Moderator: Good evening, everyone. I’d like to thank you all for joining us, and I’d really like to thank the USAID Mission Director for Indonesia, Erin McKee, and the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance Regional Advisor, Harlan Hale, who have joined us on the phone today to talk about the U.S. response to the earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi.
In a moment I will turn it over to our speakers for some opening remarks. We’ll then move on to the questions and answers. We’d like to get to as many questions as possible, so please just ask one question and then we’re going to move on to the next person before you do a follow up.
With that, I’m now going to turn it over to Erin McKee.
Ms. McKee: Thank you Mary Beth. Good evening, everyone.
We would like to reiterate our heartfelt condolences to everyone affected by the disaster in central Sulawesi and I’d like to take this opportunity and thank you for the opportunity to provide some updates on our efforts to cooperate with the government of Indonesia on the response to this disaster.
Since the tragic events of September 28th, we’ve been in daily contact with the GOI – the Government of Indonesia, to determine priority needs and how the U.S. government can help most effectively.
President Trump spoke with President Jokowi (Joko Widodo) on October 2nd and reaffirmed our commitment to helping the people of Indonesia in the face of this tragedy.
So far the assistance that we have provided is approximately $4 million or 60 billion rupiah.
A team of disaster experts from the U.S. Agency of International Development – my agency – our Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has been and remains on the ground. We have a team on the ground in Palu and the team is coordinating with local authorities the government of Indonesia and a variety of other humanitarian organizations on both damage assessment and humanitarian response.
Our USAID partners are distributing emergency shelter kits, blankets, hygiene kits, solar powered lamps, and other critical relief supplies and setting up safe spaces to help children cope with the disaster and actually have a place to play.
In addition, USAID’s airlifting 2,210 rolls of heavy-duty plastic sheeting from our emergency warehouses in Malaysia and Dubai. This sheeting is enough to provide for the emergency shelter needs of over 110,000 people. We expect the plastic sheeting to arrive in Sulawesi very soon, as early as October 11th, tomorrow, or the next day.
In partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense’s U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, they have deployed three C-130 Hercules transport aircraft to support our efforts to deliver aid to these people in need. The aircraft arrived in Indonesia last Friday and have been flying missions to Palu each and every day. We are ready and able to provide additional support as needed.
On top of the U.S. government the private sector, American companies and businesses here in Indonesia including Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Exxon Mobil, Freeport, McDonald’s, Cargill, Caterpillar, Google and many others are also taking part in the response. They have mobilized support transportation, in-kind donations and fundraising for relief efforts in affected areas.
USAID’s OFDA team will continue to coordinate with the government of Indonesia and relief agencies on the ground in Sulawesi and here in Jakarta. We are working together to determine the type and amount of additional assistance that is appropriate to the needs of the disaster-affected communities, as well as expected needs which may evolve over the weeks and months to come as we move from response to recovery.
This is what we mean when we say we are Indonesia’s partner. The United States stands with the people of Indonesia during this most challenging time and we will continue to provide assistance and support to help the people affected by this devastating disaster.
I need to reiterate, that disaster is everyone’s business. When disasters occur anywhere in the world, Americans generously offer assistance to those in need. Cash donations are the most efficient form of assistance. Unlike material donations, cash involves no transportation costs, shipping delays or customs fees. It enables relief organizations to spend more time providing aid on the ground and spending less time managing goods and throughput coming from off-shore. Cash donations allow relief supplies to be purchased in markets close to the disaster site, which also serves to stimulate the local economy by providing employment and generating cash flow locally on the ground to those in need.
I’d like to ask if you need more information on how others can help, we were able to get the Indonesia situation registered on the Center for International Disaster Information. There’s a web site, which is www.CIDI.org.
With that, I’d like to turn it back over to the team and see if there are any questions.
Moderator: Great. And before we go to questions, is there anything, Harlan, did you want to add anything before we go to Q&A?
Mr. Hale: Yes. This is Harlan Hale.
I just want to add, as Erin said, we have a team that came in. The team was comprised of USAID OFDA regional advisors that are based here in the region. I’m based here in Jakarta, have been for six years, over six years. And to supplement the requirements of people on the ground our team is a team that came in from the regions, and those [in] Indonesia that have responded to many similar disasters in the region as a team. So it’s not like we get deployed out of Washington. We’re here. We were here before the disaster and we’ll be here after the disaster.
