Barbara Lee

Haiti Disaster - Sept. 26, 2008

Barbara Lee
September 26, 2008— Washington, DC
House committee speech
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Thank you very much. Thank you, Chairman Engel, for your leadership, and thanks to the subcommittee for this hearing and for all of your leadership on issues related to the Caribbean. Yes, Chairman Engel, I was very proud to be with you on your first visit as upcoming chair to Haiti because, you know, you made the Caribbean a priority and have sought to seek some parity in our foreign policy as it relates to the Caribbean. So I just want to thank you for continuing to lead on this issue. I also want to thank all of my colleagues for testifying this morning and for their leadership and their hard work over so many years, often times being the lone voices in the wilderness as it relates to what we need to do with regard to supporting the Haitian people.

Let me just say, first, as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a former member of your subcommittee, Mr. Chairman, like all on this panel, I visited Haiti many, many times since the 1970s. Often times we think we’re making some progress in terms of what our country is doing to support that country, its people…And then we see natural disasters and other disasters take place which set us back. Let me just offer a few thoughts on the crisis in Haiti caused by the recent hurricanes and draw some comparisons to the situation in Grenada after Hurricane Ivan in 2000. Let me just offer some potential long term solutions with regards to this bill, at least one solution to address to the systematic problems in Haiti.

The situation in Haiti is dire as all of our colleagues are reiterating. Like much of the Caribbean and the United States, the recent hurricanes have really devastated Haiti. The storms caused massive flooding, mudslides, damaged infrastructure, destroyed bridges, and led to hundreds of deaths. Most of the port city of Gonave, the second largest city after Port Au Prince, remains underwater. Although destruction of Gonave is probably the most visible, the damage in Haiti extends far inland into the mountains and rural areas throughout the central plateau.

As the water began to subside, the people in Haiti are now struggling with the spread of both air- and waterborne diseases. Cases of malnutrition in children are rising as reports indicate that there is not enough food to feed the hungry and access to clean water is scarce. Clearly, the people of Haiti are in need of emergency assistance. The government of Haiti has specifically asked for $400 million in aid to help in the wake of the disaster. In addition, President Preval has asked for at least 25 helicopters with pilots to help the country get food to storm victims to remote areas. Again, President Preval, as Congressman Hastings and others on the panel have said, called for the United States to grant temporary protective status for Haitians in the United States.

By helping Haiti with these requests, we can stand right now in solidarity with its people during this difficult time. Yes, I am very pleased that we have already offered about $29 million in humanitarian assistance to Haiti, but much more is needed. I have to thank

Congresswoman Waters for taking the lead in asking for at least $300 million to assist the people of Haiti to rebuild. But also I agree with Mr. Delahunt and Ms. Waters that there is no way that we shouldn’t ask for more money right now given what we just did in terms of Georgia. This huge gap in disparity has got to be closed, and I think we have a prime opportunity to do that right now. Whatever it takes, Congresswoman Waters and Mr. Chairman, we need to do that, and we need to do that immediately before we leave this week. As a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, I would like to work with you to try to figure out a strategy that, as we move this Georgia bill forward, we try to figure out how Haiti is provided the resources that it needs in addition to the $30 million that we are providing.

Also, let me just say that I am going to be introducing a resolution expressing support for Caribbean countries devastated by the hurricanes and calling for emergency humanitarian assistance just as we did after Hurricane Ivan. I look forward to working with the committee on this. As we move to act in Haiti, again, we have to remember what happened and what we did after Ivan in 2004. Back then, there was a disconnect between the rest of the Caribbean countries and the United States. However, following the devastation in Grenada, we brought together in a bipartisan way a way to build stronger ties to the Caribbean region and to provide disaster relief efforts. We also delivered $100 million in disaster assistance to the Caribbean, but with that $100 million, I believe Grenada received probably close to $50 million, but we required that money to be used in 1 year. I lead a CODEL to Grenada after that, and the Grenadians did a phenomenal job in that year in using that money in rebuilding the country, but I don’t believe it. I hope we don’t put any restraints on the resources that we will be providing to Haiti because I know that a year is not enough time for the emergency assistance to be utilized in an effective manner.

Also, you mentioned the bill, which I think most members of the panel are co-sponsors of, in terms of next steps for Haiti. Let me just mention, the purpose of this legislation— hopefully next year it will move—is to make sure that Haitian-Americans and others provide technical assistance to help Haiti improve in areas vital to its growth and development which may include education, energy, environment, healthcare, infrastructure, security, transportation, and disaster preparedness assistance. We’ve got to really expedite and rev up our efforts in providing help for disaster preparedness. This is HR-6255, the Next Steps for Haiti Act.

Also, let me just mention, we talk about long-term solutions. We have worked on this subcommittee for many years to try to figure out how to enhance educational exchanges between students in the Caribbean, especially in Haiti, and the United States. So hopefully we will be able to move out of the Senate this year the Shirley Chisholm US-Caribbean Education Exchange bill.

Finally, let me just say in closing, we need a comprehension strategy to assist the Caribbean—especially Haiti now—to recover from these natural disasters on an immediate emergency basis, but we also need to use these windows of opportunity to help with the long term sustainable solutions. So all of the members of this panel and

your subcommittee, Mr. Chairman, have some ideas that I think need to move forward as quickly as possible as in my district, and I say this all the time, we have a slogan where we say ‘Let Haiti live.’ Now we are saying, ‘Let Haiti survive first, and let Haiti live’.

Thank you, again. This is part of that effort, Mr. Chairman, and I appreciate the chance to be with you today.