Special Briefing
Eric P. Schwartz
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Acting Director for USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance Mark Ward; Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Frank Ruggiero
Washington, DC
August 18, 2010


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MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tomorrow will deliver remarks at a plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly on the humanitarian situation from the floods in Pakistan. The General Assembly meeting, which we think will take place at roughly 3:00 p.m. tomorrow, will be an opportunity to express solidarity and to further mobilize support of member states and the international community for the situation in Pakistan.

The Secretary will appear with Secretary General Ban and also Foreign Minister Qureshi. And at tomorrow’s meeting, we expect that she will update and announce an increase in the U.S. assistance to Pakistan. But the meeting tomorrow will occur on World Humanitarian Day, where we’re conscious not only of the dramatic situation in Pakistan, but fragile situations throughout the world that require international attention and international assistance.

So we thought today that we would have Assistant Secretary Eric Schwartz start off and kind of reflect on the implications of World Humanitarian Day and in particular how they relate to the challenge and tragedy in Pakistan. Then we’ll go through our periodic update briefing. We have Chief Deputy Special Representative Frank Ruggiero here as well as Mark Ward from AID, just to kind of run through what we’re doing so far.

Eric.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHWARTZ: Thanks, P.J. As P.J. indicated, tomorrow indeed is World Humanitarian Day. And let me offer a few thoughts about it before turning the podium over to my colleagues, and then we’ll be happy to take your questions.

More than ever before, the world is – seems engulfed by humanitarian crises, overwhelming suffering as a result of conflict, hurricanes, earthquakes, and really enormous dangers faced by those trying to help people in need.

Pakistan now confronts devastating floods of historical proportions. Earlier this month, 10 dedicated medical aid workers were brutally murdered in Afghanistan. In Kyrgyzstan, violence and intimidation forced some 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks to flee their home in June. Malnutrition is lurking in Niger, while relief efforts continue in other parts of the continent.

Amid these and other disasters, tomorrow we observe World Humanitarian Day which was established by the UN to pay tribute to aid efforts on behalf of victims of conflict and natural disasters and to honor the memory of the more than 700 humanitarian relief workers worldwide who have lost their lives in service over the past decade. The date coincides not unintentionally with the August 19th, 2003 terrorist bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad, which took the lives of 22 people, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, one of the UN’s and the world’s most dedicated and effective humanitarian diplomats.

So what do we draw from this day, given especially the proliferation of humanitarian crises? First, the number of people affected by disasters tragically is on the rise. By the end of last year, 43 million people were displaced by conflict, forced from their home due to disasters, and that was the highest figure in over a decade. More are impacted by natural disasters, including, as you’ll hear about in a second, millions of Pakistanis displaced by torrential downpours and flooding.

Second, and in spite of these trends, humanitarian assistance and relief by the United States is an extraordinarily sound investment. It represents a tiny percentage of the federal budget, but it saves – not only saves lives, but promotes security and well-being where despair and misery often threaten. In Haiti, for example, food, shelter, medicine provided by the United States was critical in enabling Haiti to avert further large-scale loss of life after the earthquake took the lives of so many and has helped to permit the country to focus on the recovery process ahead.

Third, we must transform our efforts to prevent disasters before they occur. In places like Liberia and Sierra Leone in Africa, our programs to promote reconciliation, the rule of law, development help to diminish the prospects for conflict. And in several countries impacted – even as we see the disaster in Pakistan, in several countries impacted by the tsunami – the Asian tsunami in 2004 – stronger building codes, warning systems, official emergency response systems have genuinely reduced the possibility that a natural hazard, like a hurricane, will become a full-blown disaster.

Finally, while the United States leads the world in international humanitarian response, we can’t do the job alone. In particular, we have to support UN agencies like the High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF, the World Food Program, as they integrate the contributions of donors. They know their business and they help promote collaboration on the ground. About half our relief goes to these agencies and it’s money well spent.

Collectively, a ballpark figure, this year the Department of State and USAID will spend somewhere on the order of $5 billion to assist vulnerable people around the globe with relief. And happily, the Congress consistently supports these missions which are complemented by enormous in-kind assistance from our military.

