Media Center



January 12, 2011 - Washington, DC

Today is a sad and solemn occasion as we mark the first anniversary of the most devastating earthquake to have affected an urban center in the Americas.

On January 12, 2010, just before 5:00 p.m. and in a matter of seconds, over 230, 000 lives were lost when an earthquake with a magnitude of some 7.0 struck Haiti. A large number of persons were injured and even a larger number of persons were displaced, many of whom continue to live in tents throughout Port-au-Prince and other parts of the country.

This tragedy of historical proportions occurred in a country that has seen more than its fair share of turmoil, and which has been adversely affected by so many natural disasters in recent years. The resoluteness of the people of Haiti was therefore severely tested by the events of January 12, 2010.

In this very sad day, we join all in Haiti and in the international community in mourning the loss of these hundreds and thousands of their countrymen who perished on that fearful day. I wish to reiterate our sincere condolences and sorrow to the government and people of Haiti.

As is well known, the OAS and other agencies of the inter-American system were mobilized immediately in responding to the horrific disaster. Both the governing bodies and the secretariats of the various institutions (OAS, PAHO, PADF, IDB and IADB) acted in a hurry to offer support to the Government and people of Haiti in their time of need.

Under the direction of Assistant Secretary General Ramdin, a 24-hour inter-American system crisis response center was established, with staff from the various inter-American entities, but manned in the main by functionaries of the Inter-American defense Board. Among other things, this crisis center sought to locate and provide for staff who work in Haiti and to coordinate the responses of the various agencies in the immediate to short-term period. (The Assistant Secretary General will provide details on the specific responses that were undertaken in the days immediately after the earthquake, as well as the work and efforts of the Group of Friends of Haiti).

Independently, the OAS Secretariat took stock of its then existing cooperation programs. Mindful of the enormity of the country’s new needs and the Organization’s own limitations, we decided to refocus our technical cooperation program and respond to the post-January 12 priority needs of Haiti.

It was in this sense that the Organization participated in the preparatory process for and the March 30-31, 2010, International Donors Conference on the Reconstruction of Haiti, at which pledges of support for the country’s immediate and long-term development were sought and obtained.

As a result and looking forward, the OAS has since anchored its support for Haiti’s reconstruction efforts in three main areas in the first instance:

(i) Re-doubling efforts of the on-going Universal Civil Registration project so that it can process new registrants and issue replacement cards to the thousands who lost their cards in the earthquake. The project also started registering children and displaced persons now resident in the many camps. I am pleased to report that, through the efforts of this landmark project and notwithstanding the numerous challenges, we have, at the end of 2010, now registered some 4,712,693 Haitian citizens, representing 93.9 percent of Haiti’s adult population; issued 59,485 replacement cards and provided 293,055 new civil registry ID cards in 2010 alone. This effort was critical for the November 28 elections as the electoral list is based on the civil registry list.
(ii) Support for the Development of a Comprehensive Cadastre project to be implemented under the leadership of the relevant Haitian Government Ministries and in cooperation with other members of the international community. The time is ripe for Haiti to put in place a modern system of land/property rights. The absence of sound property rights laws and regulations is the single most important constraint to foreign direct investments which would be required for Haiti’s long-term development.
(iii) Electoral Observation and Cooperation. By now all of us are aware of the work of the Joint OAS-CARICOM Electoral Observation Mission, and the difficulties and challenges that have emanated from the November 28, 2010, elections. This issue will be addressed on a different occasion, but allow me to say at this time that the recent cholera outbreak and the electoral difficulties from the elections at the end of November have darkened the political situation in Haiti at this time and constitute another challenge that we shall solve successfully.

As I have indicated, these are the three areas in which the OAS is working currently in support of Haiti’s reconstruction efforts. To these of course, activities in the social and economic area and also those carried out by the Pan-American Development Foundation associated to the OAS should be added. Moreover, we continue to participate in the work of the Interim Haitian Reconstruction Commission (IHIC) as an active observer, an initiative that we have supported since the beginning of this process several years ago because we believe that we have to coordinate the actions of the international community with the problems and plans of the Haitian government if we want to be efficient in solving the many problems of that country. There are other program areas in which we hope to contribute to the country’s development efforts, but these will be undertaken in the next phase as we move beyond the short and medium term.

The task ahead is enormous and we cannot fool ourselves into believing that it will be easy, for it will not be easy. The challenges and obstacles are daunting, the lack of coordination still persists, but we must persevere – we owe it to all in Haiti and to the memory of those who perished. At the same time, it must be recognized that the international community can only succeed in Haiti with the support of the government and people of Haiti.

In closing, I join all of Haiti in commemorating the very, very tragic events of this day one year ago, and pledge the continuous support of this organization in the country’s reconstruction efforts and continued development.

Thank you.