Speech by Ms. Kim Bolduc: Julia Taft Award Ceremony

29 Apr 2010

Embassy of Canada, Washington, D.C., USA

Ten million is the population of Haiti. There are more than ten million personal stories about the earthquake, each one powerful and heartbreaking in a different way.

Ms. Rebeca Grynspan, UNDP Associate Administrator,
The Ambassador of Haiti in the US, Mr. Raymond Joseph,
Distinguished Members of the US Committee for UNDP,
Distinguished Guests,
My friends and colleagues,
Chers amis, mesdames et messieurs bonsoir,

It is hard to believe that it lasted only 49 seconds. In less than a minute, the Capital and several cities in Haiti were destroyed. Lives were lost or saved, as if in a lottery. Simple decisions that would normally mean very little, determined survival. Whether to go to this meeting or another. Whether to stay at the office or go home. Whether to take a bus or wait for a ride.

Until 4:53 in the afternoon it seemed like a normal day. Many of the local staff had left and were heading home to be with their families. Other colleagues were still working, either at the Christopher Hotel, at the UNDP headquarters or in government ministries.

The atmosphere was full of optimism. The economy was recovering after many years of stagnation. Diaspora were returning. Crime was declining. The political process was maturing with elections on the horizon. Though there were obvious challenges, we all felt the county was moving in the right direction.

Then the world was turned upside down, with millions of voices joined together in a single scream of pain and disbelief.

And, just as quickly as it started, it was over.

As the dust began to settle, and colleagues gathered at the UNDP compound we slowly became aware of the extent of the devastation. Several buildings had collapsed, including the UN-Minustah Headquarters, burying untold staff members under the rubble. In the compound and in the streets outside, a quarter of a million people were dead or dying, unfolding the human drama behind this massive disaster.

Then, in the midst of chaos, a way forward began to emerge.

Colleagues immediately rose to the challenge, tending to the wounded and comforting those in shock. Though victims themselves, my colleagues, our colleagues, thought of others before thinking of themselves. On the street and throughout the city, the Haitians started helping one another, removing people from the rubble and treating the wounded. I was awed and inspired by the courage and solidarity of both the Haitian people and the international community. In the hours that followed the quake, we were all Haitians, working tirelessly to deal with the aftermath of the disaster.

Before daybreak we started moving wounded colleagues and local populations from the neighbourhood to the military hospital at the UN logistics base.

All the food and relief items stockpiled by UN agencies for the hurricane season were deployed immediately, while several planes were on the way with additional supplies.

More than 50 international search and rescue teams composed of 1,800 experts, with dogs and equipment came in within a few days and worked against the clock with courage and dedication, to save more then 130 lives from under the rubble – a record number for an earthquake operation.

The UN Country Team joined efforts to formulate an immediate response, making use of available resources and staff that could be instantly deployed. President Préval and Prime Minister Bellerive were by our side since the outset, guiding the efforts, despite the dire conditions of their own Government – the Presidential Palace, the office of the Prime Minister, and many ministries had collapsed, and 30% of all civil servants were under the rubble. I was deeply moved by the Ministers and other Haitian authorities who immediately reported to work after burying their loved ones.

It was in close cooperation with them that the UN agencies were able to surge their humanitarian operations while also engaging in early recovery initiatives. UNDP started its Cash-for-Work programme just one week after the disaster, to ensure the participation of the affected population in the response, thus helping people regain dignity and independence. Within days we had thousand of people working in cleaning up the Capital, and within 3 weeks we expanded the programme to other cities affected by the earthquake, such as Leogane, Jacmel, Petit Goaves, the work force being composed of 40% of women, as a minimum.

The Humanitarian Forum was convened on day 2 of the earthquake, to group UN and NGOs partners, as well as resources available for the emergency response. In the following days, emergency clusters addressing priority concerns such as logistics, health, food, water and sanitation were already operational, despite enormous obstacles such as the lack of communication and connectivity to the outside world.

