Originally posted in The Miami Herald
It’s been two years since one of the most deadly natural disasters of the modern era devastated one of the poorest countries in the world. Even with an unprecedented international response in partnership with the Haitian government, the sheer scale of the 7.0 earthquake—which killed 230,000 people and displaced over 1.5 million—meant the country’s recovery would be a massive undertaking.
As President Obama directed, the US Government joined with the Haitian government to conduct search and rescue operations, clear streets of rubble and provide emergency supplies to survivors of the earthquake. Individual Americans have been a vital part of the effort — in 2010, more Americans donated money to Haiti relief efforts than watched the Super Bowl.
Despite daunting challenges over the last two years, today we can point to several specific results on the ground. Over half of the 10 million tons of rubble has been cleared from Port-au-Prince’s streets, more people have access to clean water today than before the earthquake, and collective efforts have mitigated the outbreak of cholera that killed thousands in the country.
In former President Bill Clinton’s words, our focus must now be on working with the Haitian government to “build back better.”
With the leadership of Secretary Clinton, we are trying to harness the transformative power of science, technology and innovation to accelerate economic progress and improve lives throughout Haiti.
For instance, instead of investing in rebuilding banks that fell during the earthquake, we worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to launch a mobile banking revolution in the country. Nearly two-thirds of Haiti’s population has access to mobile phones but only 10 percent have bank accounts. By introducing technology that allows Haitians to save money and make transactions on their phones, we’re encouraging local wealth creation. To date, nearly 800,000 Haitians have registered for mobile banking, helping Haiti likely become one of the first mobile money economies in the world.
Technology is also transforming Haiti’s agricultural development. More than 60 percent of Haiti’s workers are farmers, despite low crop yields throughout the country. Today, text messaging is helping farmers learn better agricultural practices, while also giving them access to improved seeds and fertilizer and providing real-time market prices so they can sell their crops to the highest bidder.
When we piloted a program designed to intensify rice yields in the areas surrounding Port-au-Prince, the results were staggering: Haitian farmers saw their yields increase by almost 190 percent, while using fewer seeds and less water and fertilizer. The farmers cut 10 days off their normal harvest and increased their profit per acre. Today that program is being expanded to reach farmers throughout the country. Instead of importing rice from other countries, Haitians will soon be able to purchase and consume more of what they grow.
Now Haiti is partnering with the University of Florida to create a cutting-edge agricultural training center. Through an online video link, Haitian farmers can connect to US agronomists and learn how to analyze soil, fight pests and develop cheap drip irrigation techniques. By offering advice and support—and using the latest technology to do it—these scientists help Haiti’s farmers sustainably boost their production and their incomes.
And corporations are increasingly interested in tapping into Haiti’s potential. A recent USAID partnership with Coca-Cola will help the company source mangos from 25,000 Haitian farmers, creating a stable market and doubling their pay.
Haiti’s economy is already showing green shoots: GDP grew by 5.6 percent last year. Of the 1.5 million people who were living in temporary shelters, nearly one million have left, many returning home or seeking economic opportunity elsewhere.
Amid these signs of progress, it’s important to acknowledge the immense challenges that remain. A visit to Port-au-Prince will clearly reveal the pain of the earthquake fresh in people’s minds. But as the country forges ahead with the hard work of rebuilding the country, President Obama has made clear “the people of Haiti will continue to have an enduring partner in the United States.”
Thanks to the commitment of the Haitian and US governments to embrace an innovative development path, Haiti is a country undeniably on the move.