On six-month anniversary of Haiti earthquake, Obama says relief work must continue

Monday, July 12, 2010

Obama: Relief work in Haiti must continue

WASHINGTON — On the six-month anniversary of Haiti’s deadly earthquake, President Barack Obama said a rapid international response saved lives but the recovery effort must continue.

Speaking Monday to reporters in the Oval Office after a meeting with President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic, Obama said his administration is focused on a rebuilding plan for Haiti.

The Jan. 12 quake killed 230,000 to 300,000 people, according to Haitian government estimates.

Obama didn’t respond to a question about the speed of relief efforts six months later. Some officials, including former President Bill Clinton, have expressed frustration over the slow pace of the recovery.

The administration’s coordinated message on Monday was that Haiti is a high priority.

“Six months later, our resolve to stand with the people of Haiti for the long term remains undiminished,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a written statement.

“We are committed to helping them realize the Haitian vision for a better nation.”

In a briefing for reporters at the State Department, Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, said one of Haiti’s most pressing needs is to get better shelter for people who lost their homes in the earthquake.

Too many displaced people are still living in tents, she said.

In a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington panelists acknowledged that assistance has been slow despite the sense of urgency.

Julissa Reynoso, deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said the biggest challenge going forward would be sustaining commitments that nations made months ago.

Six months after the earthquake the recovery turns from relief to reconstruction, and Haiti requires extensive urban planning to rebuild and sustain itself, said Sam Worthington, president of InterAction, a U.S.-based coalition of international organizations.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement saying too many critical priorities for Haiti’s recovery remain unaddressed.

“The window of opportunity is rapidly narrowing for an effective, coordinated international and Haitian effort that can make a real difference,” Kerry said. “We will all be responsible if progress grinds to a halt.”

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