Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–January 17, 2010.
This is the STATE OF THE UNION report for Sunday, January 17th.
JOHN KING: Under normal circumstances this would be a Sunday spent reflecting on the first year of this historic presidency, and on the very different political climate now compared to when we launched this program a year ago, just hours before Barack Obama took the oath of office. But these are not normal circumstances. And the tone and pacing of our program will be very different today.
There is still an unfolding tragedy in Haiti. Tens of thousands believed to be dead after Tuesday’s massive earthquake. Every hour now critical to the thousands more struggling to survive in a nation desperate for food, water, medical supplies, and more.
In a moment, we will assess the crisis with the two men President Obama is enlisting to raise money and awareness for the long haul, former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
But we begin with the immediate humanitarian challenge of saving lives and bringing order to a country where chaos is too often the norm. Rajiv Shah is the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and is just back in Washington after spending Saturday on the front lines in Haiti, and on the ground in Port-au-Prince, the man coordinating the U.S. military’s role in the relief and recovery operation, Army General P.K. Keen.
Gentlemen, thank you for joining us this morning, especially given the urgency of the challenge.
General, I want to begin with you on the ground. The goal, of course, is to make every day better than the day before. As you wake up this Sunday morning and start your very busy day, what is your most immediate challenge or top priority today?
KEEN: Well, we had a very good day yesterday. We had paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division, they delivered over 70,000 bottles of water and 130,000 rations. So we’re focused on continuing that effort, and as you noted, doing more every day and increasing our capacity to do that. Today we will have two more companies of the 82nd Airborne Division, I have a thousand troops on the ground now dedicated to that effort.
KING: And, General, I’m going to stick with you for one second, because as you know, this is very complicated, it’s a bit chaotic, and of course, not everybody is happy. But just this morning there were still some complaints coming in from Doctors Without Borders, for example, and the French government, saying they are trying to get a portable hospital into the airport and they can’t get clearance to land. One plane diverted yesterday. They say they have another one coming in today.
Are we getting better at the bottleneck at the airport and what do you make of those complaints?
KEEN: Well, we have got great airmen from our Special Operations Command that are here running this airport. They were here within 24 hours and opened it for 24-hour operations almost immediately. So we are putting a through-put here at maximum capacity, 24 hours a day. It’s a matter of balance between getting relief supplies on the ground, getting the people on the ground that are necessary to get those relief supplies distributed, and getting the logistical capability on the ground to continue that, and the vehicles so we can get it out by ground as well as by air.
Right now, we, the U.S. military, is relying principally on aviation off the carrier the USS Carl Vinson to do that. Now obviously the United Nations, who we are coordinating and working side-by-side, have ground assets, and they, in fact, are supporting us with those assets when they can. But they have a tremendous mission because this is a devastating tragedy.
KING: Dr. Shah, you are just back on the ground. The prime minister has said he expects perhaps the death toll will go as high as 200,000. Is there any way to have a ballpark figure from the administration perspective?
SHAH: Well, thank you, John.
And we did have a chance, while in Haiti yesterday, to meet with President Preval and the prime minister and talk about not just the extent of the devastation and estimates of loss, but also about what is the strategy and the effort going forward.
And I do want to start by noting that immediately after this happened, on Tuesday evening, the president — President Obama asked us to come together as a whole of government and mount a swift and aggressive and coordinated response. And that’s what we have been doing.
We have deployed disaster assistance teams. We’ve deployed urban search and rescue teams. We have nearly 400 trained professional Americans out there doing active search and rescue. And even this morning they were engaged in a specific rescue effort.
So they have been — they have saved dozens of lives, more than half of those are Haitian lives, as they were committed to do. And they have been coordinating the efforts of thousands of others from around the world in that search and rescue effort.
We’ve also simultaneously deployed real resources, as the general mentioned, to make sure we get as much commodity flow in Haiti as possible, necessary food, daily rations, water — in addition to the 70,000 bottles of water, we procured water from the Dominican Republic, trucked that in. We also sent three major water purification and production units that do 100,000 liters of water a day. We have six more of those coming from Dubai and a fourth one that might have gone in this morning.
So we are doing everything we can because that was the instruction of the president. It was deploy assets from across the federal government. Get them in there quickly and do as much as we can to mount an aggressive response.
KING: As you say, deploy as fast as you can. Yet on this day, and that’s the question — this is not a criticism, it’s a question of priorities. There are several search and rescue teams sitting at U.S. airports in California, in Ohio, and elsewhere, who have been sitting there for several days waiting for clearance to go. Is that a matter of you have enough on the ground in search and rescue, and as a doctor, this is the hard part of this story, are we at the point now several days out where search and rescue becomes a thing of the past, has the clock has ticked too much and you’re more now into relief and recovery?
SHAH: Well, you know, we have 30 teams from around the world on the ground — approximately 30 teams. Each of those teams is 70-plus individuals. They have dogs and assets and specialized equipment. They work around the clock. And our teams from the U.S. were the first teams to get in. They set up a center that allowed the others to know where to go and to work in a more coordinated way.
