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U.S. Embassy Pakistan Press Briefing on Flood Relief Efforts

Press Conference
Anne W. Patterson
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan
Islamabad, Pakistan
August 17, 2010


Ambassador Patterson: Thank you, Rick. Good afternoon. Pakistan is facing a disaster of enormous proportions but we do not yet know the full scope of its impact. The unusually heavy monsoon rains created a wall of water running downstream successively flooding communities along the river. There are at least three waves that have been created and it has not stopped raining. Monsoons here usually continue until mid-September.


We have all heard the statistics. The UN says by a conservative estimate some 14 million people have been affected by the flood and that at least half, 7million, require humanitarian assistance.


The Secretary General has launched an international appeal for $459 million dollars.


Secretary of State Clinton is planning to attend a special session of the UN General Assembly on Thursday and to speak about Pakistan’s crisis there. The United States is asking governments around the world to attend the special session at the highest level possible on short notice in a show of support for Pakistan.


The United States has responded immediately and generously to Pakistan’s call for assistance following the tragic and devastating floods that began July 29th. To date, the U.S. has pledged to provide approximately $76 million in assistance to flood-affected populations in Pakistan. Over $30 million of that assistance has already been contracted to NGO partners here in Pakistan who are implementing relief for people here. This is far more than any other country has contributed, but that only tells part of the story.


The United States has unique capabilities that no other nation in the world can match. Immediately following the government of Pakistan’s request we had U.S. government helicopters in country to begin supporting relief efforts. The U.S. Department of Defense has brought a growing number of air assets from Afghanistan and from a ship in the Arabian Sea to support the Pakistan government.


The American people can be proud of our fine service personnel who are doing an outstanding job, ferrying about 515,000 tons of equipment and food and rescuing more than 4600 stranded people.


We estimate that these in-kind contributions -- food, water purification plants, bridges, and aircraft operations in-country -- have brought the total of U.S. assistance, cash and in-kind, to over $87 million, and this amount is growing every day.


The American private sector is also beginning to step up and we have seen a number of donations start to come in from major American corporations. You can see the details on your fact sheets.


The Pakistani-American community has begun to hold fundraisers and appeals on behalf of flood relief. American citizens have been texting the word “Swat” on their cell phones to 50555 to make a $10 contribution.


Ladies and gentlemen of the press, Pakistan is facing a historic crisis. The United States is channeling all elements of our substantial national abilities -- money, unique in-kind contributions, and our private sector -- to help the people of Pakistan. Everything we are doing is in full partnership with the government of Pakistan and in support of the government’s efforts to bring about a quick recovery for the people of Pakistan.


We are well aware that many people remain in crisis. There is not yet enough food or shelter for the many people affected by this disaster. The human suffering caused by this flood has been great, and while we are talking today about the big picture of disaster relief and assistance, we want you to know that we are concerned about protecting every Pakistani. Our purpose in inviting you here today is to try to give you a picture of what is taking place and where we are going.


Our mission team and our senior leadership in Washington has been working non-stop over the past few weeks to help Pakistan. I will ask some of my senior staff to brief you, but also I want to acknowledge the presence here today of some of our very important NGO partners who will also brief you on the work they are doing on the ground across the country.


So first you will hear from Vice Admiral Mike LeFever, the head of our Office of the Defense Representative, who will describe our significant contributions to emergency rescue and relief. Admiral LeFever was the key DoD official here during the 2005 earthquake.


Then you will hear from Bill Berger, USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team Leader. Bill will describe how the international community is moving in to support NDMA. Bill was also here during the 2005 earthquake.


Bob Wilson, the head of the USAID Mission will describe the funds we are programming to our NGO partners.


My staff will do their best to make crisp presentations so that we can get to your questions, but before we begin I want to reiterate that the U.S. government is doing everything it can to support Pakistan’s rescue and relief operations. Our activities are in complete lock-step with the NDMA and the Pakistan military. We are painfully aware that many people are continuing to experience hardships in Pakistan. We have made this humanitarian mission our absolute top priority to save lives and help stabilize Pakistan.


The United States was here supporting Pakistan as a partner before the flood, and we will continue to support Pakistan into the future.


Thank you.


Admiral LeFever?


VADM LeFever: Good afternoon.


First let me express my sincere condolences to all those who have lost family and friends during these terrible floods throughout Pakistan. We mourn with you and support you as you and your nation bravely confronts this tragedy.


