Jan. 13, 2010 – I spoke with Rep. Maxine Waters from Los Angeles this morning shortly after the President’s remarks on Haiti.
“I heard the President remarks,” she told me. “It was a very strong statement and much appreciated, especially coming from our highest level of government.”
She added, “We demonstrated a quick response in dealing with the devastation. I am very happy that the Red Cross has set up temporary hospitals and that the U.S. military is already on the ground there.”
She says she’ll reach out to Haitians in the Los Angeles area to organize efforts in L.A. to set up venues for meeting and communication, and a process for Haitian-Americans to try and contact relatives.
The Ambassador of Haiti to the United States, Raymond Joseph, is encouraging Haitian-Americans across the country to set up structures to stay in touch with each other and to get aid to people back home.
Here is a statement released by Waters Tuesday following news of the first earthquake to hit Haiti in 200 years:
“I am absolutely devastated to learn of the earthquake that struck Haiti late this afternoon. I fear that an earthquake of this magnitude, with its subsequent aftershocks, has dealt a serious blow to the livelihoods and lives of many Haitians and to the important economic, political and social developments that are underway in the country.
Haiti is already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I have traveled to Haiti many times, and I have seen the poverty and desperation of the Haitian people with my own eyes. There is widespread unemployment and underemployment, and more than two-thirds of Haitian workers do not have formal jobs. There is a high risk of infectious diseases, including diarrhea, hepatitis, typhoid fever, dengue fever and malaria. The infant mortality rate is nearly 6 percent, and almost half of the adult population cannot read and write.
Many people have worked hard over the years to assist the people of Haiti. I have worked with officials in the U.S. Government and international organizations to bring economic development to Haiti. Meanwhile, dedicated people working with charities and non-governmental organizations are on the ground in Haiti trying to end poverty and help the Haitian people build a brighter future for themselves and their children.
I have also worked very hard over several years to bring debt cancellation to Haiti, which owed over one billion dollars in debts to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other multilateral financial institutions. Last June, the World Bank announced that all of these debts would be completely canceled.
Yet for the people of Haiti, every step forward seems to be followed by three steps backward. In August and September of 2008, Haiti was struck by four hurricanes and tropical storms in rapid succession: Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike. The loss of life and the destruction of infrastructure as a result of these storms were devastating. The storms destroyed more than 22,000 houses and damaged an additional 84,000 houses. Almost all of the agricultural land in the country was flooded, causing more than $200 million in damage to the agricultural sector alone and exacerbating hunger throughout the country. The storms also damaged or destroyed roads, bridges and other essential infrastructure.
I had hoped that this year would be a year of recovery for Haiti. Yet this earthquake could prove to be even more damaging than the storms of 2008. We do not yet know the full extent of the damage, but certainly many Haitians have lost their lives or their loved ones, and many survivors will have lost their homes or livelihoods.
As much as one can be at this time, I am encouraged by statements of support and solidarity from President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and the international community. I urge the U.S. Government, the international community, nonprofit organizations and even individual people to take all appropriate actions to respond to this earthquake and help the Haitian people recover from this terrible tragedy.
My heart is with the people of Haiti tonight, and I commit myself to doing everything I can to help them through this terrible disaster.”
For Americans concerned about family members, friends and other loved ones in Haiti the State Department has set up a telephone line for assistance: 888-407-4747