Two years ago, a catastrophic earthquake shook Haiti and devastated its capital, Port-au-Prince. While the United States and others had worked in the country for decades providing health care, feeding the hungry, and improving the quality of education, the international community came together with renewed resolve to provide relief and help rebuild a better Haiti.
While much remains to be done, today Haiti is on the move. The multinational reconstruction effort led by President Michel Martelly's government is spurring the economy, strengthening the capacity of Haitian institutions and improving living standards. While the pace of reconstruction is not as rapid as anyone would like, it is important to keep in mind that even before the earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The 7.0 magnitude quake, the largest urban disaster in modern history, instantly reduced buildings to rubble, killed hundreds of thousands, and left more than 1.5 million people displaced.
Two years later, there are evident signs of progress, and President Martelly has declared that Haiti "is open for business." The Obama Administration, namely through the U.S. International Agency for International Development, is working alongside Haiti's new government to support a shared vision for the country's development.
In the past, the international community too often worked around Haitian institutions. This time, we are doing things differently. Our programs are designed to strengthen Haitians' capacity to drive their own development, while encouraging private-sector investment and innovation.
In partnership with the Government of Haiti, the international community and local organizations, we are investing in locally led, self-sustaining development solutions. We are stimulating economic growth to create opportunities outside of the overcrowded capital. The United States is helping Haiti create jobs, boost agricultural production, more effectively deliver services, expand access to health care and provide higher quality education to its youth.
The results thus far are formidable. Together, we have cleared more than half the rubble created by the earthquake and are helping people return home. USAID has helped provide housing for more than 320,000 Haitians and is working with the Government of Haiti, other donors and NGOs to house those who continue to reside in tent camps.
There are promising signs that Haiti's economy is bouncing back as well. According to preliminary figures by the Haitian Institute of Statistics, Haiti's GDP grew by 5.6 percent in 2011, and major international companies are planning ventures that will create thousands of well-paying jobs. The United States Government, in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Government of Haiti, is building an industrial park on the country's northern coast, which has the potential to create 65,000 jobs and become the country's largest private source of employment.
Agriculture remains the linchpin of the Haitian economy, employing 60 percent of the workforce, and the United States has targeted the sector as a key to stimulating economic growth and development nationwide. Farmers in USAID agriculture programs have had their yields as much as triple, raising incomes and showing potential to reduce the country's reliance on imports. Taking advantage of the most innovative approaches in agriculture, we have significantly increased rice yields, while using less water and less fertilizer.
USAID has also provided vital infrastructure to allow essential activities to resume. We have constructed over 600 classrooms, allowing more than 60,000 students to return to school, and increased physical access for disabled students and teachers. USAID also built a temporary Parliament complex that serves as the official center of Haitian legislative power until a permanent home is built.
We are also aiming to strengthen the government's capacity to provide citizens with quality health care, while ensuring Haitians receive the care they need now. Working with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Haitian government, we have mitigated the cholera outbreak's impact and reduced the fatality rate to below the international standard of 1 percent.
Helping Haiti get on a sustainable path of development requires close coordination with the private sector. USAID has entered into partnerships with major companies, including a venture with Coca-Cola that will help increase production and raise revenues of 25,000 mango farmers. A collaborative initiative with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spurred the development of a "mobile money" industry that has enabled Haitians who have never had access to banking services to receive secure payments, save money, and make transactions on their cell phones.
In all these ventures, USAID is collaborating closely with the Haitian government and local organizations. In the emergency phase after the earthquake, we worked mostly through experienced international organizations to respond as quickly as possible to resolve the humanitarian crisis. Now, we are increasingly contracting with Haitian institutions to bolster the country's capacity to provide for its own citizens and reduce its reliance on outsiders. Since the earthquake, we have worked directly or through sub-contractors with about 500 Haitian firms.
Haiti still faces a long road to recovery, but is on the right path. We will continue to stand beside the determined people of Haiti as they move forward.
To read more about the U.S. government's work in Haiti, visit our website.
Follow Mark Feierstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MarkFeierstein