The 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti's southwestern region last Saturday (Aug. 14) came when the nation was already facing major political upheaval following the assassination of its president, Jovenel Moïse. Plus, the country is still reeling from the 2010 earthquake, which devastated the area around Port-au-Prince.
At least 2,100 people have been killed, and more than 12,000 people have been injured by the recent earthquake. In addition, at least 130,000 homes have been destroyed by the quake. Making a bad situation worse, Tropical Storm Grace blew through the area, hindering rescue and recovery efforts this week.
BET.com spoke with White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre about the Biden Administration’s response to the crisis and its plan to help the Caribbean nation.
BET.com: Can you break down the Biden Administration’s plan to help the rescue and recovery effort? Is it a total USAID effort, or is the administration working with other NGOs (non-governmental organizations)?
Karine Jean-Pierre: It’s all of those things. Hours after the earthquake struck Haiti, the president authorized an immediate response and mobilized his administration to make sure that the Haitian people who we see as partners got assistance and humanitarian aid from us right away. He also named the USAID administrator Samantha Power as the senior U.S. official to coordinate the effort immediately following the earthquake. The administration ordered and deployed the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to Haiti, including urban search and rescue experts. The DART is coordinating with local authorities, humanitarian organizations, and the U.S. Embassy in Haiti.
They're assessing damages, identifying priority needs, and providing self-saving aid to people affected by the earthquake. So this is a 65-person search and rescue team, four canines, 52,000 pounds of tools, and equipment which all arrived in Haiti. We also provided an initial $100,000 to the American Red Cross to support emergency logistics and shelter assistance.
BET.com: Now I understand food and supplies are having a hard time getting to the affected areas, and medical treatment has become scarce for many people. What is the administration's plan to get more food and medicine directly to the people?
Jean-Pierre: This past Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard medevaced over 200 people; they have also transported 143 medical and search and rescue staff, including members of the DART, and almost 7000 pounds of medical supplies into the area. The USS Arlington, a transport dock ship, left the naval station in Norfolk, Va., last Tuesday, and this Sunday, they're scheduled to be in Haiti. So that's going to be a tremendous help to the humanitarian aid there.
BET.com: As a Haitian-American yourself, tell me your perspective on helping Haiti recover. This disaster came just after recent political strife. So have you become a voice in the administration's policy in Haiti, particularly when it comes to having new elections?
Jean-Pierre: I would say that the president has always had a very close relationship with the Haitian people. He went to Little Haiti (in Miami) when he was vice president; he went to Little Haiti last year, so he has a particularly strong relationship with the community. And they have mutual respect. We have a leader who is pushing very hard to do everything we can for our Haitian partners.
As for me, as a Haitian American, as you can imagine, this is incredibly personal. For me, and for many of us, Haiti has a rich history, a rich culture that we are very, very proud of, and seeing what is happening, especially after the earthquake, is certainly devastating. As a Haitian-American and someone who works for this president, we're going to continue to do everything that we can to ensure that we provide all the assistance that we can to the people.
Regarding the election, it is an immediate U.S. priority to respond first to the earthquake that affected Haiti and support the Haitian authorities' efforts to recover and rebuild in the aftermath of this tragedy. While our focus is on immediate response to the earthquake's aftermath, we want to continue to provide long-standing assistance. This is in areas like security, development, governance, and health, plus support Haiti's efforts to move forward to long-lasting peace, stability, and prosperity for all Haitians.
We have been doing this for the past several months, providing that type of support to the Haitian people. Preserving and strengthening Haiti's democratic institution is key. We support a Haitian-led process to develop an electoral timeline to organize elections as soon as feasible. But right now, we want to make sure that we are responding to this devastating earthquake and how it's affecting the people of Haiti.
BET.com: With the current situation in Afghanistan, do you or others feel that the attention needed for Haiti right now might wane because there’s so much focus placed on that part of the world?
Jean-Pierre: The role of the president is to deal with multiple crises, multiple issues, and that is what this president is doing. As I noted, a list of items and actions has been taken with all the different U.S. entities —I mentioned USAID, I mentioned the U.S. Coast Guard, so we have been all hands on deck. We're continuing to help Haiti. They are our partners; this is incredibly important to the president and vice president to make sure that we are offering all the assistance we can.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
To help the survivors of Haiti’s earthquake, visit these humanitarian aid websites
Ayiti Community Trust Foundation
Hope For Haiti
Partners In Health
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images