As many may be aware, this is the second time in my military career that I’ve been in a position to assist our Pakistani friends during a natural disaster. Just as we were during the earthquake relief operations in 2005 and 2006, the United States is here once again to help. We are committed to providing the assistance requested by the government of Pakistan and to aid the people of Pakistan in their time of need.


While U.S. support is very much a whole-of-government endeavor, our military provides a unique capability to rapidly deliver much needed aid and assistance. Over the last 18 days our response to this terrible disaster has been immediate. Only 36 hours into the flooding, U.S. military cargo aircraft had already begun aid flights, delivering 436,000 Halala meals-ready-to-eat for distribution by Pakistan authorities.


Six U.S. military helicopters were dispatched shortly thereafter to begin the urgent relief flights in partnership with the Pakistan military.


By the end of this week we’ll have a total of 19 helicopters in Pakistan providing support, and more are on the way soon to help deliver supplies to areas cut off by the floods.


Since arriving, these U.S. helicopter crews and their Pakistan military counterparts have rescued more than 3500 people and have delivered more than 436,000 pounds of relief supplies.


Yesterday U.S. Air Force C-130s began assisting the Pakistan government with transport of international from warehouses here in Islamabad to the required locations throughout Pakistan in hubs that Bill Berger will mention that General Nadeem at the NDMA has a plan for. We delivered just yesterday alone 52,000 pounds of supplies.


I would encourage you to read the Embassy’s fact sheet which has more about these efforts and the overall U.S. efforts in Pakistan.


The humanitarian assistance effort to aid Pakistan is very personal to me. The wonderful relationships and friendships I’ve developed with so many Pakistanis during the years in Pakistan have endeared me to your country. Together as friends and partners we will continue to stand beside you, the people and the government of Pakistan, as you courageously tackle this enormous challenge laid before us.


Thank you.


I’ll now be followed by Bill Berger, DART team leader.


Mr. Berger: Thank you, Admiral LeFever.


Let me join the Ambassador and Admiral LeFever in conveying our condolences to the people of Pakistan in this hour of great need. The current situation, as the Ambassador mentioned, over 14 million people have been affected by the flood from these unprecedented monsoon rains. For us, help is a top priority, and shelter, water and food are also in short supply.


According to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, NDMA, the devastation left by the flood waters in the north of the country may worsen as water surges south to the Sindh Province.


We’re working closely with the government of Pakistan, with the NDMA, Chairman Nadeem, and the international NGOs, UN agencies and Pakistan humanitarian organizations.


What we’re doing. Here are our priorities.


To date, as the Ambassador mentioned, the U.S. has provided $87 million in financial and humanitarian assistance. This is just the beginning. The U.S. efforts will grow in the days and weeks ahead.


The demand now has shifted from rescuing those stranded to providing food, water, and shelter to those who have lost their homes and their livelihoods, and in the aftermath of floods one thing we’re always concerned about is disease control and prevention.


Pakistan has been flooded from north to south. Millions of families have lost their livelihoods and seen homes, shops, schools and crops flattened and washed away.


USAID is providing safe drinking water for approximately 36,000 people. We delivered six water filtration units, each capable of providing clean water to 10,000 people a day. Those were shipped within the very first hours of the onset of flooding because we knew that waterborne disease would always be a problem in flooding.


Water tinkering and restoration of wells in KPK, Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab Provinces are priorities in things that we are providing assistance for now.


We’re expanding activities in flood-affected regions in the south including Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan Provinces where there has been little humanitarian presence until now.


Health, as I said, is a vital concern. Where waters are receding, USAID is expanding health efforts to prevent malaria and an outbreak of waterborne diseases and respiratory infections that commonly occur in flooding. Because we know waterborne illnesses can lead to severe dehydration and death without proper treatment and prevention, preventing and containing a disease outbreak is vital in this response.


USAID has provided funding to establish more than 15 Diarrhea Treatment Centers located in high risk, flood-affected areas. Through the Disease Early Warning System of WHO, funded in part by USAID since 2008, we will know as communicable infections and diseases appear in the flood-affected areas.


USAID is also supporting local health facilities through the World Health Organization and NGO partners country-wide, and expanding the Disease Early Warning System and developing more health facilities, diarrhea treatment centers and district hospitals in flood-affected areas.


Radio and text messaging networks have been set up to get out information about the importance of good hygiene and washing of hands. People are going door to door to convey the importance of boiling water, hand washing, and proper sanitation.


USAID has flown in five flights of high quality plastic sheeting and shelter kit materials to construct emergency shelters for 115,900 people. The plastic sheeting is so durable that people affected by the earthquake that were provided this plastic sheeting still are using this today.


