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Address at Special Session on Haiti at the World Urban Forum V

Esther Brimmer
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
March 23, 2010


(As Prepared)


Thank you for that warm introduction. It is an honor to be here in Rio De Janeiro with so many distinguished colleagues and friends at the UN Habitat’s Fifth Session of the World Urban Forum.


I want to thank the Government of Brazil for hosting this special session on Haiti in conjunction with UN Habitat and as part of the World Urban Forum.


I also want to highlight the role of UN Habitat and its Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka in organizing the World Urban Forum. This event on Haiti is particularly poignant given the impact of the earthquake in Haiti was most severe in urban areas.


Given the tragedy in Haiti and the devastation in Port-au-Prince, this panel’s findings will be integral to “Building Back Haiti Better” and will help guide the Haitian government, the UN and international community as we plan for Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction.


Foreign Minister Amorim, I want to recognize you, President Lula and the Government of Brazil for your long-standing commitment to Haiti, and continued leadership of MINUSTAH, the UN’s stabilization mission in Haiti.


Foreign Minister Amorim, I also want to recognize and express our condolences for the loss of twenty Brazilian peacekeepers killed in the earthquake.


Finally, I want to acknowledge Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.


Prime Minister Bellerive, your government has demonstrated incredible resilience in the face of one of the deadliest catastrophes in modern times.


We all know that what took place in Haiti defies comprehension; the scale of loss is simply unimaginable.


In just a few minutes on January 12, a massive earthquake killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians, thousands more wounded, over two million left homeless and the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince left in ruins.


Recognizing the need for an immediate action and meeting the Haitian government’s requests, the international community responded within hours to earthquake victims with desperately needed food, water, and medical supplies.

As we now know, the scope of destruction in Haiti posed an enormous challenge to the humanitarian relief efforts of the Haitian Government, the UN, and the entire international community, who rushed to reach Haitian earthquake victims.

It is fair to say, that despite the difficult challenges, the UN, the international community, and humanitarian aid workers from across the globe responded admirably to the immediate needs of the victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Although much has been accomplished, it is obvious that more must be done to help the Haitian Government meet the immediate and basic needs of its people.

In the short term, we must keep Haiti on the road to recovery, and prepare Haiti for greater resilience in the event of future natural disasters.

Over the past two months, the UN, United States and international community have coordinated closely with the Haitian Government, major donors, and NGO partners to help provide vital services such as water, food, health, and shelter. One of the more difficult challenges facing the UN and international community is providing shelter for Haitians.

This is a daunting challenge for the UN, Haiti and international community given that about 1.3 million people are living in temporary shelters in the area of Port-au-Prince.

In response to the urgent need for shelter, the UN has accelerated the distribution of plastic sheeting; tarpaulins and family-size tents reaching approximately 63 percent of the population in need.

The United States working closely with the Haitian government and UN has provided over 16,000 rolls of plastic sheeting for temporary shelter, benefiting approximately 811,000 people.

We are also working with the Government of Haiti to assess emergency group shelters throughout that country that could be used in the event of a hurricane or other disaster.

It is critical that Haitians have a safe place to live. The humanitarian community is now working with the Haitian government and UN to assist relocation from unsafe sites to newly planned and organized sites where populations can be better assisted.

Another challenge is providing food security. Working with the UN, the Haitian government is taking steps to move from emergency food aid – the direct provision of food – to a Haitian Government solution to help Haiti feed itself.

The United States, UN, Haitian Government and international partners are also working to address serious gaps in the water, sanitation, and hygiene sectors. In fact, UNICEF and its partners have provided much-needed drinking water to over half a million Haitians.

Beyond food security, shelter, hygiene and sanitation, there is a need as President Obama recently said, “to ensure that assistance to Haiti not simply delivers relief for the short term, but builds up Haiti’s capacity to deliver services and provides for the Haitian people over the long term.”

