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President Clinton's Remarks at the Launch of the Revised Flash Appeal for Haiti

United Nations, 18 February 2010

Thank you very much Mr. Holmes, Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. Ambassador, ladies and gentlemen.

Let me begin, as the Secretary-General did, by simply thanking all of you for what you have done to date. If you saw the televised reports of the observation of the one month anniversary of the earthquake by the people of Haiti, both their intense grieving and their spirit of celebration in life, you can have some sense for what those of us who know and love the country feel is the worthiness of this endeavor.

I am very grateful to all of you who have done all the things you have done, all the way from the heroic contributions of the Brazilians and their leadership of MINUSTAH and the Argentines and the others in that region. To CARICOM with limited resources pledging major efforts to Rwanda which knows a little something about disaster, sending financial aid and offering technical assistance.

What I’d like to do today, is try to describe to you a little bit about where I think things are and why this flash appeal is important and what we are doing to protect the integrity of the money you spent. I’d also like to say, without any disrespect to anyone, it is very important not to have ‘courtesy commitments’. If you can’t give what you wish you could, pledge less and give it and do it sooner rather than later.

When the Secretary-General asked me to do this job, to be his Envoy for Haiti, it was before the earthquake, but after four hurricanes had taken out 15 percent of the country’s GDP in 2008. We worked with them [the Government of Haiti] thanks to a report the Secretary-General commissioned from Dr. Paul Collier, a distinguished British economist, to come up with a long-term development plan that was theirs not ours.

And I was asked to work with the donors, to see that the pledges were honored, to work to get more foreign investment into the county, to work to organize and harmonize the NGOs. There are 10,000 of them working in Haiti, both local and international, the largest number per capita in any country in the world except for India. And to try to organize the Haitian diaspora which is largely concentrated in the United States, Canada and Europe but is elsewhere as well.

I had my fourth meeting with representatives of the diaspora right before I came over here today. They are eager to give time, money, do things they have never done and they are being welcomed into Haiti as they have never been welcomed before. The historic conflict between Haiti and the Dominican Republic has evaporated in an unbelievably, almost breathtaking example of cooperation between the two countries across every conceivable area.

When the quake hit, the Secretary-General asked me to try to accelerate my efforts to work on the emergencies, with a view, as you heard him say, once the needs assessment has been done and the planning process can begin, to work on putting the rebuilding of the quake areas into the larger, long-term development plans for Haiti. Keep in mind, the Haitians aspire to have you come to Haiti as tourists, not donors. They want to build a country that can stand on its own two feet, that can be modern and strong and which has the capacity to meet human needs. But in order to do that, we have to do this flash appeal, because now there are still too many Haitians living from day-to-day.

I want to echo what the Secretary-General said. Look, I’ve been through disasters when I was a governor of my State. We had more tornado deaths per capita than any state in America. When I was President, we had a huge earthquake in California. We had a 500 year flood in the Mississippi Delta. We’ve had hurricane deaths. You saw what happened in America after Katrina. Nobody is happy with how everything is done after a disaster of this magnitude. In my opinion, given the devastating losses the Haitian government has itself sustained and the devastating losses the United Nations sustained, the people on the ground are doing a good job. And, I support them. There are problems which have been outlined by many others.

But what I want to say to you is this flash appeal is important for two reasons. One is, as the Secretary-General said, to begin the long-term rebuilding. But first they are still living day-to-day, and not just the people in the quake areas but the 480,000 people who left Port-au-Prince and went elsewhere. You can’t build a country back when a third of its population is worried about day-to-day. Whether their children are going to get diarrhea or dysentery or cholera, and die because of contaminated water in a camp; whether they are living in a tent or a tarp that will be blown away when the hurricane season starts. So we have to move them from living day-to-day to where people are living month-to-month. Think about the psychology of it. Once we can really get ahead of the curve on the disaster element, then a lot of this rebuilding can happen. President Préval, the Prime Minister and the Government, they want to build a different country.

On my first trip there after the quake, the Prime Minister was in the car with me. We were delivering very specific medications and other materials to the largest hospital so they can begin to operate 24 hours a day and have the medicine to keep people alive. We passed the ruined Presidential Palace, the beautiful old colonial, now collapsed, ministries of education and finance, and the Prime Minister said, not me, he said, “You know, those were beautiful buildings but I’m not sure we want to rebuild them. I think everything we do from this day forward should be about the country we wish to become, not the country we used to be.” That is worthy of our support.

One of the things that I want to say to you is that when I did this work for your predecessor, Mr. Secretary-General, in the tsunami area, we had all kinds of questions about past problems and the handling of public monies and private monies. And we set up a system to guarantee accountability and transparency for the money in and the money out. Today we took the first big step in that area. There is a website that we established, it’s We’re going to update it daily. You will be able to go to this website and see who gave what money and what it’s been spent on. And it is the beginning of a transparency process that worked so well in the tsunami area that enabled us to build back better. You have a right to hold me accountable for this. And to hold our system accountable.