Moderator: Great. With that I’d like to move to questions and answers. Again, the call is on the record.
AT&T: Our first question comes from [Andreas Gary Fuell]. Please go ahead.
Question: Thank you very much for the opportunity. [Inaudible].
My name is Andreas from Kumparan.com. My question is [inaudible] American aid [inaudible] in Palu. That is my question. Thank you.
Moderator: Sorry, I don’t think we all understood that. Can you please repeat your question?
Question: Okay. Again, I will repeat my question. My question is until when [inaudible] in Palu will be there. Thank you very much.
Moderator: Until when. Until when will USAID support on the ground. Correct?
Ms. McKee: Thank you for your question very much.
We will be on the ground as long as is necessary and needed. We are working by, with and through our partners in Indonesia, particularly the government of Indonesia, and we stand ready to not only support the response but obviously the recovery period and the longer-term development needs that the affected region will face.
Moderator: Here are some questions from folks who are on the line but in the interest of time I’ll go ahead and read them.
Question: The Manila Times asks, what are the perceived obstacles that may hinder or affect USAID’s rehabilitation work for Sulawesi?
Ms. McKee: We’ve been very fortunate in our partnership with Indonesia and have been working in coordination with our local partners, particularly the Indonesian Red Cross as well as our key interlocutor which is BNPB which is Indonesia’s Disaster Response Agency.
The biggest challenge initially was obviously focused on the restoration of infrastructure, getting electricity and other systems on-line so that we could stand up the shelter and relief supplies that needed to come in together with our Indonesian partners.
Moving forward, we have not encountered any major obstacles or hindrances. I think the biggest question on everybody’s mind and the biggest challenge up front was what we could do right away to help take care of the casualties and be respectful of the victims on the ground because that was the first concern for everybody in the wake of this disaster.
Moderator: Thank you.
Harlan, did you want to add anything or should we go to the next question?
Mr. Hale: I think the challenges moving forward, the government of Indonesia is well aware of those. Just the sheer size of the disaster area, the fact that we have multiple events happen, not only the earthquake, the tsunami, that triggered landslides, that triggered liquefaction. So finding safe areas for some people to rebuild and resettle on is one big challenge.
Replacing critical infrastructure, removing debris, and getting everything back up and running of course, this takes time[inaudible]. It’s not an easy fix. It takes time, it takes effort. And at the same time, planning for that rehabilitation and recovery, we still need to continue to meet the relief needs of the affected population.
Question: The Washington Post asks, it seems like the government introduced some restrictions on foreign help and aid. We also understand that it’s been a fairly bureaucratic process in terms of coordination and getting the right permits to enter the disaster hit area. We’d like to ask if that’s affected USAID’s operations on the ground at all, and if it has been challenging to get adequate aid to those affected because of these protocols.
Ms. McKee: Thank you for the question. USAID’s modus operandi and how we work overseas in instances like this is by, with and through local organizations and partners. So oftentimes, for example, the Indonesian Red Cross, while our primary partner and much of the initial resources are channeled through the International Federation of the Red Cross, then that flows down to the local level office here, in this case PMI or Indonesian Red Cross who we have a longstanding history and partnership with. So that relationship, that network, that track record and the history that we share in our work together over many years has actually facilitated our ability to deliver the relief supplies.
What we have recommended to other international organizations who have faced some of those challenges is to identify local partners to work with and through. It not only helps respond to what Indonesia wants, but it helps deliver more effectively the relief on the ground because you don’t have language barriers, you understand the local context, and you’re able to operate much more effectively.
Moderator: Thank you.
Question: The next question is from the Jakarta Post. It’s a very similar question. Does USAID dispatch personnel and aid workers to help the relief? If yes, have those personnel on the ground experienced any difficulties following the Indonesia government’s recent policy on restricting access to foreign aid workers?
Ms. McKee: That’s a great question again, and similar. So USAID is part of the U.S. Embassy. Our team works, it’s part of the U.S. government. So in our experience, it has not hindered our ability to be effective. We are actually on the ground in partnership with the local organizations. We continue to work by, with and through both the government of Indonesia as well as our local partners and that has been the most effective and successful way for us to deliver. So we have not faced any hindrances the questioner alluded to.
