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Six Months After The South Asian Tsunami

On U.S. Assistance And Reconstruction Efforts Six Months After The South Asian Tsunami

Andrew Natsios, U.S. Agency For International Development Administrator ; Doug Hartwick, Senior Coordinator For Tsunami Reconstruction Task Force Ambassador

Washington, DC
June 23, 2005

(9:47 a.m. EDT)


MR. ERELI: We're pleased to have with us today Andrew Natsios, the Director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Ambassador Doug Hartwick, the Senior Coordinator for the Task Force of -- the Tsunami Reconstruction Task Force -- excuse me -- our two officials who are really shepherding what the U.S. Government is doing to respond to the crisis six months ago, the disaster six months ago, that struck the Pacific after the earthquake.

They're here to give us an update on progress made in those six months, both in terms of relief but also equally important, in fact, more importantly, in terms of long-term reconstruction. So we'll have Andrew Natsios kick it off with some overview and facts and wonderful charts and then Ambassador Hartwick will talk a little bit about some of the political dimensions of this and then answer your questions.

So thank you and welcome to our two guests.

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Thank you very much. It is not just that the six months is -- the six months-semi anniversary, so to speak, of the tsunami is taking place, but that the congressional notification for the plan that we submitted to Congress has just -- the 15-day waiting period just finished on June 21st. And this week, OMB is now releasing the funds to AID to begin obligating money to spend so that, literally, it's this week that we begin the expenditure of the funding from the tsunami supplemental budget that was submitted by the President. The tsunami supplemental was with other programs in the -- Iraq and it was the supplemental that went through on May 11th, the President signed on May 11th.

And what I want to do today is describe what's in the plan and what we're planning to do and what the timetable is from here on out.

There are essentially four elements to the way in which we'll spend this money. Now, the total amount is $901 million that was appropriated. So the total appropriation for the United States Government for relief and reconstruction is $901 million. Some of that is to reimburse for what was spent earlier this year from disaster funds. The question had come up earlier: Are we taking money from other emergencies around the world, emergencies in Africa, for example, in order to fund the tsunami response? Because the funds that we have in disaster response are not allocated by region or country. Congress gives them to us and we spend them. And so what's happening now in this budget is we will reimburse the $131 million that has already been expended from the time of the tsunami until now on relief and rehabilitation.

The President pledged -- in fact, I announced the pledge at the Tsunami Reconstruction Conference, pledging conference in Geneva, Switzerland, I think it was in January. The President instructed us to do extensive assessments with the World Bank and the United Nations, which we've done; and as a result of that, a much higher appropriation bill was submitted, $901 million, which is what we're now spending. So of the $901 million, some of that is to reimburse DOD for the money that they spent for the large logistic operation that they undertook.

About $950 -- I'm sorry, $656 million will be used by AID and our partner organizations on reconstruction and rehabilitation. Let me go through the four elements of that.

The first is large-scale infrastructure reconstruction. We will be rebuilding -- helping to rebuild the Banda Aceh Meulaboh Road in Indonesia, which is a 240-kilometer road project. I think there's 110, 120 bridges on that road, so this is a large infrastructure project. It was severely damaged during the tsunami and the earthquake. So, I mean, people think there was just a tsunami. There was an earthquake that caused the tsunami and that did damage to the infrastructure in the interior of the island beyond just what damage the tsunami itself did. The road will be rerouted from along close to the water so that we won't have a repetition of this.

We are also doing a large reconstruction project in Sri Lanka, which is to repair the damaged bridge over the Arugam Bay, the mouth of Arugam Bay.

The second element of this is vocational training and education. For example, a thousand teachers were killed by the tsunami in Banda Aceh and so there is a huge gap in terms of what's needed in the schools to bring the schools up to what they were before. So we are working with the Ministry of Education in Indonesia to build two new state-of-the-art vocational schools and repair eight severely damaged vocational schools. We will also work on training teachers through the Aceh University to take the place of those who were killed during the tsunami.

And the third element is to train more workers in the construction trades, particularly because we need more construction workers because of the reconstruction effort. This will help activate the economy and stimulate more economic activity locally because it will provide jobs to people, and people who get salaries will then spend that money and it will move the economy along.

The third element of this program is the economic growth and jobs program, and that involves the fisheries industry and the tourism industry, which, as you may know, in several of these countries is quite significant in terms of their proportion of the economy.