USAID’s Office of Food for Peace has provided more than $15.4 million to the UN World Food Program, primarily for the local and regional purchase of food aid and the dispatch of commodities from USAID’s prepositioned site in Djibouti. USAID Food for Peace has provided $4.1 million for food vouchers to enable flood victims to purchase food in their local markets.


As the waters recede, we’ll be here helping the people of Pakistan. We will work with the government of Pakistan on the reconstruction efforts including credit facilities to put purchasing power back in the hands of Pakistani people, cash for work and employment programs to clear debris, and we’ll perform basic fix-up activities in flood-affected areas and provide building materials, seeds and tools so that when people return they can reestablish their livelihoods.


We’re working closely with General Nadeem and his team at the NDMA. They’re working diligently under the incredible pressure of the enormous needs of the people affected by the flooding. They’ve set up a hub and spoke distribution system covering all of the affected areas. Also they have put in place a process for national and donor-provided assistance to quickly and effectively reach those in need. We’re supporting their efforts with every resource at our disposal.


Thank you very much.


Now I’d like to introduce Bob Wilson who’s the Director of USAID in Pakistan.


Mr. Wilson: Good afternoon. Thank you, Bill.


In addition to the efforts of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance that Bill just outlined, USAID’s development assistance portfolio is also stepping up to provide additional support to the relief efforts and planning for considerable reconstruction and recovery efforts once the floods recede.


Our ongoing livelihoods programs and small scale community infrastructure programs, health, education programs, are providing support currently to needy communities.


I’d like to mention that in addition to the international organizations that USAID and OFDA are supporting, we’re also supporting local organizations and NGOs. We have recently initiated grants to the Poverty Alleviation Fund which is an association of over 82 local NGOs and we’re also working with the Rural Support Program Network in many areas of the country, flood-affected areas of the country. We’re also providing support to the coordination efforts of the NDMA through the ION.


We’re also responsible for the bulk of the Kerry-Lugar Bill implementation. Our spend plan under Kerry-Lugar has significant health, water, agriculture, infrastructure, finance, local government and education resources which can be reoriented to priority recovery and reconstruction needs once the floods recede.


Lastly, I’d like to recognize the presence of Manuel Bessler, the head of OCHA; and Wolfgang Harbinger, the head of WFP here; and I believe we’re ready to answer questions.


Question: I would like to ask you, these days there’s a lot of talk about Pakistan facing a credibility crisis and image problem with regards to receiving the foreign donations. Is that a consideration for the U.S. when it gives Pakistan aid or donations for the flood affectees? Thank you.


Ambassador Patterson: The short answer is no. The U.S. will funnel its assistance through a variety of mechanisms including the government of Pakistan. We’re going to provide money, resources, to NDMA through the UN organizations with which we have a longstanding relationship, through international NGOs and private voluntary organizations, and as Mr. Wilson just explained, a wide variety of local NGOs who have reached into the rural and isolated parts of the country.


We have confidence in the government’s ability to deliver, and we will work with all these mechanisms to try and ensure that every single Pakistani gets the relief that he or she deserves.


Question: The $87 million you talked about, flood assistance to Pakistan so far. So I just want to know about the break-up. How much you contributed to United Nations; how much to the NGOs or USAID; and how much through government of Pakistan? Thank you.


Ambassador Patterson: I’m going to ask Mr. Berger to write that down, but let me say as an overall approach to our aid program, we are funneling more money through the government of Pakistan. We’ve given $180 million this year alone to the Benazir Income Support Fund which of course is a program for poor people. $90 million to the Higher Education Commission. All of this in cash. $45 million for IDP relief. And $65 million for housing for victims of the Swat crisis. So we are trying to funnel as much money as possible through the government, but I’ll let Mr. Berger give you the break-down of the $78 million.


Mr. Berger: $15.4 million of that is a program through Food for Peace, and that largely went to WFP.


OFDA has basically programmed to date a little over $30 million, and that’s divided among the UN agencies, local NGOs and the INGO community to rapidly get resources to people on the ground.


There’s also a DoD contribution in there. We can get you the exact breakdown later. I don’t have it in front of me now.


Question: My question is, presently the [inaudible] is terribly [inaudible] and it is [inaudible] in Pakistan. So what is the U.S. strategy or U.S. agency or U.S. is adopting to help those people who are really facing a famine situation there? Thank you.