Moderator: Could you share, the follow-up question is very similar to what you’ve already answered. So I’ll just ask instead on behalf of the Jakarta Post, could you share any further details or a little bit more about your experience and the folks on the ground’s experience in the response? Is there anything else you can add about what they’re dealing with on the ground right now?
Mr. Hale: What they’ve seen since arriving earlier, the end of last week, first to Balikpapan and then into Palu, the team went prepared to camp in a tent, and I gave my solar battery phone charger to my colleague Jon so at least one phone could get charged. And they had, you know, camping gear and whatever with them. By the time they got there, they found a hotel, power had come back on, the 3G service returned pretty quickly. So all of a sudden WhatsApp and everything was back on again. People could use the internet and communications were back.
So this took about a week to get up and running, but that I think is really good especially in a place as far away as there and the damage that happened.
So what we’ve seen in the time that we’ve been on the ground is a daily improvement in the conditions of the society, the people. Shops are opening back up. Roads opening up. Access opening.
Of course with that opened access, we are able to get around more and our teams, our staff have been able to go with partners — the Red Cross and the local NGO partners — outside of Palu City itself, out into some of the affected areas. Donggala today, they went.
What they’re seeing is a lot of spontaneous encampments, small collections of five, six, seven, eight, ten families living together not far from their villages or homes, but away from their damaged houses. There are definite needs, still unmet needs. And every day as well, as things improve on the access issues and on electricity, telecommunications. Also local level coordination is jelling and coming together.
I know that may be something that people criticized initially, but you have to understand this isn’t something you can plan around. It happens, an earthquake, event like this, and then everybody gets on site and it takes a little while for all the processes and procedures to become known by everybody. But those are increasingly being known. Once expectations are understood, I think everybody meets them and nobody is surprised and feels like they’re being held back or unduly prejudiced.
As we said, working through agencies that are already registered in the country, international NGOs registered in the country or local NGOs, or NGOs registered in the country that have relationships and permission to operate here is probably the best way for external friends of Indonesia to support it. Channel your cash resources and other support through existing organizations here.
What we’ve also seen is an incredible amount of capacity that Indonesia does have. There are a lot of Indonesians that are very experienced in disaster management and disaster response. And they work for a lot of these organizations. So they’re playing an incredibly strong role. Believe me, it could be a lot worse.
It’s getting better every day, and it’s a whole of government and whole of team effort with our partners in Indonesia and with our other, the other friends of Indonesia in the region that that work here.
Moderator: Thanks so much. I think we have time for one last question.
AT&T: Our final question comes from the line of [Aria Sinyaras] Antara. Please go ahead.
Question: I’m Aria from Antara Indonesian News Agency, and my question is I understand that USAID also has disaster experts on the ground. Are they analyzing the needs of the victims over there? And will [reports] for USAID send more goods? And also are there plans to provide assistance with reconstruction measures? Thank you.
Ms. McKee: Thank you. That’s a great question. Absolutely.
I think I mentioned at the outset but I’ll repeat it again. We will continue to support our Indonesian partners both through the response and through the recovery phase as long as they need that support. And that includes assessing immediate needs as well as planning for the reconstruction and recovery phase ahead.
Part of that response and the request that we hope to be able to clarify for additional resources will be based on that needs assessment and the analysis that the team is conducting in partnership with the Indonesians on the ground there to be able to develop a plan not just for today, not just for next week, but for the months to come.
Based on that needs assessment and then the gaps we’ve identified, we stand ready to be able to support and help fill some of those gaps. Not just for today but for tomorrow and for the long term.
Moderator: Thank you so much. I know you guys are pretty busy, so thank you for giving us a half an hour of your time. I just want to give you both, any closing remarks or anything you want to say? I think that last answer was a nice wrap-up, but in case you have anything else you want to add.
Ms. McKee: No, I think that’s a great way to end. We are here. We continue to support, working side by side with our Indonesian partners. And we look forward to the day that reconstruction recovery and ultimately restoration of the lives and livelihoods of those affected by this terrible disaster can be restored.
Moderator: Thank you. Thank you both.
Harlan, anything else?
Mr. Hale: No, that’s about it.
Moderator: Thank you both so much for your time. Thank you all for joining the call.