Frustration and donor fatigue are understandable given the myriad calamities in the headlines, but they are not good options as they contrast starkly with the progress humanitarians have made in alleviating the suffering of tens of millions of people in recent years. There’s much more we can do to advance this noble cause. And on that note, I think let me invite my colleagues, and Frank first, to talk about the effort with respect to Pakistan. Thank you.

MR. RUGGIERO: Thanks, Eric. I thought I would just do – spend a couple minutes talking about the magnitude of the flood crisis in Pakistan, and then focus for a few minutes on what the U.S. response has been to this point.

In terms of the flood, this is the worst flooding in Pakistan in 80 years. You have over a million people affected by this point. The crop that is in the ground for this season will be lost; that cannot be replanted obviously. Bridges are out throughout Pakistan. The key to take away from this is that we are only partially through this. We are in the middle of the monsoon season. The weather remains – there remains precipitation in the forecast. This crisis will get worse before it gets better. This is also a long-term crisis and it affects the vast majority of Pakistan. Unlike the earthquakes in 2005, this crisis affects all of Pakistan. This is not limited to a particular area.

So let me just say a few words about the U.S. response thus far. The United States has been providing relief to the Pakistani people from the very beginning of this crisis. U.S. helicopters were flown from Afghanistan to Pakistan to help save people that were stranded by the flooding and to deliver humanitarian supplies. U.S. C-130s from Afghanistan have done the same thing.

On the civilian assistance side, we have provided $90 million of U.S. assistance. My colleague from USAID will touch more specifically on all of this. The Secretary of State will go to the UN tomorrow to address the issue of Pakistani flood relief. Again, as the scale of this flood is so dramatic, the United States continues to call on the international community to provide the people of Pakistan with the support it needs at this dire time.

So, turn this over to USAID.

MR. WARD: Frank, thanks very much – Eric and P.J. I want to talk a little bit about the humanitarians, the people that we honor on World Humanitarian Day.

I’ve been in the Foreign Service a long time and was involved in the U.S. Government’s response after the tsunami, after the Pakistan earthquake, after the China earthquake, and now with the Pakistan floods. And in all the travels, I’ll never forget the humanitarian workers that I met when I arrived at these scenes of disaster living in awful conditions, but there to help the people who needed our help the most. I’ll never forget, for example, seeing USAID workers camped out at the airport in Banda Aceh after the tsunami in deplorable conditions.

And then, as you heard from Eric, some of them pay with more than comfort. In 2009, last year, a record 278 humanitarians were victims of security incidents around the world. That’s a 44 percent increase in the number that were hurt just a decade ago. And then I was lucky enough to get to travel with two of our former presidents, Bush and Clinton, to the tsunami-affected region. And I remember being with them as they saw USAID’s humanitarian experts and NGOs giving victims hope for the future.

And they prepared a report on their trip when they got back, and in that report, they described the tremendous work that they had seen by the humanitarian workers and they said they were never so proud to be Americans. I just completed 20 months with the United Nations in Afghanistan and I saw that same humanitarian determination and spirit there too. And when the United Nations in Afghanistan was attacked last October and five of our colleagues were killed, none of my colleagues wanted to leave.

And now, I am very honored to come back to USAID and lead the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, the leader of the U.S. humanitarian response. OFDA has already responded to 64 disasters this fiscal year, and if you look back over the last decade, over 800 disasters. And I see that same determination, that humanitarian determination, every day.

The Pakistan floods is our latest and certainly one of our greatest challenges – 17 million Pakistani people affected; 6 million of those need our urgent attention. Our Disaster Assistance Response Team, as Frank mentioned, 12 humanitarian experts have been on the ground almost since the beginning. In addition, there’s a broad network of NGOs and UN agencies with more than a thousand dedicated expats and Pakistanis spread throughout the flood-affected area doing their best to help the victims.

From day one, the U.S., in support of the Government of Pakistan’s efforts, have focused on reaching those who were cut off by the floods and on preventing a health crisis that would further compound the floods. In the weeks to come, we will be helping people go home as the floods recede. We will be helping people with temporary shelter materials and giving them the means to restart their livelihoods and get the Pakistani economy working again. Longer term, we look forward to working with the government and with other nations – as Eric said, we need everybody’s help – on the longer-term rebuilding of critical infrastructure in the country that was damaged by the flood waters.