You know, that — obviously you can — you always want more, and we have a number of teams on stand by here in the United States. But we were even told by the Haitian government that — and we’re — that we need to balance that — the degree of that versus food and rations that are also about the president’s top priority, which is saving lives.
And so we have been doing everything we can to get as many assets on the ground as possible and get them deployed quickly.
KING: I’m going to ask Dr. Shah to get up with me and we will go over to the map to take a closer look.
And as we do, General, let me ask you a question on the ground. As all of these resources come in, U.S. military resources, government resources, NGOs, contributions from private organizations around the world, who is calling the shots in Haiti? Who decides if Doctors Without Borders come in and the Mercy Corps come in and somebody else comes in? Who decides who goes where and what they do?
KEEN: Well, John, as you know, that’s a major challenge in any crisis like this, is the coordination of all of it. We have established, along with the United Nations, that the agreement with Secretary Clinton and President Preval to establish a humanitarian coordination center. It is up and running. We had already worked at the tactical and operational level between us and the United Nations force commander, Brigadier General Floriano Peixoto from Brazil, to do that as best we could.
But we are going to stand that up and that is where we are going to coordinate and synchronize all of these efforts to insure that we are putting what we need on the point of the ground, where it’s needed as quickly as possible using all assets available within the country.
KING: I’m going to use the map here. I know, General, you can’t see this, but I will explain what I am doing.
And, Dr. Shah, I just want to go in and take a closer look at some of the roads inside Haiti here as this plays out, because one of the big challenges is when you have the damage, the country is not all that developed to begin with, and you have the damage that goes in a lot of these buildings, this is a — using Google Earth and satellite imagery, the red circles are roads that in the immediate aftermath were completely blocked.
A lot of the buildings collapsing in the street. The yellow means they’re partially obstructed. And you have the airport up in the north which is where the general is out here. And you have down into here into Port-au-Prince.
Is there enough heavy equipment — to you, Dr. Shah, first, and then to the general, the bulldozers, the earth-movers, other things, are these roads now cleared or is this still a problem on the ground in terms of delivering aid?
SHAH: Well, there has been some clearance of certain roads, and there is a lot more heavy equipment coming from the U.S. military on U.S. military assets over the course of the next week or two. So the effort to clear transport routes, especially when you look at secondary roads, is an incredible challenge, will require a lot of equipment. And, of course, that will have to come in from the United States, and from other countries.
It is — I am glad you are doing this, because it points out that, you know, the airport initially suffered a real hit. And that’s one of the unique points of this tragedy.
KING: … and this is where the general is right now, right?
SHAH: Absolutely. The air-traffic control tower was down, and so it was essentially not effectively operable until we were able to work in partnership with the Haitian government and help upgrade its throughput and its capacity and manage its operations. In addition, we’re working to clear transit routes and using the helicopters on the aircraft carrier to make sure we distribute commodities despite the fact that many of the roads are not passable. So that’s why it’s so important for us to have the whole of government response where we are using assets and capabilities from across our government as the president has directed us to do.
KING: And I want to show, and General, go to you as I do — and again, I know you can’t see this — but I want to show our viewers, this is what the port looked like before — this is the port just off downtown Port-au-Prince. This is what it looked like before the earthquake hit. And I want to use now satellite imagery to show you the devastation. I want you to notice, up here to our viewers, there is a crane right here on the port. You see the ships docking on the long dock. Now look at how this has played out as you bring this out. Get this to turn on for me, and it will work — we’ll get it to work. We’ve zoomed away. Let me come back in and pull that out. And if you look now, if you had the before and after, it is stunning. It’s completely destroyed. And again, I want to go back so that our viewers can see the difference. A full port there before the earthquake. And now this.
General, is there any chance in the short term that you can use this port, that you can make the necessary repairs to make it functional, or is that out of commission for you as you deal with this urgent challenge?
KEEN: Well, it’s currently out of commission. But we are already moving in the direction to get ports over. I have a navy rear admiral on the ground who is going to be responsible for looking at all the ports and getting them open as soon as possible or getting things moved in this direction in order to address that tremendous challenge. We have got a couple of critical things. One of them is fuel. And as you note there, one of those ports, it’s the only point where we bring — for the country, bring fuel in, so we need to get that port up and operational so we can get the fuel supplies flowing. And this admiral is taking on the challenge, working in support of the government of Haiti, along with the United Nations, to get the assessments complete so we have the right assets coming this way to address that challenge.
KING: We are going to take a break. We’ll be back in just a moment with Dr. Shah here in Washington, General Keen on the ground in Haiti. More on the urgent humanitarian challenge in Haiti. We will also discuss what you watching at home maybe can do to help. We’ll be right back. Thank you.
KING: We’re back with Army Lieutenant General P.K. Keen in Port- au-Prince, Haiti, and here in Washington, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, who was in Haiti just yesterday.
