National Press Club

AID Administrator Calls Haiti Earthquake Source of Learning, Guide to Reform

June 18, 2010 | By Lorna Aldrich |

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Rajiv Shah, administrator of the Agency for International Development, cited the earthquake in Haiti as a source of learning and a guide to shaping reform in the agency during a June 18 Luncheon.

The first example from Haiti that he listed was purchasing food locally so it was available immediately. He also said that vaccinating more than a million people prevented a major outbreak of disease.

Because research has shown that chlorine tablets distributed with water were more likely to be used, truck drivers delivering water also distributed tablets, he said. As a result, he said, more Haitians had safe drinking water after the earthquake than before.

He added that AID helped local construction firms learn how to build safely and cheaply. In combination with the Gates Foundation, he said, introducing banking through mobile phones allowed secure withdrawals and deposits.

These examples show that AID staff "can succeed by becoming development entrepreneurs," he said.

He thanked the media for "unstinting reporting" that led to more than half of U.S. households contributing to Haitian relief.

Shah described the general principles that the Haitian examples illustrate as working with recipient countries and communities to build local capacity and using evidence-based strategies. He also emphasized the need for transparency and accountability.

He said AID worked with the military and local communities in Afghanistan. Shah pointed out that the process of working with the Afghan local communities is as important as providing buildings or roads because it creates real governance.

He said infant mortality in Afghanistan had declined 22 percent since 2002.

Development strategies need to focus on women, he said, because money they receive is more likely to support children's nutrition and education. An example of the need, he said, is that 47 percent of children under 5 in Bangladesh are stunted, which will affect their physical and mental development.

Women are critical to nutrition and food security, he said, because they are the majority of agricultural workers.

With respect to the issue of corruption in aid receiving countries he said, "There is no tolerance of corruption in any of our programs."