Nation making progress in wake of quake

The devastation in Haiti is almost impossible to comprehend, and what the earthquake destroyed in minutes will take years and the collective efforts of relief organizations and governments to repair.

Help poured into Haiti despite enormous logistical challenges immediately after the earthquake. Aid was focused initially on the most urgent needs of medical care, food and water, with the Red Cross caring for more than 62,000 injured, providing food for 1 million people, and supplying 1.7 million liters of water a day.

There are signs of progress in Haiti.

The Red Cross and partner agencies have provided emergency shelter materials to more than two-thirds of the 1.3 million left homeless by the earthquake. And as more tarps and tents arrive in Haiti, our collective goal is to put temporary shelter over the heads of the remaining homeless before the peak of rainy season in May.

When I returned to Haiti in mid-March, I could see a contrast from my first visit two months earlier. Roads had been cleared, street vendors were selling food, supplies and materials, and Haitians were walking with purpose in their strides and even an occasional smile on their faces. The Haitian people and their inherent resilience were like flowers coming up through a crack in the sidewalk.

Make no mistake, the needs remain immense. This is perhaps the most challenging disaster that the international community has ever faced -- one compounded by the fact that 1.9 million people were hungry before the earthquake.

An assessment by the United Nations estimates that it will cost $11.5 billion over three years to rebuild Haiti, an amount that far more than any single organization can manage.

The American Red Cross has raised $369 million through generous donations that range from seven-figure contributions from large companies to a boy's gift of $1 left by the tooth fairy. Even that sum equals only about 3 percent of the total needed to rebuild Haiti.

With so great a need, every dollar must be spent wisely through collaboration among governments and non-government organizations. The Red Cross is working with the Haitian Red Cross, Haitian government, U.S. government, World Bank, United Nations and other aid organizations to ensure that relief and recovery work are done in a coordinated and comprehensive way.

The American Red Cross is committed to getting more aid to Haiti and its people as quickly as possible and to do so in the most transparent and practical way to meet longer-term needs.

I worry about the continuing dire and heartbreaking situation in Haiti, especially with housing, as the tents and tarps being distributed now will not offer sufficient protection against a hurricane.

Before the Red Cross and other aid groups can move forward with plans to build large numbers of transitional or permanent shelters, we need sufficient land upon which to build.

Unfortunately, even if construction had started the day after the earthquake, there still would not have been enough time to build transitional shelter for 1.3 million people before hurricane season.

That said, I am proud of the work the Red Cross has accomplished in the first months after the earthquake, but there is no question that recovery will be a long process, filled with many challenges for the Haitian government and its people -- as well as those who are working so hard to help them.

Contact McGovern, president and chief executive of the American Red Cross, at the American Red Cross, 430 17th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20006.