General, to you first, and please correct me because I know this is a changing situation, so if my numbers are wrong, please correct them. But my understanding is you have roughly 10,000 U.S. military personnel who have been deployed so far. Is that what you need, or will you need more in the days ahead? And again, I know it’s a hard question to answer today, but how long, how long will there be U.S. military assets on the ground in Haiti?
KEEN: Well, first, we are going to be here as long as we are needed. What I have on the ground right now is 1,000 — approximately 1,000 military personnel. I have more coming today. Two more companies out of the 82nd Airborne Division. In the coming days, I will have Marines coming up of (inaudible), and then we have a Marine landing battalion which will have some critical enablers to clear roads, as you mentioned earlier. And so that will be a welcome addition to the team here. And then offshore, with supporting us from the carrier and other navel vessels, we have got over — about 3,600. So we are building up capacity every day and getting what we need in order to accomplish the mission.
KING: And, General, reports in the last 48 hours of more looting, some gang violence. Some of this to be expected, of course, as sad as it is. How much is the security problem a nuisance, and how much of it is a genuine threat to what you are trying to do, which is to save lives?
KEEN: Well, security is an essential component of being able to accomplish our humanitarian assistance mission. So we are doing everything we can — overall security within Haiti is being — is under the responsibility of the United Nations forces. We’re working alongside them. But as you note, the police that was providing security at various locations around the city of Port-au-Prince was devastated by the hurricane (sic) as well, so security is a concern. We are paying very close attention to it. But yesterday, we had troopers from the 82nd Airborne Division out and about delivering those supplies I mentioned earlier. They had no issues with security. In fact, they were very warmly received at every point they went to distribute supplies. It was very orderly and obviously very welcome.
So there are isolated incidents, but it is a concern and we are going to have to address it and we are going to have to provide a safe and secure environment in order to be successful with our humanitarian assistance mission.
KING: I am going to get up and go back to the wall in a second to show you the international outpouring of support. As I do, and as I walk over, I just want your perspective. You can look at the numbers, you can look at the pictures on television, but you made the trip yesterday with Secretary Clinton. Just as I walk over, just reflect for our viewers what jumped out the most at you in terms of what you saw.
SHAH: Well, yesterday, what was really most significant was just the absolutely commitment and resilience of the Haitian people. And we have a number of Haitian nationals on our staff at USAID, and in Haiti. Many of them have lost family members and have had their homes destroyed, and yet they come in to help solve this problem and serve their country. And with that kind of commitment, you know, it highlights what the president has noted, President Obama has said this is an opportunity and a chance to demonstrate our common humanity. And that’s why we are mobilizing really all of the resources we can across our government to make sure we do that, and do that swiftly and effectively.
KING: And I want to — I want to come back in here. I just want to show something as we do. I want to pop on this and just show what the world has done, just almost at the one-week point.
And as this plays out — you see the map here, and I just want to show — these are the international contributions so far. People watch the lines come in as it plays out — let me make it move, here — and you see the lines coming in from around the world. These are all translated into U.S. dollars — $100 million in the United States, and you see the other governments around the world.
And, Dr. Shah, as these numbers fill in — and I’ll also pop up here — as well as some of the other organizations, the World Bank, private corporations, the Red Cross, the United Nations, do you have any sense, at this early date — this is obviously the initial investment — of how much this is going to cost U.S. taxpayers? The president has committed $100 million so far. But any sense of the financial scope of what you’re dealing with here?
SHAH: Well, it’s significant. And the president, when he noted that we’re making a $100 million commitment — when he made that commitment, also noted that we will do whatever it takes to mount an aggressive response and to serve the people of Haiti effectively. And so that’s — that’s what we’re doing.
You know, yesterday, I was just struck by the partnership that exists between our government and the government of Haiti. We met with president Preval. He thanked President Obama for his strong and singular commitment to this. We talked about what’s coming. We have a number of assets, like the USNS Comfort Navy Hospital ship that will arrive on the 20th, the USS Jack Lummus and other amphibious capabilities that will allow us to — you showed us the port — allow us to get other points of entry and distribution.
And we’re building in Haiti a larger — and this is with the government of Haiti and with partners like the World Food Program — a larger network of distribution sites so that we can effectively get these commodities out to Haitian people as soon as possible.
So our goal and our metric of success is really to do more every single day, and exponentially more in terms of the delivery of services, the delivery of commodities.
And especially as we open up these other routes; as we get greater military capabilities and transport and logistical capabilities, and as we secure a real partnership and cooperative working relationship with the range of partners that you just highlighted, we’re confident that this can succeed and we’re confident that the Haiti that emerges from this can be — can be strong and significant.
KING: We want to thank you for your time, Dr. Shah, here in Washington, General Keen on the ground in Haiti. We understand how busy both of you are, and also that you’re operating — both of you operating on zero or very little sleep. We appreciate your time, understanding today, and we wish you, certainly, Godspeed and the best in the days and weeks ahead. Thank you both for coming in.
And Haiti is getting some much-needed assistance from two of President Obama’s predecessors. We’ll hear from former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton about their mission to help the devastated nation and try to put it on a new path.