As Frank told you, to date, we have announced more than $90 million of support – the Secretary will talk about that tomorrow – and some increased support surely can be expected, given the size of the flood disaster that, frankly, isn’t over yet and that we’re seeing the magnitude of each day as it comes.

Thanks very much.

MR. CROWLEY: Questions?

QUESTION: Sir, thank you. Raghubir Goyal. What steps are you taking for the long term in the future to curb all these kind of natural disasters? Of course, you cannot fight with nature, but steps can we take in the future that more people may not be affected or you may need less help for those future --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHWARTZ: Let me answer very briefly and then invite Mark also to say a few words.

A natural hazard does not need to be a natural disaster – does not need to be a disaster. Strong rains can be an inconvenience in a place that has well-developed disaster prevention mechanisms, strong building codes, emergency preparedness mechanisms. Or it can be terrible flooding that takes the lives of many people.

Now, given the magnitude of the floods in Pakistan, that would be a disaster under any circumstances. But there is much more that the international community can do to help to ensure prevention, that – through, as I said, strong building codes, through public education, through national disaster management agencies. That was probably the most significant lesson learned from the Asian tsunami. And let me invite Mark to say a few words because the U.S. Government in general, and USAID in particular, has focused enormous attention on this issue of disaster prevention.

Mark, do you want to say a word?

MR. WARD: Sure. Let me start with a story. Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh a few years ago and I went out a few weeks after to see the situation firsthand. And I remember flying over by helicopter – flying over – flying south from where the cyclone had hit and flying over some mangrove areas and a city at the bay there and visiting a few villages. And what I saw first in the villages was earthen dams that looked terrible. And then I remember looking at these mangrove trees and thinking they look terrible, too. And the reason they look terrible, the earthen dams and the trees, is that they had done their job. They had held back a lot of the cyclone. And we estimated that because of those preventive measures, we saved tens of thousands of lives in that cyclone, from cyclones in the past.

But many governments, just like many people, don’t fix the roof until it starts raining. It’s a phenomenon around the world. And we have to push sometimes to get national governments to invest with us, with the United States and other donor countries, in what we call disaster risk reduction programs. The National Disaster Management Agency in Pakistan was set up after the earthquake. It is headed by one of the heroes of the earthquake, General Nadeem Ahmed – retired General Nadeem Ahmed, somebody that we worked very closely with after the earthquake.

We are doing all we can right now, the U.S. Government, with the cooperation of a UN agency, to strengthen his capacity to respond better. When this subsides, when the floods subside and things calm down a little bit in Pakistan, believe me, we will be looking at strengthening further the capacity of the NDMA so that it can better respond to what we know will be another natural disaster in Pakistan. That will be very important.

QUESTION: Is there some (inaudible) or some kind of dam which – people of Pakistan can remember, the United States has done something for permanent solution?

MR. WARD: If – we will strengthen the capacity of the NDMA. If the NDMA, working with this government, makes recommendations about what needs to be done in terms of disaster risk reduction, that might include dams. It might include other things as well. Eric talked about public education. That’s always a part of it. That’s the conversation we will have in the future.

MR. CROWLEY: Charlie.

QUESTION: Charlie Wolfson from CBS. Does any one of you want to tackle the question of whether you’re satisfied with what the international community has done so far? Pakistan, there seems to be not as many people stepping up, not as many governments stepping up, and also associated with that, perhaps, the question of donor fatigue.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHWARTZ: There’s no question that the world economic situation, as a general matter, has had an impact on the ability of many governments around the world to give, and give generously. It just makes it all the more important that the United States of America plays such a strong leadership role on international humanitarian response.

And I have to say that in that respect, the support of the U.S. Congress is truly extraordinary. It is truly extraordinary. We – unlike many other parts of the government, we are constantly pressed by members of Congress about why we are not asking for more in this area. And it’s critical because our – when there is this kind of an event, our ability to come forward and come forward very quickly – a number of organizations can count, for example, effectively that the United States will do more or less a quarter of the response in a humanitarian disaster. That ability to do so and put money on the table has a catalytic effect and brings others forward. And I would say despite the economic circumstances that the world is confronting, donor governments continue to make humanitarian response a very high priority.