But I just want you to know, that, in my opinion, we have to do these cash for work programs now. You got all these young people out in the streets, you have gangs trying to re-establish themselves. The people of Haiti want to build a different future but we need to put these young people to work and the ones that are young enough, we need to put them back in school. And we are out looking for temporary facilities, how to get the teachers back to work, how to get them paid. All this work is being done but we have to be able to fund it.

Let me say one other thing. I have already met with the investors who had pledged, either through my own efforts before I took this job, with the Clinton Global Initiative, or since then at the big investment conference that we co-sponsored with the Inter-American Development Bank. Investors who’ve pledged to do things, I’ve met with them and asked them to honor all commitments in the non-earthquake affected area. Keep in mind, approximately two thirds of the people and 70 percent of the land were not hit by the earthquake. And one of the things that we are telling the private sector they can do to really help Haiti is to go on and honor those commitments that are consistent with the plan the Haitian government adopted.

You heard the Ambassador say, we have all these people who need food aid who are somewhere else. It’s almost impossible to know of the 480,000 people who have left the capital: who moved in with their families and are being fed, and who left just because they had no hope there and need help. We just got 100 trucks of various sizes delivered to the UN operation so we can have more than 15 or 16 food distribution sites. We’re trying to deal with all these challenges.

Today I met with a young Haitian architect who has developed, he believes, a plan for housing that is a little stronger than a tent, and not a stable building, that is earthquake resistant and hurricane resistant. And all these tent cities, where all these tarps are, we have people in the cities, we have to have a few structures that are big, when the hurricane season comes that, if God forbid, hurricanes hit, everybody can go to those so they won’t die in the hurricanes. Maybe God will give us a break this year and we’ll get a pass, but we don’t know.

The point is, a lot of good work is being done. There is a plan in place that will be amended. We will organize ourselves in the most appropriate way. The money will be spent in a transparent way but if it’s not spent and we don’t move people from living day-to-day, then the long-term determination to build back better will not find its way into reality. We have got to get these people so they are not living day-to-day. No one can think if they have to live that way.

One of the biggest problems we’ve got is, in my opinion, short-term, is sanitation because all these people are moving into, matter of fact, makeshift camps. So we’ve looked at everything in the world. I wanted, originally, if we had the volume, I would have bought compost toilets for everybody, because you treat the waste immediately so you remove some of its disease capacity and then you can turn it into an economic asset by making fertilizer, organic fertilizer for the farms. And save the farmers a big cost. The people who do this all around the world, we contacted everyone in the world who makes these, the said, “You know we never considered the need we might have if there were a natural disaster before. It’s just not an option. If everybody worked all around the clock, we couldn’t deal with this.” So we’re looking at other options.

The point I want to make is there are good people on top of all these things. But there is not enough money in the pipeline right now even with all the donations from private citizens which have been hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, to get them, as the Secretary-General said, through this year.

And if you just keep in mind, helping the people to move from living day-to-day, where they don’t even know whether their children have a meal, if their little children are going to die of diarrhea because of contaminated water. If the limb they lost in the earthquake can be replaced by a prosthesis, if they’ll have a decent place to stay. I met with women’s groups in Haiti, who are worried about the security in the camps. So we got them solar flashlights, so there’ll be some light at night to improve security and reduce the risk of problems. There are things that you and I take for granted they don’t know. We have got to get them so they can live from month-to-month. They know what the nest 30 days is going to be like. And we have to keep them on that parallel, that plan. So that the Haitian officials working with the rest of us, can amend their plan, have a realistic sense of what the cost of assessment and get the show back on the road again.

But I promise you that this is different. This is a different Haiti than I have dealt with in my life time. You have a government committed to building its own capacity in the aftermath of the earthquake. When they met with me last time, I looked at the Finance Minister, whose ten year old son was killed in this earthquake. And he still shows up for work every day, to honor his son. I worked with the Tourism Minister, who, I’m trying to get an airport so we can get new resorts in there, who lost both his parents. But he still shows up to work every day.

I stopped on the way back, at a place, for all who’ve been there, sort of an artist alley, on the way to the airport, where in a normal day maybe more than a hundred Haitian artists will be. About ten had bravely started selling their wares again to the people who tracked back and forth from the makeshift government offices to the airport. I saw a man that I met first in 2002 when my Foundation started the AIDS program there. And he said, “You have to buy something from me, we have a picture together.” And I made all my staff get out and buy pictures and I said, “No bargaining over prices this time. Go!” So we bought the paintings and I said to this man, “Thank you for being brave enough to be here to start again. And he said, “Oh, it’s easy for me. I have nothing else to do, my wife and children were killed. And the only way I can think of to honor them is to show up here and sell my wares again and hope I can get others to do the same. We have to begin again. We can’t give in.”

These people deserve our support. This Government deserves our support. And I will do my best personally to make sure that your money is well spent. But if you really want them to become what they can become, we have to get them out of living day-to-day. We can’t do it without your help. They have to be able to go month-to-month. Then we’ll try to help them do the rest.

Thank you.