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Diplomacy in Action

Interview on Haiti With April Ryan of Urban Radio

Cheryl Mills
Washington, DC
January 20, 2010


QUESTION: Let’s talk about Haiti.


MS. MILLS: Okay.


QUESTION: What still needs to be done? We understand the Comfort is there now, came out of Baltimore and is there now. What are you expecting to happen with the Comfort? I mean, do you expect now that you won’t have as many people trying to find places to go to take the rescued, or those who are in dire need?


And do you also anticipate more people will be taken care of? Not like in the next couple of days, but right then in a more immediate way? Because we heard reports that a doctor said he doesn’t give patients eye contact because he just can’t help right now, because he doesn’t have supplies or the time.


MS. MILLS: Well, let me step back and do two things. First, thank you for focusing on this. Obviously, Haiti has experienced an enormous shock. And the international community, I think, has been overwhelming in its response, which I think is what is necessary. But even an overwhelming response, having been to Haiti myself, is not sufficient because it has been quite devastating, what has happened there.


I think the American people and the international community have been terrific, both in the willingness to send goods, supplies, give an outpouring of support, and also with the level of resources that they’ve sent. I think the government, the United States Government, has stood up in a way that is one that every American can be proud of. President Obama said he wanted a swift and coordinated response. That’s what we are doing.


That said, there were a number of challenges that we had to confront, and those challenges went from not only just the infrastructure challenges of what is present in Haiti. On a good day, for example, its airport normally has about two dozen airplanes landing. We have been able to, after an earthquake that destroyed its control tower’s operation ability and using only one runway, get 130 flights in there a day. Those 130 flights are bringing goods, supplies, food, water, and medical personnel, as well as other personnel to help.


One of the big challenges has been, as you’ve been talking about – is how do we get adequate medical attention to the people who need it? We have had the fortune of any number of different international partners who have been able to put teams on the ground. But putting teams on the ground in the context of an earthquake still means you have a very challenging situation because so many people have been injured and so many people need medical assistance.


Our Comfort arriving today does mean, as you asked, yes, we’re going to be able to treat a lot more people. It’s a 600-bed facility. It actually can attend to what we, at least, anticipate will be about a thousand people a day. But I think the real challenge still will be that there are more than that number of people who need help and aid. And so we’re going to try to coordinate to the best of our ability to bring in as many more and appropriate physicians and caretakers to be able to try and adjust to the challenges there.


I went to one of the hospitals. I went to the general hospital when I was there, I guess now, two days ago. And it was an incredible scene. It was incredible because there were committed doctors who were working their hearts out, dealing with hundreds of thousands of patients who were in that facility who needed attention. And in that moment, you appreciated the breadth and scope of this earthquake, and this was only in one hospital in one particular part of town. But you also appreciated the enormous challenge of how you go about staffing a hospital with the kind of medical equipments and supplies that it needs, with the kind of physicians that it needs when you have this kind of tragedy.


And I think it is a challenge and it’s something that, as Secretary Clinton said, we’re doing better than we were yesterday, and tomorrow we’ll do a little bit better, but we’ve still got a ways to go.


QUESTION: So tell me this. For the next step, going into the smaller communities, there are concerns from what I hear that you still can’t get there. What is the reality about those other communities beyond Port-au-Prince?


MS. MILLS: I think there’s two – there are two sets of challenges as you start to move outside of Port-au-Prince. One, the road infrastructure has always presented its own set of challenges in Haiti. That’s one of the things that President Preval had been keenly focused on as we were working through a strategy for Haiti and a plan that he had (inaudible) to try and improve the infrastructure there. The roads have always been relatively challenged. With the earthquake, there are – actually are greater challenges, both with debris that’s there and the natural arteries not necessarily functioning in the way that you would like.


So getting there is the first challenge. We are going to need to use both not only the infrastructure of trucks and other things to get us there, but also helicopters to get out to some of those other communities. And I think that’s a complicated endeavor. The second challenge, I think, associated with that is how you also get the goods and supplies out there and assess the level of needs that’s there. That’s something that we obviously are trying our best to do, and we’re going to be moving out into those other areas to do that now that we are getting a lot more people and equipment on the ground to be able to be impactful beyond the immediate spaces that we’ve been in.


QUESTION: Okay. Now, what do you think – I mean, they’re still finding people alive.


MS. MILLS: I know. It’s miraculous, but wonderful.


QUESTION: Right. And as you said, miraculous but wonderful – miraculous and wonderful at the same time, but I mean, the window is still closing – I mean, and for all intents and purposes, really – I mean, with what – people thought it was closed already. What do you realistically anticipate? I mean, people are still watching, hoping.


This is like the biggest reality show, the real life in the roughest way, and people are still looking to see – you know, people pulled from the rubble, the dogs, the body sniffers are – the dogs finding the scent of human life and – I mean, what should people – how can you help people get through this now – because the window is closing – and what should we expect? And how long do you think – how much longer do you think we will still find more people? I mean, what are you hearing?


MS. MILLS: Well, I think two things to be thoughtful about. One, this is the largest rescue effort to date. In other words, it’s an unprecedented effort. There’s been 122 people rescued. And of those 122 people rescued, 42 of them have been rescued by teams that deployed from the United States. And so in a lot of ways, that success is in and of itself quite unprecedented and miraculous.


You are right. Each day, it is harder to anticipate that you will find lives, but late last night they did. I was on the phone with Tim Callaghan, who is the head of our disaster and assistance relief team down in Haiti, and he – they were pulling somebody out from – in one of the Haitian communities, and they were just stunned but ecstatic. And in those moments, you realize that while we obviously have to make thoughtful judgments about the use of resources, in the end, when you are searching for lives, you do the best you can to make sure you’re making those decisions as far out as you can as opposed to close in.


And so I think we’re going to continue to have the efforts that we have right now of disaster assistance teams continuing to look for signs of life, and they will continue certainly at least until the Government of Haiti has made the determination that those efforts are no longer efforts that will produce fruit. I think there are lots of times where there are going to be efforts that are going to have to continue for a whole set of – a range of needs, but I do believe you are right; the window will eventually close, but it’s not there yet.


QUESTION: Do you have anything else you’d like to add, Cheryl?


MS. MILLS: I’d just like to say I’ve had the fortune of going to Haiti for the last nine months on multiple occasions, and for me, I think what is always the thing that is consistently amazing – and people speak about it, but when you see it, you truly understand – the resilience of the Haitian people is an extraordinary thing. It has continually told me that in the end, strength and commitment and genuine love of life perseveres in a way that we can’t begin to imagine.


And when you see people who are able to bring all those things together in Haiti at a time like this, you get renewed inspiration for the value of not only life, but of living. And so I do want people to appreciate that. And the other is – look, I sit and I think about all the ways in which you can contribute to things when you see them happening. I hope that there are many people out there – certainly, we’ve seen an unprecedented outpouring. I think we’ve had now more than $25 million that’s been raised from people who want to contribute.


I would encourage people, if you want to help, you can certainly contribute $10 by texting Haiti, H-a-i-t-i, at 90999, and that goes to the Red Cross. Or if you want to contribute in a more comprehensive way than $10, you can certainly go to the, and they will give you ways in which you can contribute.


QUESTION: Thank you. Take care. Bye.


PRN: 2010/081

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