Haiti marks on February 12, the first month after the horrific January 12 earthquake, with a day of national mourning. According to Haitian officials the death toll stands at between 217,000 and 230,000, a staggering figure equaling that of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. It is an occasion to reflect also upon the needs of Haitians injured, orphaned, and made homeless in the disaster.
February 12 is also a day to recognize the swift and generous bipartisan response of the U.S. to the earthquake. The actions of Americans in response to the Haitian tragedy reflect our undiminished capacity to respond in the face of one of the most severe humanitarian crises in the 21st century.
U.S. military personnel deployed offshore or in Haiti during Operation Unified Response are beginning to return home. At the height of operations as many as 23,000 U.S. service personnel were involved in Haiti duties ranging from air control and logistical operations to search and rescue, food distribution, and emergency medical care. Roughly 13,000 troops are still serving there.
With the full panoply of military instruments from the hospital ship USNS Comfort to aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the U.S. demonstrated its unrivaled prowess in meeting an unanticipated challenge.
As the U.S. military’s role in Haiti diminishes, the Obama Administration must galvanize the U.S. foreign aid bureaucracy to start afresh with innovative concepts to deliver sustainable official development assistance that is focused on building Haitian government institutions staffed with officials who take ownership of and accountability for Haiti’s problems. The goal must be a Haiti that becomes more resilient, more decentralized, and more equitable with a commitment to fighting corruption and providing market opportunities as well as security for people and property. The U.S. Government should also encourage greater cooperation between Haiti and its more successful island neighbor, the Dominican Republic.
The coming months will also test the staying power of U.S. civil society, church groups and private companies whose actions in Haiti merit praise but must be continued. The remarkable outpouring of U.S. sympathy and support for Haiti needs to be sustained once the celebrities, the media, and instant pundits decamp for more newsworthy destinations.