VADM LeFever: Let me try to answer that question. We’re working very closely with NDMA and the Pakistan military. As you know, the Pakistan Air Force is I think programming three flights a day up into Gilgit and in that area. They have given us planning factors, that they have requested six U.S. C-130s to assist in the distribution of the aid to include in this hub and spoke going up to Gilgit and Skardhu to be able to deliver diesel fuel and cooking fuel as well as relief supplies up into that area because, as you know, the KKH is washed out.


So we look very much forward to joining in on the deliveries with the Pakistan Air Force as they deliver supplies into that area.


We are also today at the request of the Pakistan Army, in addition to the heavy lift, high altitude Chinooks and CH-53s that are operating up in the Swat Valley, they’ve asked us to start going up toward the KKH highway delivering supplies and evacuating those that are affected. So the Pakistan government has a very good plan, knows the resources, has given us planning factors that we can work with putting bladders on the C-130s to be able to deliver fuel as well as the drums that the Pakistan Air Force is already doing. They are very acutely aware of that issue and are doing great things planned by the NDMA as well as the Pakistan military.


Question: My question is to the Ambassador. How much is it to portion of the helicopter flights being diverted to western Punjab, [inaudible] and the Balochistan? Because we haven’t seen so far as yet.


VADM LeFever: Currently the NDMA and the Pakistan Army has had my helicopters up in the Tarbella-Gazi area, working relief efforts up in the Swat Valley.


As we bring in more helicopters, these assets will be available and we’re working in close cooperation with NDMA and the Pak military to distribute those air assets as required for those folks that are in need.


Question: I just want to ask that United Nations had asked the donors to provide $459 million to Pakistan for relief, for immediate relief. But the response is very slow. What are the reasons for this?


Another thing, the Americans and UK Ambassadors and High Commissioners are also asking Pakistan to generate domestic revenues to meet this challenge.


What is your view on [reform GST]?


Ambassador Patterson: On the issue of donations to the UN, we have made a donation to the UN appeal which just came out a couple of days ago, and I think I can say with confidence that our donation will increase rather substantially in the next few days.


Let me point out generally speaking that the United States is overwhelmingly the largest donor to WFP, UNHCR, WHO, the UN agencies. And during the IDP crisis in Swat the United States provided over $400 million. Again, we were overwhelmingly the largest donor to that crisis as well. Most of that went through UN agencies.


On your question of taxes, yes, the United States thinks that taxed revenue should be increased here. There are a lot of wealthy people who don’t pay sufficient taxes and they should contribute their fair share.


Mr. Berger: I’d also like to point out, we are contributing to the UN appeal and we’re looking at the programs there, the UN plan, and we’re looking at how we can increase our donations. Please also remember that before that plan came out USAID was already programming money through NGO partners that we already had on the ground here and looking at new partners, so we were already programming our money before the plan even came out. So we have significant money that was already on the ground when the plan came in.


Question: My question is about the irrigation channels and the power plants which were already damaged due to the heavy floods. Is there any assistance the United States is providing to once again manage all these irrigation channels and the power plants over there? Especially in southern Punjab.


Ambassador Patterson: When the Secretary was here of course she announced a new energy package that included irrigation and dams, and in next year’s, this year’s budget actually, we have over $450 million for infrastructure, much of it in power plants and dams. A lot of that will have to be redirected to this flood damage, but we do have a very substantial budget and we’ve been working vigorously with your government on identifying the proper use of those funds, but we do expect to be a very significant contributor to both the early recovery and the reconstruction.


Question: I was just wondering about whether you guys are concerned about whether the military’s focus on dealing with the flooding is going to take away from efforts against insurgency and the Taliban militants and how you guys are advising the Pak Mil here on how they should approach both things?


Ambassador Patterson: We’ve been in constant contact with the military over the past few days on an hourly basis, I would say, on flood relief. And yes, of course, that’s what makes it so difficult is the insurgency is still ongoing. These insurgents are still attacking politicians in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and committing atrocities elsewhere in the country, and yes, I’m sure it’s a concern not only of the U.S. government but of every Pakistani that these missions be allowed to, that have sufficient resources to continue.


Mr. Bessler: I just wanted quickly to use the opportunity, because it was mentioned before, the appeal that was launched on behalf of the humanitarian country team last week for $459 million. At this point we are funded 38 percent, so we have in bank $254 million and pledged another $68 million. That means with the pledges that hopefully come through, we should be halfway through. Certain classes are better funded, others are a bit less funded. We have still an issue on health. Health is only 13 percent funded so they need a bit more just to compliment the comments before.


