Situation in Haiti
Elysée Palace – Thursday, January 14, 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There are tragedies in the history of nations that immediately elicit both horror and enormous compassion, and, of course, the duty to show solidarity. The earthquake that struck Haiti on Tuesday—the most violent in two centuries—is one of these.
It is too soon to assess the human and material toll of this latest tragedy that has struck this country and its people, one that unfortunately follows so many others. But the size of the quakes, the scope of the damage, the initial reports we are receiving on the ground, clearly lead us to fear the worst.
In these extremely painful moments, my thoughts go out to the Haitian people who are exhibiting great courage in the face of the relentless adversity of nature. My thoughts go out, too, to the large Haitian community in France, which has rallied together in an exemplary fashion in these past hours. Yesterday I wrote to President Préval to assure him of the deep sympathy of the French people, who have developed such close ties to the Haitian people through history, culture and language.
I assured him of the French authorities’ mobilization to save lives, to save the injured, to free those trapped in the rubble, and to find those who have disappeared.
France was the first country to respond: By yesterday evening, 70 fire-and-rescue workers from the sécurité civile [emergency services], doctors from the SAMU [mobile emergency medical service] and a gendarmerie unit had landed in Port-au-Prince. They immediately got to work to find survivors and care for the injured. A new sécurité civile unit accompanied by NGO members arrived this afternoon and is ready to get to work. Two more planes carrying supplies took off today, and the Foreign Ministry’s Crisis Center was activated in Paris. It is working 24/7 to coordinate the deployment of French personnel on the ground. And despite the prevailing chaos, our embassy in Haiti is actively involved in organizing rescue efforts.
At this time, we have received confirmation of the death of two of our fellow citizens. About 100 French nationals who were injured or in very difficult situations were evacuated during the night by French military planes to Martinique for treatment, and several dozen of the 1,200 French citizens of Port-au-Prince have gathered at the Embassy and the Ambassador’s Residence. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of several of our fellow citizens remain unknown; they are probably trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings. Our personnel on the ground will spare no effort to find them and, of course, to help them.
It is our duty to do everything in our power to save lives. I have just come from a meeting with the Prime Minister and several other ministers examining how we can provide additional means to further assist this suffering country.
At the end of the meeting, I took the following decisions to deal with the humanitarian emergency:
1. Additional sécurité civile detachments, including search-and-rescue teams and doctors, will be sent to Haiti aboard military craft, in addition to the teams that will already have arrived there in the coming hours. They will be deployed from the mainland and from the Caribbean. I also want to underline the extraordinary mobilization of the French Antilles. Within 48 hours, we will have nearly 400 sécurité civile personnel on the ground to conduct rescue operations.
2. I have asked the army chief of staff to mobilize our military assets. The Francis Garnier is standing by at Fort-de-France and will sail to Haiti carrying earth-moving equipment and humanitarian supplies from the mainland. Another water-treatment unit will be sent to Haiti because drinking water is a major problem on the island, and the Sirocco dock landing ship—currently in Dakar—will sail for Port-au-Prince where it will arrive in a couple of days with a capacity of two surgical stations and 50 beds for the wounded. We will equip it with two Puma helicopters to facilitate health-related evacuations. Additional aircraft will be mobilized to increase the frequency of rotations, because I am well aware that our compatriots who no longer have anywhere to live must absolutely be evacuated from Port-au-Prince, where one in every two houses has been destroyed. We will evacuate them promptly to Martinique in order to return them to the mainland, if they so wish, and naturally, we will bolster our forces should the need arise.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All of our efforts today are quite naturally focused on the humanitarian emergency and rescue operations.
We must turn this disaster—which comes in the wake of so many others—into an opportunity to end, once and for all, the curse that has seemingly weighed upon Haiti and its people for such a long time. Haiti is not fated to be a martyr-state. This new tragedy can be the last if the international community joins forces to help the country.
I am going to propose to President Obama, with whom I will be speaking in the coming hours, that the United States, Brazil, Canada and others take the initiative to convene a major conference on reconstruction and development in Haiti. I will speak with President Lula and Prime Minister Harper, and we will work closely with the European Union to raise considerable funds and rebuild the country. I will give you more information in the coming days, and of course I will try as soon as possible, when I travel to Martinique—I had promised to visit Santo-Domingo—I will take advantage of that opportunity, of course, to travel to Haiti in the weeks to come in order to meet with President Préval and to see how, following this catastrophe, we can rebuild this country that has been devastated by the events we’ve just learned of.