The port was completely damaged, the control tower at the airport was down, and roads inside the country were blocked by an enormous quantity of debris. Still, within a short period of time, food was distributed by WFP, their NGO partners and the Government to 2.5 million people, while WHO handled health requirements with the Health Ministry, UNICEF supported DINEPA to take care of water and sanitation for the displaced population numbering over 1 million, to whom IOM and the International Federation of the Red Cross distributed shelter materials.

Although most colleagues had family and friends still unaccounted for, they committed themselves completely, working 18 hours a day or more and sleeping on the ground out in the open.

But even this was not enough. The magnitude of the tragedy was beyond anything any of us had ever seen, or imagined.

In fact, it seems it has never been enough. For many Haitians, life was a disaster before the disaster. After eight UN missions to this small island nation, efforts of so many actors and untold billions in development assistance, Haiti is still the poorest country in the Hemisphere. 80% of Haitians earned less than $2 a day, 70% were unemployed, 85% of schools and hospitals were private, charging much more than the average Haitian could afford to pay. This resulted in 50% of kids being denied an education.

From our many conversations with Haitians in Government, camps, civil society groups, private sector, we clearly felt the emergence of a broad consensus that Haiti should not be rebuilt as it was before – but rather transformed, through the laying of new foundations. A consensus that was reflected in the PDNA process and in each one of the 32 pages of the National Action Plan.

This powerful collective will, associated with the unprecedented international solidarity that materialized in the many billions pledged at the New York Conference, provide us with a unique opportunity; and consequently, an immense responsibility.

Responsibility to ensure that Haitian institutions have a visible leadership on all recovery and development efforts; responsibility to provide the National Government with effective capacities to promote the basic rights of its population, taking into account specific needs of women, children and the elderly;

Responsibility to promote an economic model that triggers local development and truly enlarges people’s choices. This calls for a development approach that gives priority to education and health for all the poor populations; that focuses on women and their potential to rebuild the country - also at the decision making level; an approach centered on disaster risk reduction, to reduce the vulnerability of the people living on the island, a strategy based mainly on job creation, country-wide. Unless we manage to lift the population out of poverty and extreme poverty, there will be neither real democracy, nor sustainable development.

Rebuilding after the earthquake will however require patience and determination. There are no instant solutions and with the onset of the rainy and hurricane season, humanitarian needs will persist alongside recovery and state-building priorities. During that phase, we must continue with Cash-for-Work and Food-for-Work initiatives, in partnership with WFP, UNICEF and other partners, to inject money into the Haitian economy and diminish the volume of free distribution that would affect the local market. With the focus moving progressively to more sustainable employment opportunities, there is no better way to ensure security and social stability as we advance in the reconstruction process.

On behalf of each and every UN and UNDP colleague, I sincerely thank the US Committee for UNDP for granting to us the Julia Taft Award.

While I am happy to receive it in person, I do so on behalf of the many colleagues who showed in the most extreme circumstance their unbreakable commitment to the values of our Organization.

I am also very grateful to my Haitian counterparts in Government, whose perseverance and determination give hope and optimism that we will overcome the tremendous obstacles that lie before us, and succeed in our efforts to build back better than before.

Although I have concluded my mission as the Humanitarian Coordinator, Deputy Head of Mission, and UNDP Representative in Haiti, and a new team of colleagues is now in place, I remain committed to a transformation process that will see Haiti realize its full potential, providing to its people the opportunities and choices they so much deserve.

Allow me to dedicate this award not just to my colleagues at UNDP Haiti who continue to work day and night in service to the country, but also to the 101 UN colleagues who lost their lives on 12 January, and to the remarkable courage and resilience women and men in Haiti have demonstrated in coping with a human tragedy of this magnitude. We must succeed in our efforts to rebuild Haiti, not just for the living and coming generations, but in recognition of those who gave their lives for a better Haiti.

Thank you very much, Merci Beaucoup, Mèsi Anpil! Mwen Renouvle Angajman PNUD ak ONU pou rete o sèvis popilasyon ayisyen-an.