OPERATOR: Welcome, and thank you for standing by. At this time, all participants are on a “listen-only” mode until the question and answer session of today’s conference. At that time, you may press 1 if you would like to ask a question. I’d like to inform all parties that this call is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time.
And now it’s my pleasure to hand the call over to Ms. Julie Reside. Thank you, ma’am. You may begin.
MS. RESIDE: Thank you, and thanks to all of you for joining us this morning. We’re very pleased to have with us Ambassador Anne Patterson. She’s the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan. She’s joined us today to talk to you on the record, primarily U.S. relief issues to Pakistan in support of the flood victims. We’ve got – she’s happy to take your questions, following her open remarks.
At this time, I’m going to turn it over to Ambassador Patterson. Those of you who have a desire to ask a question, the operator will come back and tell you what you need to do that. And as soon as Ambassador Patterson has finished her introduction – introductory remarks, we’ll go onto questions.
AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Well, thank you, Julie, and good morning to you all. I’d like to make some initial remarks and then I’ll be glad take your questions.
Many of you were here with Secretary Clinton on the very first day of this year’s monsoon and have a sense of how quickly they can appear and how heavy the rainfall can be at times. This year the monsoon rains arrived with a vengeance. The average monthly rainfall in August has been calculated by the weather service at about two and a half inches. However, from July 28th to 30th – three days – northern Pakistan received eight inches of rain. You know about the terrible air crash that took place near Islamabad on July 28th in torrential rains. And with a few exceptions, it hasn’t stopped raining. More rain is anticipated tomorrow and Sunday, and the consequence has been the worst flood in Pakistan in 80 years.
What makes this unique is the scale of the disaster and its effect throughout the entire country. The earthquake and the displacement of 2 million people from the Swat Valley were more localized. So while the loss of life may – the loss of life in this disaster may be less, the economic impact and the need for reconstruction assistance over time could well be greater.
The UN now estimates that nearly 1,500 people were killed, a million people remain homeless, and 4.5 million people have been affected across the country as the initial flood waters moves through the Indus River system toward the Arabian Sea. It would be as if the Missouri, Arkansas, and Red Rivers all overflowed at once and then dumped huge amounts of water and debris into the Mississippi.
The number of affected people is expected to rise to 6 million by the end of the week. Countrywide, 92 bridges have been destroyed, and more than 200 major roads have been damaged. There are four major dams at risk. Crop and livestock loss will affect long-term livelihood and food security. International organizations believe that up to 2.5 million people will require food assistance. We anticipate that with additional rains this weekend, waters will still be high next week.
The U.S. engagement with this flood began last Friday, July 30th, when the Government of Pakistan asked that U.S. helicopters and aircraft, assigned to support the Pakistan interior ministry’s air wing, support flood relief. We agreed immediately and began to consider what other ways we could help. In the meantime, these U.S. aircrafts have rescued over a thousand people and airlifted over 37,000 pounds of supplies.
Our DOD colleagues, recognizing the growing crisis, immediately went on a search for emergency meal. On Saturday, U.S. aircrews aboard the U.S. Air Force C-130 and C-17 transport aircraft flew into Rawalpindi and delivered about 50,000 halal meals in support of a Pakistan Government request. That number grew through the week to nearly 436,000 meals.
On Sunday, I received an urgent request from the government requesting helicopter support to reach stranded victims and to deliver supplies. Our colleagues at the NSC, State and Department of Defense, immediately swung into action. The four Chinook and two Black Hawk helicopters arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday, and would have been here even earlier but for weather delays. Yesterday, on their first efforts, they evacuated more than 800 people and transported 66,000 pounds of relief supplies. Today, unfortunately, bad weather has hindered operations.
The U.S. has already committed $35 million in assistance to flood-affected populations. The money will be provided by USAID to international organizations and established Pakistani NGOs to provide food, health care, and shelter for those displaced by the floods. This is being supplemented by existing programs that we had in place to help many of these same people who were formerly displaced by fighting in Swat. And we are working now to identify gaps.
I assume, you’ve all seen our daily fact sheets that describe the other contributions we have made, including prefabricated steel bridges, Zodiac inflatable boats, and water filtration plants.
I’d like to make one final point before I take your questions. For the last week, the U.S. Government has been working to support Pakistan’s Government as it struggles to save lives and property. Secretary Clinton, who has been deeply engaged in building a strong relationship between the United States and Pakistan, has made our support for Pakistan in this time of crisis a priority. Our government is fortunate to have a number of people here and in Washington with substantial experience available to assist and support Pakistan, including several who were here during the earthquake. We are using the unique capabilities of our government to help save lives and to provide humanitarian assistance in full partnership with the Government of Pakistan.
Yesterday, I visited the airbase where two of our Chinook helicopters were loading up supplies. There were young American men and women, working closely with their Pakistani counterparts, to lift sacks of food bearing the American flag under these huge transport helicopters. This is something only the American military can do. And I was proud to be associated with it.
With that, I’ll take some of your questions. Thank you.