I want to briefly touch on America’s commitment as part of a global response, to help the Haitian Government “build back better” and create a stronger foundation for Haiti’s long term recovery.

During a recent meeting with President Preval, President Obama said, “America’s commitment to Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction must endure and will endure.”

Over the past two months, the United States, in coordination with the Haitian government and United Nations, has provided over $775 million in assistance in the first phase of Haitian relief and recovery.

We are proud that American assistance, coupled with the generous donations of millions of Americans, has contributed to one of the largest recovery and relief efforts in history.

Today thousands of dedicated Americans, both civilians and military, remain on the ground in Haiti, at the invitation of the Haitian Government, to assist in relief functions.

Despite some progress in Haiti, we know there is much more that needs to be done. We are reminded daily that for millions of Haitians the crisis which began on January 12 is not over.

The United States is committed to stand with Haiti for the long term. We believe an initial 10-year commitment is essential, as is a concerted effort to build Haiti’s capacity. Sustainable development, including environmental sustainability, climate resilience, disaster risk reduction and emergency preparedness, will be the cornerstones of our approach.


Toward that end, the United States, in cooperation with the Government of Haiti and the Governments of Brazil, France, Canada, Spain and the EU, will join the United Nations in co-hosting a ministerial-level International Donors’ Conference Towards a New Future for Haiti on March 31 at UN Headquarters in New York. The organizers of this conference share a common conviction that we owe it to future generations in Haiti to not just rebuild, but to build back better.


Out of this tragedy, we must seize this opportunity during the recovery and reconstruction process to work with the Government of Haiti and its people to ensure that their cities are better, safer, and more resilient.


This means working with the Haitian government to incorporate the principle of disaster mitigation and decentralization in Haiti’s planning for reconstruction.

To assist the Haitian government build back better, the United States and the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction co-sponsored a workshop hosted by the University of Miami.


The workshop, which is concluding today, is titled “Rebuilding for Resilience: How Science and Engineering Can Inform the Haitian Reconstruction.”

The workshop has brought together leading scientists, engineers, academics and policymakers from around the world to discuss how their expertise can be used to help the Haitian Government, the UN, and major donors incorporate disaster resilience in their reconstruction plans.


We were especially pleased to welcome Haitian officials and academics to the Miami workshop. I also want recognize and thank ISDR’s Director Margareta Wahlstrom for her participation and ISDR’s co-sponsorship of the Miami workshop


Before closing, I want to touch on the March 31, International Donors’ Conference which will be an opportunity for the international community to step forward and pledge new financial assistance in support of the Government of Haiti and the Haitian people’s plan to rebuild Haiti.


The conference will focus on pledges of assistance for recovery and development, as distinct from the humanitarian assistance so generously provided by over 140 donors so far.


The United States is pleased to be partnering with the United Nations in this effort in the interests of mobilizing a truly global response on behalf of Haiti.


This Donors’ Conference is just one step in mobilizing the broad international support that the government and people of Haiti must have in order to realize their vision of a stronger, vibrant Haiti emerging from this tragedy.


At the Donors’ Conference, Haiti will present its vision for Haiti’s future and how international support can assist the Government of Haiti implement its long-term plan for recovery.

Donor countries, international organizations, and other partners will have an opportunity to pledge resources, to coordinate in support of Haiti’s long-term recovery, and commit to a sustained effort to support Haiti.

We urge all countries to attend the Donors’ Conference at the ministerial level and to consider making a generous pledge there towards building a new future for Haiti.


In closing, I want to thank UN Habitat and the Brazilian government for this opportunity to participate in this event on building Haiti back better.


As the recovery process in Haiti continues and the reconstruction phase begins, we owe it to future generations of Haiti to meet our commitment and ensure a better, safer, and more resilient urban environment during the recovery, and reconstruction process.


I look forward to hearing from Haitian Prime Minister Bellerive and this distinguished panel who are well-known for their knowledge; expertise and leadership on disaster risk reduction, preparedness and urban systems.

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