are the major priorities for the relief effort, John Holmes, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, said on Friday, Reuters reports. “It is urgent to get everybody with some kind of reasonably waterproof covering over their heads,” Holmes said, adding that about 30 to 35 percent of the need for waterproof shelter had been achieved so far. According to Holmes, about 25,000 latrines need to be constructed in the earthquake survivor camps. “We’re probably not more than 5 or 10 percent of the way there,” he said (2/15).

USA Today reports that earthquake survivors prefer tents to tarps. “Ask any of the hundreds of thousands of earthquake victims living outdoors in Haiti’s shattered capital and you’re apt to get the same plea: ‘Give us a tent.'” According to the newspaper, “International aid officials at first announced a campaign to put the homeless in tents and appealed for donations from around the world. Some 49,000 tents had reached Haiti when the government announced Wednesday it was opting for plastic sheets. With an estimated 1.2 million people displaced by the earthquake – some 770,000 of them still in the capital – officials say there is no room for family-sized tents with their wide bases. Besides, they are bulky and don’t last long enough to justify their cost, the aid community has decided” (2/14).

Reuters AlertNet reports on the conditions at the Petionville Club, an “upmarket nine-hole golf course” that now houses about 50,000 Haitians in “a rainbow-coloured sea of makeshift shelters.” The article includes information about food and water distribution (Baldwin, 2/16). The Observer examines the shift to tarps. “The issues confronting those without shelter – estimated by USAID at between 1.1 and 1.5 million people – were underlined last week by Care, a Christian ­charity, which warned that the international community will not be able to ­supply enough family tents before the rainy season begins in late-March. Instead, the charity said, the ­rescue effort should concentrate on providing tarpaulins that can be used to construct waterproof shelters” (Beaumont/Khalili, 2/14).

BBC published an article that analyzes the aid effort one month after the quake. “There was some criticism of the co-ordination of the aid effort in the immediate aftermath, with some aid flights delayed and food failing to reach many survivors. A month after the disaster, aid distribution points have been established, camps set up for the homeless and the port re-opened. The focus is still on saving lives but of a more long term nature” (2/12).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.