We started a micro-enterprise program to do micro-lending to smaller enterprises and to individuals, many of whom are women, so that they have some way of supporting themselves. We will be working in vocational training for women in particular. We are also -- we've been doing cash-for-work programs where we're trying to get money into the economy by providing day labor to people. We have also begun what are called vouchers and credit programs for firms trying to replace assets that were damaged during the tsunami or destroyed during the tsunami.

And finally, Peace Corps will use former volunteers mobilized through what's called the Crisis Corps to assist in reestablishing fisheries and business in Thailand and supporting reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka.

The fourth element of this is in capacity building. This is a huge undertaking. Billions of dollars are going to be spent in these countries and some of the systems are not in place or have not been in place in these countries to manage that amount of money in a reconstruction program of this complexity. And so we're working to ensure that systems are in place through the ministries to protect accountability and transparency. For example, in Aceh we are launching a $15 million technical assistance recovery project to support government agencies in the reconstruction effort. For one example of how we're doing that is the General Accounting Office, the GAO here, has some fine experts in this area and we are having -- we are going to pay for one of the technical experts from the GAO to be a -- to live in the area and advise the Indonesian Government on tsunami audits.

And finally, we're working with local governments to establish an online portal for tracking and information sharing so this is all done in a very transparent way.

So the four elements, once again, are: large-scale infrastructure; vocational education and training; economic growth and jobs; and finally, transparency, accountability and capacity building. That's the program.

In terms of the sequencing of this, we actually went out to bid for the contracts, for one of the contracts, in April for the construction management firm that will oversee the construction. Not the actual construction contracts, which won't be let till later because we're doing the technical and engineering work right now, but the oversight contract was put out to bid in April.

We are also now -- in May we started -- we began the solicitation of the Sri Lanka technical assistance and construction management program. We began in April a $20 million program that was going to be reimbursed out of this to jump-start the reconstruction program and then we expect by July more PVO and NGO awards will be made to begin the smaller-scale reconstruction.

There's going to be a quick-start element to the road reconstruction that will be done very rapidly to open up 80 kilometers of this 240-kilometer highway that needs to be reconstructed. The groundbreaking for the quick-start repairs on this road will be by the third week in August.

And finally, there will be a bid by December; the specifications will be ready for the construction contracts.

Doug.

AMBASSADOR HARTWICK: Thank you, Mr. Natsios. Well, good morning. You know, I'm very pleased to be able to participate, really, in the six-month anniversary talking about the Indian Ocean tsunami assistance and talk about some of the important work we've been doing.

Under President Bush's leadership, the United States is making an important contribution to the massive international response to help victims. The United States -- we've been proud to have been able to offer assistance immediately following the tsunami and we were there for the relief phase and we'll continue to be there as the reconstruction projects get underway, as Administrator Natsios has just mentioned.

My role as the Tsunami Reconstruction Task Force Coordinator has been gratifying to see the United States Government follow through on its commitments with full support from the U.S. Congress as it passed the President's funding for tsunami relief and reconstruction.

Our response to the unprecedented tragedy reflects the fact that Americans worldwide were deeply moved by the images we all saw in the days and weeks following the disaster. Collectively, the American people, the Bush Administration and Congress came together to pledge and are now delivering immediate and long-term assistance, as Mr. Natsios has mentioned. Public sector contributions have been significant. Private sector contributions, some still coming in, have exceeded public contributions by over two-to-one.

The region affected include many close allies and friends of the United States. It's in America's interest to see that we help them recover quickly and that the scars heal as soon as possible. Thus, we are seeking to assist them on a bilateral basis and we are contributing to other collective international efforts. And we're looking to see how we can help to prevent such a tragedy from reoccurring by sharing regionally our experience and expertise in early warning and community response capability.

Indonesia, as you know, was probably the worst affected country, but it's also a country coming through enormous political change over the past decade. And I think it's been very important for us to want to support that effort. President Yudhoyono, recently elected in October 2004, was faced three months later with the tsunami crisis, and so we've endeavored to do the best we can to help support that fledgling democracy cope with this tragedy and deliver the necessary support to their own people.

Thailand, a treaty ally, again shocked by what happened to them on the western coast, themselves also went through an election shortly thereafter. We've been very impressed by their ability to take their own problems in hand and seek to lead their own reconstruction with very little outside assistance.

India, again, we worked closely with India right from the day -- early days on. India, despite having its own disaster along its coast in the southern portion, was quick to lend a lot of support to neighboring countries such as Sri Lanka and the Maldives, and were pleased to be able to work with them and we will continue to help them in their reconstruction effort, as necessary.

