February 11, 2010

U.S. EFFORTS IN THE EARTHQUAKE RELIEF IN HAITI

MR. CARDIN:  Mr. President, I rise today to express my continued concern over the humanitarian situation in Haiti after the catastrophic January 12, 2010 earthquake. While the destruction has proved to make the aid and relief situation on the ground complicated and difficult to navigate, President Obama's promise to the people of Haiti that "you will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten" has rung true to date.

The global outpouring of support, in resources, money and people on ground has been encouraging. American contributions and activities, in particular, have been exemplary. All Americans should be proud of how we have responded to help our neighbors who are truly facing the direst of situations.  Countless U.S. government agencies and the military quickly swung into action , managed by Operation Unified Response and Joint Task Force Haiti, and have moved with an impressive and coordinated effort.
I would like to make a special mention of the efforts carried out by Marylanders.
 
The USNS Comfort , which we are proud to have based in Baltimore Harbor, provides a mobile, flexible, and rapidly responsive afloat medical capability for acute medical and surgical care, with a 550 person medical team and a capacity of 250 hospital beds and room to treat 1,000 people. The day after the earthquake, the Comfort was ordered to assist in the humanitarian relief efforts as a crucial part of Operation Unified Response . Upon its arrival in Haiti on January 20, the crew of the Comfort immediately began critical life saving medical treatment early that day, and on the following day, the first baby was safely born aboard.
 
Four weeks after the earthquake, the Comfort remains on station and is operating at maximum capacity. Surgeries are being performed around the clock and the intensive care units and wards are filled. Navy Dr. (Capt.) Jim Ware, the medical group commander noted upon arrival "We have never had that number on the ship, but we can do it," capturing the spirit of the all the U.S. troops on the ground in Haiti. Yet these committed men and women are certainly facing a daunting challenge - the Comfort has cared for more patients in the last five days than it did during all of the two wars in Iraq. In less than a week, it has changed from a dormant hospital floating in Baltimore into one of the busiest U.S. Department of Defense medical facilities in the world and we applaud them for their work.
 
I have always been heartened by good work done by the many international aid organizations based in Maryland. IMA World Health, Lutheran World Relief, and the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore are just a few of many agencies that are providing critical supplies and volunteers on the ground.  
We are grateful for good news from these agencies, such as the safe return of IMA employees Sarla Chand, Ann Varghese and IMA President Rick Santos, who were trapped for 55 hours under the rubble of a destroyed hotel. In Haiti to work on treatment for tropical diseases that afflict much of the population, they wanted to stay and help with earthquake relief as soon as they were freed from the rubble. While they have now returned home to Maryland, their colleagues at IMA have followed suit, sending 80 boxes of relief supplies, each with medication and supplies to treat common illnesses of 1,000 people for two months.

The Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services was already providing vital life-saving and development programming before the earthquake struck and was tapped by the Vatican to head up the all of Church's efforts in Haiti. The 313 permanent staff members on the ground are part of the lead agency providing aid in partnership with the 82 nd Airborne Division.  They have distributed food to more than 200,000 people through relief distribution sites in Port-au-Prince, and are coordinating with local agencies to speed up the distribution. They have worked tirelessly to open 3 operating rooms at St. Francois de Sales Hospital in Port-Au-Prince, where volunteer medical teams are now performing up to 200 operations a week, with at least one Baltimore based doctor already working there - Dr. Guesly Delva, a native of Haiti.
 
It is important to remember that donations made by ordinary citizens are what allow these wonderful organizations to continue doing their important work. I am proud that Marylanders have pitched in. Catholic Relief Services has raised more than $38 million in donations, including generous second collections from local parishes. Text donations by Maryland residents to the Red Cross and other worthy organizations carrying out aid and relief projects are in the top ten percent nationwide. These organizations will continue to need support over the coming months, so I am pleased to see the U.S. Congress, with my support, moved quickly to pass the Haiti Assistance Income Tax Incentive (HAITI) Act, which allows U.S. taxpayers to make charitable contributions to Haiti relief programs before March 1, 2010, and claim those contributions on their 2009 income tax return.

The earthquake and the reconstruction effort further underscore the need for smart and effective U.S. development aid to countries mired in poverty, like Haiti. I am heartened to see that the newly confirmed USAID Administrator Raj Shah was in place to skilfully manage the government-wide aid process. But more must be done to strengthen and empower the U.S. Agency of International Development. This is precisely why I was an original cosponsor to the bipartisan Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009 (S. 1524). Reforming our foreign assistance matters and can have a direct effect on how people withstand and move on after disasters. 
 
If the U.S. has the best trained and most equipped development agency in the world, the foreign aid we deliver and implement will foster sustainable development, enabling the governments of these countries to have the infrastructure and capacity to better manage the situation when tragedy strikes. I am glad this legislation has passed through Committee and I look forward to working with my colleagues in both the Senate and the House to ensure effective development assistance is a key part of U.S. foreign policy.

As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I will continue to closely monitor the situation and provide any assistance and resources the President needs in the relief and reconstruction efforts to our Haitian neighbors .

Thank you, Mr. President.