Obama Administration Steps Up Haiti Aid Efforts

President Obama speaks from the Rose Garden i i

President Obama speaks from the Rose Garden as George W. Bush and Bill Clinton look on. Obama asked the former presidents to help with U.S. relief efforts in Haiti after the earthquake. Alex Brandon/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Brandon/AP
President Obama speaks from the Rose Garden

President Obama speaks from the Rose Garden as George W. Bush and Bill Clinton look on. Obama asked the former presidents to help with U.S. relief efforts in Haiti after the earthquake.

Alex Brandon/AP

President Obama announced Saturday that his two White House predecessors had agreed to a joint effort to raise money and direct aid toward quake-devastated Haiti.

Obama also dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a team of U.S. officials to Haiti on Saturday to see firsthand U.S. relief efforts and determine further steps to help the Haitian government regroup following Tuesday's earthquake.

"Our longer-term effort will not be measured in days or weeks; it will be measured in months and years," said Obama, who was flanked by George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in the Rose Garden.

"Responding to disaster is the work of all of us," Obama said, announcing the initiative and its Web site, Clintonbushhaitifund.org.

Bill Clinton, who is Obama's special U.N. envoy to Haiti, said the new fund would be modeled on the successful effort he and former President George H.W. Bush made to aid victims of the December 2004 tsunami. Clinton said a primary aim of the fund was to assure Americans that their contributions would get to those in need.

Vice President Joe Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and others met in Miami with Haitian-American leaders in the city's Little Haiti Cultural Center.

Biden promised that Haiti "will still be on our radar screen long after it's off of CNN's crawler." Napolitano sought to clarify that the temporary protective status granted on Friday to Haitians in the U.S. would not apply to those currently in the island nation.

The U.S. military took control of the international airport in Port-au-Prince after the quake — an arrangement formalized Friday in an agreement signed by Haiti's prime minister — in an effort to lend order and safety to air traffic congestion as relief flights stream in.

Hillary Clinton arrived in Port-au-Prince on Saturday afternoon aboard a Coast Guard C-130 transport that carried bottled water, food and other supplies. She said her aim was "to be sure we are as responsive as we need to be."

The Obama administration has tried to maintain a delicate balance with its aid to Haiti — pouring in as much as possible while trying to make sure it does not look as if the U.S. is taking over the impoverished nation.

"That is the spirit in which people are arriving," said Cheryl Mills, head of the U.S. State Department's Haiti task force. "They are not looking in any way to be anything other than a partner to Haiti and ensure Haiti's long-term sustainability and success."

"We know that in order to do that well, we can only do that in partnership. We cannot do that by taking over," she added.

Mills stopped short of suggesting that U.S. troops would directly provide security, but she said the military's role is to meet humanitarian needs and back up the Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeeping force.

Bob Perito, head of the Haiti program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said it is an appropriate mission for the U.S.

"I don't think it would be in the U.S. interest to supersede that authority," he told NPR. "I don't think it is really in the U.S. interests to be seen to be taking over," he added.

Perito said the U.S. and its partners also need to make sure they rebuild the Haitian government's capacity to manage the long-term recovery, rather than relying on nongovernmental aid groups to provide basic services.

Haiti has already garnered the unflattering nickname "Republic of NGOs" — referring to nongovernmental organizations, or aid groups — for its reliance on some 6,000 relief agencies working in the country, he said.

Dr. Rajiv Shah, the newly appointed administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, who traveled with Clinton to Haiti, said one of his goals is to make sure the U.S. aid effort helps the Haitian government operate more effectively.

When Haiti's health minister asked the U.S. to develop a hospital network in the capital, Port-au-Prince, Shah promised to send emergency health teams to the sites the health ministry wants to develop, he said.

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