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Interview on BBC's The Great Wave With Hew Edwards

Interview on BBC's The Great Wave With Hew Edwards
Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
December 29, 2004

(2:30 p.m. EST)

MR. EDWARDS: How big a crisis is this for the international community?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's certainly one of the largest catastrophes I've ever been involved in in some 20 years of experience at a senior level in government, and this is going to require a worldwide response from the international community.

I'd first like to extend condolences to all of the families who lost loved ones and our prayers go out to those who are still missing and we hope that they will be recovered safely. But this will require a significant response from the international community and that's why President Bush has tasked us to bring all the resources of the United States Government together to assist in this effort.

MR. EDWARDS: Well, lots of money is being pledged by you and by other countries, but when you look at the eventual sums needed in terms of reconstruction running into many billions, where is that going to come from?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we'll have to see. I think it will be in the billions and I think we'll have to ask the international community to be generous. And the rebuilding process may stretch out over time. In a situation like this, you have the initial response dealing with the humanitarian catastrophe, saving lives, making sure disease does not spread, restoring drinking water and sanitation. But then, over time, you have to make a longer-term investment in rebuilding homes, rebuilding businesses, rebuilding resort areas that were hit so hard.

And a lot of it will be done by the countries themselves, using their own resources, and what the international community has to do is to come in and to build on what the countries are able to do themselves. Some of the countries are in a better position than others. Sri Lanka and Indonesia are the two hardest hit and I expect will require the greatest assistance.

MR. EDWARDS: Faced with so many urgent needs in as many as 12 countries, how on earth do you go about setting our priorities for delivering the aid?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the way we go about this is we give an immediate infusion of money from accounts that our ambassadors have. It's usually only a few hundred thousand dollars, but it gets things started within hours after a catastrophe. And then we start to identify funding sources, but before sending out the money we want our teams to go out and make an assessment of the need so that we apply the money to the need. And we usually apply the money by giving the money to the appropriate nongovernmental organizations or UN bodies, the World Health Organization, the World Food Program, these kinds of organizations that are very, very expert at delivering services very efficiently.

And I just might take this moment to say that anybody who wants to contribute to this should look up one of these organizations and make a cash donation. Cash is fungible. It's easier to send. They know what's needed. They know what to buy. As opposed to people, well-meaning people, guessing with respect to what they can contribute. Contribute money.

MR. EDWARDS: President Bush has already announced the creation of a group of core nations to coordinate some of the response. How does that fit in with the work of the United Nations?

SECRETARY POWELL: It will fit in very well. I talked to Secretary General Kofi Annan a couple of hours ago and explained to him what we had in mind and how it would fit in very nicely with what the UN is doing, what the European Union and others will be doing.

What we thought we should do to get a coordinated effort started was to bring together some of the countries in the region, to include the United States, which has a considerable military presence in the region, but bring four countries together -- Australia, India, Japan and the United States -- with assets and let us start coordinating amongst ourselves to make sure that we're delivering services in the most effective way, and then ask other nations to build on this core. And I would expect that in a short period of time this core will expand and the entire international community will be involved, to include the European Union and the ideas that are coming from the EU with respect to either debt relief or a donors conference, or all the work that the United Nations is doing. So I think this will be very complementary to all these other international efforts.

MR. EDWARDS: There are some people in Britain, Mr. Secretary, who say that because Britain is America's closest ally and one of the biggest donors to the region in this crisis, that maybe Britain should have been part of this small group that Mr. Bush has set up.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I'm quite confident that the United Kingdom, as it always has, will play an important role in the relief effort. The reason these particular countries were selected is because of their geographic location and their immediate involvement in the region, and they have assets right there that can be deployed. And so the Australians are heavily involved, the Japanese are able to do quite a bit from their home islands, and of course we have a considerable presence with our military forces which are now being deployed and are already in the region. Patrol aircraft and other assets are in the region and delivering supplies already.

MR. EDWARDS: Former President Clinton has been critical of some of the international strategy and he says that maybe the best way forward for big countries, rich countries, to look after specific smaller ones. Do you think that's a way ahead?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I think what we have to do is determine the need and then determine how best to meet that need. All of us can do more. The United States is the most significant contributor to disaster relief and humanitarian crises that come along. Just recently, when we had the trouble down in the Caribbean area, the United States started out with a few million dollars, but before we were through we had gone to our Congress and got $120 million, which is now being used to restore facilities and other infrastructure needs taken care of in the Caribbean.

And so we all can do more and I think it is incumbent upon those of us who have more access to resources, have been blessed by successful economies and successful political systems -- we have wealth -- to share that wealth, and the United States has done a great deal, particularly under President Bush's Administration, with our Millennium Challenge Account, adding billions of dollars to development assistance, as well as a significant increase in normal development assistance and getting the money we need to handle these catastrophes as they come along.

MR. EDWARDS: My final question Mr. Secretary, Indonesia is the worst affected country, according to the latest reports there. It is, of course, a big Muslim country. To what extent are you aware of the sensitivities of your relationships with some of these countries, given what's happened in the world over the last two years?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have very good relations with Indonesia and we have been in touch with them, and the word we are getting back is that they will welcome the assistance that the United States and other members of the international community are willing to provide. And so I am confident that up in the part of Indonesia that is most affected, in Aceh, they will welcome assistance because the need is so great.

MR. EDWARDS: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for talking to us.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you. 2004/1408


Released on December 29, 2004

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