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USAID is charged with leading the U.S. government’s response to the earthquake in Haiti, from removing rubble to supplying lifesaving vaccinations. We talk with Carleene Dei, the head of the mission in Haiti, about the relationship between the U.S. and Haiti and the work that’s being done to rebuild the nation.
- Carleene Dei USAID Country Director for Haiti
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOn January 12, Carleene Dei was one day into her new job as the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Haiti. At 2:05 in the afternoon, she sent an e-mail to her staff telling them how eager she was to learn more about their work. At 4:53 p.m., a massive earthquake struck Haiti. Carleene Dei was on her way to the grocery store, but that routine task, along with most other routines, were thrown out the window in the days and weeks ahead.
MR. KOJO NNAMDICarleene Dei is in studio with us today talking about cholera and Hurricane Tomas and she stays with us now to talk a bit more about the U.S. role in Haiti. Carleene Dei, tell us about your experience with the earthquake and the days that followed.
MS. CARLEENE DEIIt's quite a -- kind of a blur right now, to be honest with you.
NNAMDII can only imagine.
DEITwenty-fours on the ground, about to set off on a new job and then -- I must tell you that, like everybody else, for months after, we all exchanged stories. Where were you when the earthquake hit and why are we so lucky as to be alive when so many others are dead? And what can we do with this gift that we've been given, life, to turn this around?
NNAMDIHow did it change the nature of your perception of your job here and how did it change the nature of the job itself?
DEIWe have been operating in emergency mode ever since, just to get a handle, get -- first of all, it was how do you get the airports open and how do you get the ports open? And that's where the military -- the U.S. military came and did a magnificent job of permitting us to bring things in. And then, it was how do we go about getting water? That was the first crisis, water to people.
DEIFuel to people and then food and then shelter. And it just seemed to be an endless series of things that had to be distributed as fast as possible. And I must say that I think USAID, I think all the partners, the U.S. government because it was much larger than USAID, did a magnificent job of bringing all these things in -- and all the other NGOs and donors, until we reached what looked a bit like stability, but that took four or five months.
DEIWe're still in emergency modes in a lot of ways. We're looking at the transition. We're planning the transition, but the magnitude of the catastrophe was just so enormous. Just getting the government back up on its feet, you know, helping to find new office equipment so that the government could function. I can't -- words can't describe it.
NNAMDIAs you know, billions of dollars were pledged in support of Haiti in the days after the earthquake. Many people have complained that little of that money has reached the island. Remind us of how much the U.S. has committed, how much money has actually been sent to Haiti and how it's been spent.
NNAMDIBut before you do that, you can maybe think of including in your answer a response to this e-mail we got from Edward Chesky (sp?) who describes himself as a USAID official. Quoting here, he says, "A statement was made that only one percent of total and pledged has been provided." Can you please clarify this...
DEIYes, I can.
NNAMDI…and, in particular, on how U.S. government pledges have been paid.
DEIWe have already spent $1.5 billion, the U.S. government as a whole. Of that, $660 million was spent by USAID, first of all, by OFDA our emergency service. They are the group that responds to disasters. And the rest of it by various other USAID entities. So it's a lot of money. And we keep on spending money because despite the fact that the camps are, you know, reviled by most people who see them, to keep those camps going with the clean water we just mentioned -- there is clean water.
DEIWe provide bladders regularly. There is sanitation. There are toilets. There are latrines and they're cleaned. Just to keep that system going is a very, very expensive proposition. So already over a billion dollars. Now, the pledges were made at that first meeting back in March, if I recall. And the U.S. government is coming through with that pledge. A pledge is a promise. It has to be turned into a law -- into legislation because it's taxpayer money.
DEIAnd that supplemental was passed. Now, from passage of the bill to the spending of the bill, that also takes a while. You don't just take a billion dollars worth of U.S. taxpayer money and say, here, spend it. The Hill wants to see a plan. And you have to do a plan and the plan has to make sense. It's called a spend plan. We had to lay that out and we had to submit it and we answered lots of questions on it and it's over.
DEIWe expect to get the money any minute now. But even when you get the money, you don't just start spending. I mean, you have to have the health system. There has to be a logical way of approaching how are you going to strengthen that system? Agriculture, food security, fixing back the water sheds, all of this takes planning. And so we expect to start spending that money sometime within the next month, that's for sure.
DEIBut we would never spend it without knowing what we're doing, what other donors are doing and making a uniform program or a unified program.
NNAMDIWe were talking last hour about mobile money, using cells phones to provide Haitians access to banking institutions and I know that USAID has been involved in that work. Tell us a little bit about it.
DEIWell, it's no news to you that the average Haitian, with an income of $2 a day or so...
NNAMDIDoesn't have a credit card.
DEINo credit card and no access to credit. So how do you give people a chance to spend money, to move money around? Many people get remittances from the state and the idea is to do it with what they call mobile banking. If you just had a program on it, I'm sure you know about it. We gave $5 billion, but the Gates Foundation, which is very, very interested in new technologies and newer, easier ways to make things, whether it be medicine or information or money available to people, they gave 10 million.
