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April 22, 2016
Washington Demands and Disaster Assistance: USAID and the 2010 Haiti Earthquake
Lewis Lucke was called out of retirement in 2010 to coordinate USAID’s response to the disastrous 7.0 magnitude Haitian earthquake, which killed an estimated 100,000 people and dealt a devastating blow to a country still reeling from political instability and the aftermath of a military coup. Lucke found bodies in the street and mountains of rubble, a “magnificent” U.S. military response and a persistent challenge in meeting Washington’s incessant demands for information. “At one point, it seemed that my bosses in Washington felt my main job was to prepare powerpoint presentations so they could show them to Obama,” Lucke recalled. “I told them if that was what they thought was my job, that I would quit right now and be gone.” Ex-President Clinton also visited Haiti during Lucke’s three-month assignment there. At an airport meeting, Clinton “told me he could bring in thousands of tents from Bangladesh, I think it was,” Lucke said. “I gave him the ‘tarp vs tent’ speech and politely told him to please NOT bring us any more tents.”
Lucke remained in Haiti for three backbreaking months, joining forces with the UN, a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) from USAID, a multitude of NGOs, and thousands of volunteers. He found Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, almost completely destroyed. “The Presidential palace was a beautiful building,” he recalled, “but most of it was now collapsed and had to be bulldozed away as rubble.” Another major blow was the destruction of the headquarters of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, killing the Mission’s chief and 95 other UN personnel. This severely handicapped the UN’s capacity for emergency response.
Lucke had previously served as USAID Mission Director in Haiti, and was an obvious choice to coordinate the agency’s response to the earthquake. When the call came to return to Haiti, Lucke was preparing to return after an illustrious career that had taken him to Mali, Senegal, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Jordan, Haiti, Iraq after the Second Gulf War, and an Ambassadorship in Swaziland.
Drafted by Sabrina Rostkowski
Lewis Lucke’s interview was conducted by Mark Tauber beginning November 16, 2016.
Read Lewis Lucke’s full oral history at https://adst.org/2018/06/washington-demands-and-disaster-assistance-usaid-and-the-2010-haiti-earthquake/.
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