So the short answer to your question is: Donor fatigue is an issue, but I think it’s not an issue for the United States. And I think other governments around the world continue to make relief response a very high priority.

MR. RUGGIERO: I would say that the international community has responded to the flooding in Pakistan. I think as the scale of the disaster becomes apparent and as this – as I said earlier in my comments, that as we see the flooding worsen over the coming weeks, I think it’s – the international community will need to provide even more additional assistance, that the need is extreme at this point, and that the international community and the United States will have to provide support to the Pakistani Government to deal with it.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the donor fatigue, it seems to me, and the aid bodies have said this, that the public just hasn’t reacted to the tragedy in Pakistan to the same extent that it has in Haiti. Can you respond to that? I mean, what are you trying – what is State trying to do in terms of sort of maybe raising awareness, and what are the underlining issues?

MR. CROWLEY: Let me step up and say these are different kinds of disasters. You had an earthquake in Haiti, and tragic as it was, it happened, it ended, and then we’ve been dealing with the impact of that ever since. In Pakistan, you actually have a disaster that is still happening. You have the flooding that is actually getting worse. That has probably affected you in your industry and your ability to get reporters in there. And quite honestly, it is, to some extent, the pictures that come out of these disasters that do help trigger both governments and people around the world to respond. And I know that many of your colleagues are just setting down on the ground there and will be reporting in the coming day.

So I think there’s a qualitative difference to this disaster, and much of it is because it’s still raining in Pakistan. The floods are expanding in Pakistan. And in the coming days, I think you will see the response pick up as people – as Frank was just saying – as they understand the magnitude of this. And you have, one, an unfolding immediate disaster, but then you have also a long-term recovery that will be vitally important. And we are already reassessing the programs that we have put in place as part of our revised strategy for the region. We are already reassessing the projects. Some of those that we have already announced would have to be recalibrated and reprioritized because the school that perhaps we hoped to rebuild is now gone. So this will be something that we’ll be dealing with for some time, but we do actually expect – and tomorrow’s event will certainly help in this regard.

QUESTION: India has last week offered around $5 million U.S. aid to Pakistan. It’s now a week now Pakistan is reluctant to accept that aid. Do you think politics and diplomacy should come in between when hundreds and thousands of people are suffering?

MR. RUGGIERO: I think the priority is to use offers of assistance to help the Pakistani people, so we would encourage the Government of Pakistan to accept that offer.

QUESTION: Can you repeat that? Can you repeat it again? What did you say?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, in terms of responding to a disaster, politics should play no role. You have a country that’s willing to help Pakistan, and I think we expect that Pakistan will accept.

QUESTION: This is touching on something that P.J. kind of addressed a little bit, but I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about Kerry-Lugar funding here. I mean, Pakistan already has quite a bit of money on the table from the U.S. coming and it’s also coming over a period of years, so it seems like it’s in a sort of enviable position, at least in that regard, in that they have a certain money stream on track. Is there a lot of discussion in the Department or in the agencies about how to repurpose or whether to repurpose Kerry-Lugar funding, and how will those decisions be made? Are we going to be looking at some of this money being diverted into immediate relief efforts? Are we going to be changing the plans that we have that the Secretary was talking about a few weeks ago in Pakistan on electricity grids and so on to address more immediate issues?

MR. RUGGIERO: Senator Kerry is actually in Pakistan today, so it’s a very timely question. We have begun to think about what we will do with that long-term security assistance provided underneath Kerry-Lugar-Berman and that could require us shifting it from what we thought was a priority three weeks ago to what is a priority today. But I think what we’ll have to wait and see is what are the mid- to long-term economic needs of Pakistan that we could use that funding to address. But I guess we would also consider more immediate needs as they arise.

QUESTION: You are providing millions of dollars and you’re also saying that U.S. humanitarian relief experts are going to be there in the – on the field. But there is another angle, which is Pakistani journalists are saying that corruption levels are rising with the flood levels, so how are you addressing that? Where exactly you are putting the money?