MS. RESIDE: Okay, Andrea.
OPERATOR: At this time, if you would like to ask a question, please press 1 on your touch-tone phone and record your name when prompted. One moment, please, for the first question.
And first question comes from Mr. Warren Strobel with the McClatchy newspapers. Your line is open, sir.
QUESTION: Ambassador Patterson, can you hear me okay?
AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Yeah, just fine.
QUESTION: Good, thanks for doing this. While this terrible crisis is going on that you just described, President Zardari is in Europe, out of the country, and I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about what political effect that might be having in Pakistan, particularly at a time – as our correspondent there is reporting that the front group for Lashkar-e-Tayyiba is busy delivering supplies in the affected areas.
AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Well, yeah, thanks for the question. We’re concentrating on working with the National Disaster Management Association and the Provincial Disaster Management Authorities, many of whom have long experience in disaster relief efforts. And so we’re not really concentrating on the overall political situation here at this time, because our focus is on saving lives and delivering supplies.
There are always, in situations like this, NGOs that are associated with what we would call extremist groups who have been active delivering supplies. But they’re totally, in my view, overcome by the enormous number of local and highly reputable NGOs and the international NGOs who’ve already mobilized for this crisis. We’re working with already 13 international and local NGOs in trying to get money to them as quickly as possible so they can provide services throughout the country. So we think the government is – particularly the federal disaster management authority is doing a good job in delivering support to the people.
MS. RESIDE: Andrea, next question.
OPERATOR: Next question is from Sue Pleming with Reuters. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Just to follow up on Warren’s question. You said that you’re not concentrating on the overall physical situation at this time. But would it have been more helpful to have had President Zardari in country and has the cooperation from the civilian government been good up until now? Have they provided you with full lists of what they need? Are you getting the sort of civilian cooperation that would be helpful?
AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Well, yes, we’ve had long experience working with the disaster authorities here in Pakistan and particularly the chairman of it who was also involved in relief for the earthquake. And we’ve worked closely with him. He has, frankly, vast experience in working with international NGOs and PBOs and the international donors. And we’ve gotten excellent cooperation. They have, of course, over the past few days, given us assessments of their needs. The UN will come out with a more detailed assessment on Monday, because, of course, everyone is trying to avoid duplication of their efforts. So yes, we’re satisfied. We’re very satisfied working with the government. Everything we’ve done here has been in response to a government request. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: But what about the central government? You keep talking about the management – the disaster response team.
AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: But that is the central government. I mean, that is the federal government. They have disaster response authorities just like we would in a situation like this. And it’s a – it functions essentially as a separate ministry under the prime minister and it’s quite effective. I mean, any disaster of this scale, it’s going to take several days to gear up and many of these people were stranded and cut off from access to supplies, but things are beginning to recover. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, we’re going to – we anticipate additional rain over the next few days. But the disaster authorities here are very experienced.
QUESTION: But just to go back to the original question, would it have been more helpful to have had President Zardari in the country to create confidence in what the government is doing? Would that have been helpful?
AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Well, I don’t know whether that would have been helpful or not, because it really would have had – what we’re trying to do is focus on getting supplies to people who are stranded by the flood. And that’s what the Pakistan Government is trying to do as well. Again, everything we’ve done has been in response and partnership with them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. RESIDE: Thank you, Andrea. Next question.
OPERATOR: Next question is from Tejinder Singh with TV Today Network. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes. Good morning and thank you for taking these questions. I have two points I’d like you to comment on. One is that you mentioned you’re giving money to NGOs. Can you give the list of NGOs that are getting the money? And are you monitoring the domestic Pakistani media where it is being alleged that money is being spent and LET, the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba is taking credit for what you are doing? And the second is coming back to the earlier questions. The president is more focused about telling the world that the American – international coalition against the war on terror is failing. How would you like to comment on that?
AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Well, let me focus on your first question about the international NGOs we’re working with. We, of course, work – in this we work constantly with the international organizations, UN agencies like WHO, UNICEF, Save the Children. We’re working with the Pakistan Red Crescent Association, which is active in many of these areas. And we can certainly provide you with a list of international NGOs that we’re working with. And again, we’re trying to get money out to these organizations because they’re active and they’re present in many of these flood-affected areas.
I very much think that the impact of LET is wildly exaggerated. I haven’t seen any press articles saying they’re taking credit for USAID. We’ve heard these reports early during the IDP crisis in Swat. And many of them turned out to be, if not flatly untrue, wildly exaggerated. So I’m, frankly, not very concerned about it. They have a very strong network of indigenous and highly reputable NGOs here as well as international NGOs and I’m sure they’ll be able to deliver assistance efficiently. The scale of the problem is very serious. I don’t mean to underestimate that, but there are established NGO networks here that work very well.
MS. RESIDE: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: I’m showing no further questions at this time.
MS. RESIDE: Okay, thank you very much, Ambassador Patterson for taking the time to talk with us today --
AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Okay.
MS. RESIDE: -- and our press for joining us.
AMBASSADOR PATTERSON: Okay, thank you.