Question: [Inaudible] the UNGA is meeting to discuss this issue. As you say you are leading this effort for assistance, what is the planning of the United States when it is represented by Secretary Clinton over there? Thank you.


Ambassador Patterson: Actually it was an initiative of the government of Pakistan to hold this special session of the General Assembly. They reached out to the President of the General Assembly, and then they urged their supporters like Secretary Clinton to attend. I wouldn’t want to jump ahead of the Secretary, but I think it will be a very impressive international event with the attendance of many high level leaders from around the world, with the attendance of leaders from the NGO community, and very importantly in the United States representatives of the Pakistani-American community. As many of you know, these people have prospered in the United States and are very engaged in philanthropy here in Pakistan and have the capacity to donate generously to the flood crisis here. So all three things will be underway simultaneously in New York in an effort to raise revenue, raise money for flood relief.


Question: The situation in Pakistan [inaudible] throughout this crisis. Do you think it will have any negative impact on the war on terror, particularly in Pakistan, are regrouping militants? It would have any impact in regrouping in the militants and the government of Pakistan contribution to this crisis?


Ambassador Patterson: We don’t know what impact it’s having on the insurgents. That’s the short answer to that.


Of course like every other citizen -- American, Pakistani, and otherwise -- who are quite concerned about the insurgency which has taken a terrible toll on Pakistan, and the idea that this flood would essentially come on top of a very corrosive insurgency is extremely worrisome. This indicates the need for international support and widespread support for the people of Pakistan. We in the United States are trying to do our part to provide that support.


Question: A lot say that disasters can be opportunities, I guess what I’d like to know is what are some of the decisions, the hard decisions that Pakistan perhaps hasn’t made in the past like building dams, things like that, or anything else that you think maybe the government should take now in the face of this crisis? What are some of the things they need to do to prevent this from ever happening again?


Ambassador Patterson: I can’t speculate on what the government needs to do. Let me just assure you that we’ll be working with them as are the international donors. The ADB and the World Bank have already sent a team here to evaluate the next steps, the early recovery and the long term reconstruction costs. These processes always bring forward answers to the question that you just asked, how to build back better. I know there are a lot of international and domestic experts, experts here in Pakistan who are working on just that issue and thinking about the question you’ve raised.


There are a number of international meetings planned over the next few months where this is going to be discussed in some detail.


Question: How would you see the donation collection here in Pakistan locally? And what do you think will be the impact of this? As it is said, most of the extremist organizations are collecting the relief, and also they are very active in distributing, helping the people like they were in the earthquake as well. What do you see? What will be the impact of this?


Mr. Berger : ?? That’s a great question. What I would like to address is when I was here during the earthquake, for the seven months during the earthquake,that was also a challenge. There were hundreds of NGOs that had come to Pakistan to assist in their time of need and I think there is a mix of alleged charities that have other needs that they’re looking at in the collection of their revenues. But I would like to think during this time when people are so in need, much like they were in the earthquake, that it’s here to support the people of Pakistan in their time of need.


Ambassador Patterson: Let me say that, to put it bluntly, I think these stories about extremist organizations being the only players out there are greatly exaggerated. We’ve been deluged with requests from funding from very respected domestic NGOs. They’re all over the country. You can go to the web site that USAID put up to see some of those that we’re working with. We identified 60 NGOs in southern Punjab alone, many of which are community based and have excellent reach into rural areas of the country. So frankly, we’re not too concerned about the role of extremist charities because we think the people of Pakistan have a lot of domestic NGOs that are very active and very reputable.


Question: My question is in 2005 when the earthquake his Pakistan the U.S. was the first to reach and get involved in the rescue and relief operation and that created a lot of good image for America in Pakistan. Again, in these floods we see that Americans are again the first who came here and started immediate relief operation and now heavily involved, engaged throughout Pakistan. But unfortunately in 2005 soon after the relief activities the U.S. military hit a mosque in the tribal area. Again, there was a lot of uproar against the Americans throughout the country.


So we heard that a few days back there was a drone attack I think in Mirancha in Waziristan. So already the U.S., the government of the United States and the people are doing well in creating good will and a good image in Pakistan. So can we expect that these drone attacks will be for a time being, will be delayed, and the U.S. Army would be working in coordination with the Pakistan military instead of directly hitting the targets in Pakistan?


Ambassador Patterson: The U.S. is working with the Pakistan military and civilian institutions and NGOs every day to save lives and get goods to needy people. That’s what we’re here for and that’s what we’re working on today and that’s the overwhelming priority of my government.


Thank you.




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