MR. WARD: There are a network, as I mentioned – there’s a network of NGOs, some Pakistani, mostly international, as well as UN agencies that we are supporting with our disaster assistance funding. But we are also looking for ways to channel some of our assistance through the government, and we think it’s important to go through all of these avenues of support – through the NGOs, through the government, and some direct provision of services and commodities such as by the U.S. military and by some of our disaster workers themselves.

In terms of accounting for the funds, and this goes back to the question of giving, the NGOs that the United States Government is supporting in Pakistan have been there for a very long time working. We have looked – we have vetted them very carefully. There is a process that we go through before an organization can receive funds from the United States Government. And it’s a tough process and any Pakistani NGO that qualifies for a grant has also gone through that process. And anybody who wants to give a private donation for Pakistan relief should feel very comfortable in giving to one of those organizations, and you will see them listed on the USAID website and the State Department website when you click on Pakistan floods.

But we also think it’s very important to work with the government. That is the best way to keep funds coming from many, many different countries well-coordinated, because the government has the responsibility, under the National Disaster Management Agency, to keep track of where are the gaps and avoiding duplication of effort by different donors.

By working through the government, we also do something that’s very important for the long term that the other gentleman asked about in terms of disaster risk reduction, and that is we build the capacity of the government to respond to disasters better in the future.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up. You mentioned that you’re – the aid is going direct by military and also through the NGOs. Can you tell us the percentage that the military is handling and the percentage you are giving directly to the NGOs? Is it 50/50, 40/50, 60s?

MR. WARD: In a word, no, I can’t tell you that yet. (Laughter.) And I’m not going to. Frankly, at this point, we’re not going to take time to do that kind of math. We will at some point. We’ll report on that later. Right now, we’re just trying to get more assistance in there.

When I said that it’s through the military and through us, what I mean is that the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance also provides commodities directly. For example, we send in water filtration units, we’ve sent in six already; there are six more on the way and we’re looking for them around the world. We send in rescue boats. We send in thousands of rolls of plastic sheeting that people can use to make temporary shelter when they go back to the villages that they had to evacuate.

So the military is bringing in wonderful support – airlift support and halal meals and some bridges – and we’re complementing that as best we can from our warehouses around the world.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll make this the last one.

QUESTION: I had a question – a Kerry-Lugar clarification question. And correct me if I’m wrong, but are there – is there quite a bit of money that hasn’t been spent for this fiscal year that can be easily shifted towards this effort? And second, I was just hoping that you guys could give an assessment of – there’s – of the reports that groups like JUD and other militant groups have stepped in where western aid workers haven’t been. And how good of a job has JUD and what – is it a security threat that they may have made some gains there?

MR. RUGGIERO: We’re aware of the reports related to organizations such as JUD. We think that the support that the international community can provide is on such a scale beyond what can be provided by organizations such as that. I think that we remain focused on bringing support and help to the Pakistani people in the immediate term to help them alleviate their suffering.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I ask Assistant Secretary Schwartz a non-Pakistan question?

MR. CROWLEY: You may.

QUESTION: May I just ask you about your meeting this afternoon with the Dalai Lama’s representative? What do you hope to achieve from it? Is there any specific thing on the agenda?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHWARTZ: Well, first, it’s not the first such meeting that U.S. officials have. We meet regularly with the – this individual, Mr. Gyari, is a U.S. citizen and has met a number of official – U.S. officials in the past.

My brief is refugees, among other issues – among other humanitarian issues. And we, the United States Government, provides considerable support and assistance through international organizations. Too, for Tibetan refugees, whose circumstances in the region are increasingly difficult. And I expect that that issue will occupy much of our discussion.

QUESTION: Is that it, though? Just refugees, basically?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHWARTZ: That – I can’t predict everything that’s going to be said at a meeting before it takes place, but that is the interest of my bureau, our substantive interests in this meeting.

QUESTION: Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHWARTZ: Okay.

MR. CROWLEY: Great. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHWARTZ: Okay. Thanks. Appreciate it.

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PRN: 2010/1126

[This is a mobile copy of Briefing On Upcoming World Humanitarian Day]