DEIIt's a good partnership. And one of our projects is the vehicle -- the mechanism for doing this. It's just to make people's lives easier. Give them a chance to have access to things and to have more options and more choices and that’s what that's all about.
NNAMDIThe Haitian government lost many of its employees and 28 of 29 government ministries were destroyed.
NNAMDIHow would you assess the effectiveness of the Haitian government today?
DEIFrankly, we think that the Haitian government has shown remarkable capacity to recover and to get up and to work with the donors. You're a minister and in that first month you don't have a place to meet. You're meeting -- I was told some folks just sat on a porch if it was available or under a tree with their chief advisors and talk. By now, most ministries are definitely in an office building with the staff back, with equipment and machinery.
DEIBut those first few months with all the donors there, all the NGOs, all the people asking for advice for discussions, I thought their performance was heroic. Not a lot of communication with the public. People kept saying that in terms of planning and deciding what was to be done and how it was to be done and prioritizing, we found them to be good partners.
NNAMDIThere are 14,000 NGOs currently in Haiti and they often complain about the ineffectiveness of the Haitian government, while Haitian officials complain about the fact that the NGOs essentially work around them with projects that aren't always well coordinated. What do you think can be done to improve those relationships?
DEII think that's already happening. I think that one of the outcomes of the earthquake was the creation of the IHRC. It's a committee that will manage the entire process and all of the funding that was pledged and will come into Haiti.
DEIAnd the idea is to get the donors to work together to get the NGOs to work with the donors, to have a forum where everybody can come together and make sure that the programs are not duplicative, that they work towards common objectives, that they are distributed intelligently in terms of geographic distribution in terms of need. And also to ensure people that the money will go to the projects that they were destined to go to.
DEIThere's a lot of concern, I know, that, oh, the money has been take -- I hear people saying, oh, the money is coming, it's been taken. It's not true. Most donors are where we are in terms of planning, in terms of getting the legislation, in terms of getting the projects approved, and in terms of bringing it in. And I just find the atmosphere here to be extremely collaborative, and I'm appreciative of it. It's (unintelligible)
NNAMDIWhen we spoke with members of the Haitian-American diaspora, we heard a lot of suspicion about NGOs and questions of whether they were having a positive impact. Is it possible that there might be too many NGOs in Haiti? Riding around in traffic yesterday and asking about why the traffic was so intense, some people said, it's because of the NGOs who are here. They're causing a lot of these traffic problems.
DEIWell, Haiti does have a lot of NGOs. There's no disputing that. I have never run into a country that has had so many. But I think I can...
NNAMDIAnd you've worked in Cote d'lvoire...
DEIYes. Yes. Cote d'lvoire has...
NNAMDIYou've worked in Ghana.
DEI...has very few NGOs, strangely enough. I don't know why. South Africa has a lot of NGOs. NGOs serve a need. They usually pop up when they see a vacuum, when they see a service that needs to be provided, and they're voluntary for most of them. And they get their money from donor (unintelligible) on the motivation or the actions of NGOs, they're good.
NNAMDII'll tell you why I asked that question, because I think it's difficult for a lot of Americans to understand why nearly a year after the earthquake with so many NGOs here so many Haitians are still living in tents and out of flimsy housing. Why, in your view, has the rebuilding been such a slow process?
DEIBecause you started from such a low base. Haiti was abysmally poor. Haiti...
NNAMDIBefore the earthquake.
DEIOh, yes. Haiti is at the bottom in every indicator you could think of, education -- only less than half the population is literate. Electricity distribution, you name it, Haiti did not have it. And so when you start from a base like that and you destroy that base -- because that's what the earthquake did by destroying Port-au-Prince where a third of the population lives. You take away employment by destroying businesses.
DEIYou heard that gentleman from the camp, he used to work in a bakery and there's no bakery anymore. And you destroy the capital base and you undermine the work force and you take the government and squeeze what's left of it out to dry. Then you have NGOs coming in to try and help you pick up the pieces and I think we will. I really do.
NNAMDIA lot of pieces to be picked up in Haiti.
NNAMDIWe only have about 20 seconds left, but we only hear about crisis in Haiti. We don't get much information about day-to-day life. Give us briefly your impressions of Haitian culture.
DEIIt's a vibrant culture. People keep saying Haitians are resilient. That's become a bit of a cliché, but it's true. Haitians are resilient. Creative, musicians, artists, people who will take what looks like junk and turn it into something so beautiful that it will stop your breath.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Carleene Dei is USAID mission director for Haiti. Thank you so much for joining us.
DEIThank you for having me.
NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced Brendan Sweeney, Tara Boyle, Michael Martinez, and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, with help from Kathy Goldgeier and Elizabeth Weinstein. Diane Vogel is the managing producer. Our engineer here at Radio Metropole in Port-au-Prince is Andrew Chadwick. Timmy Olmstead is our engineer back in D.C. today. Our telephonic facilitator, as she likes to be known, is Dorie Anisman.
NNAMDIYou can get podcasts of all shows, audio archives at our website kojoshow.org. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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