Let me note, we're also impressed by how the affected countries themselves have coped with the tragedy. The affected governments and communities have undertaken complicated assessments and completed ambitious plans to rebuild. In looking forward, the next challenging stage of reconstruction is just getting underway. If you had a chance to visit Aceh or the affected coastlands of Sri Lanka, India or Thailand, you'll realize just what an enormous challenge is posed for these countries ill-equipped to deal with the tragedy of this scale.

The hard reconstruction lies ahead, not behind us. And we, the international community, must follow the leads of the governments and local communities themselves as they rebuild.

We've been also encouraged by the pledges of desire to spend these monies and plan for reconstruction in a transparent and accountable manner by all the governments in question. We take these pledges seriously and I think that'll be important in the period ahead as this massive reconstruction effort gets underway.

The significance the United States attaches is reflected in the high-level visits that have occurred ever since the tragedy happened. If you'll recall, and I think Administrator Natsios went with Secretary Powell and Governor Jeb Bush back in January, we had Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz follow a few weeks later, Presidents -- former Presidents Bush and Clinton visited in Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Maldives in February. And they played a critical role in the United States and really around the world, I think, to generate support for private sector contributions.

Deputy Secretary Zoellick made a visit in early May, in particular to Indonesia, which was the worst hit, and visited Aceh to sort of see firsthand himself how the process was underway and how we can continue to help. And when he returned, literally the day he got back, he participated in the private sector summit here in Washington on May 12 where he came and shared his views and talked about the challenge ahead.

In the last couple months, we've have President Yudhoyono from Indonesia come and visit President Bush and many of us here in Washington, in addition to other senior officials, foreign ministers and so forth from Sri Lanka and Thailand. So this sort of two-way exchange shows, I think, in part, the importance we attach to all of this.

I think another area that's very important to us from the U.S. Government standpoint is trying to facilitate coordination among the private sector actors and players who want to assist, NGOs and the private business community as well. This is an unprecedented situation, as I said, with over $1.3 billion in private money being made available to assist in the reconstruction. Encouraging coordination between these groups and with tsunami-affected governments and tracking how these funds will be spent will continue to be a high priority.

Having twice visited the tsunami-affected countries, I can testify to the magnitude of the destruction and devastation that impacted families, communities, livelihoods and economies. While certainly much remains to be done, I can say that the shock and numbness has passed and people are actively working to rebuild. Their resilience is evident when you visit now. I can see an energy and a glimmer in the eyes of people that were not there the first time we visited.

As President Bush said on January 3, "Americans have a history of rising to meet great humanitarian challenges and providing hope to suffering peoples. As men and women across the devastated region begin to rebuild, we offer our sustained compassion, our generosity and our assurance that America will be there to help."

As with the passage of the supplemental, we are certainly moving to make sure that reconstruction help is on the way.

Thank you very much. And I guess we'll take questions.

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Are there any questions? Yes sir.

QUESTION: Are you any closer to developing an early warning system for that region, similar to the one that's in the Pacific with (inaudible) Hawaii? Are you spending any significant amount of money --

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: There's an allocation in this $656 million for that. There have been international meetings held on it at conferences. I think, Ambassador, you went to one of the conferences, did you not?

AMBASSADOR HARTWICK: I did.

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: If you want to comment on it.

AMBASSADOR HARTWICK: This region is not benefited by any kind of regional or international warning system, so clearly that's been one of the extremely hot pressing needs that everyone agrees they have to get going on. It's not easy to do that quickly. The United States is one of the few countries in the region of the Pacific that have been operating a tsunami warning system for some years. I attended a conference that we sponsored under the auspices of APEC to bring together really a lot of the senior technical personnel from all the tsunami-affected countries and then many of the APEC delegations as well. I think some-odd 20, 21 delegations were there, 180 people or so.

There, we talked about the whole issue of the technology behind it, how best to kind of strengthen the early warning capability and the short-, medium- and longer-term shared plans of who's doing what; talk about what we're doing. The delegations had a chance to visit the tsunami warning center there in Honolulu. And then we pledged our support to do the best we can to help them make progress, even in the months ahead here, I think, to step up their capability for warning and response.

And I think as Mr. Natsios said, we have dedicated $16.6 million in the current supplemental just for tsunami early warning and community response. The international dimension to this is very important. UNESCO and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission really helps -- oversees what we're doing in the Pacific and they need to play a critical role in all this too as the region comes together.

QUESTION: But is there any such warning system in place now? Even a fragment of one?

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: There is not one for tsunamis. There is one in place in Bangladesh that we installed in the 1980s for typhoons. I might add, this is not a high -- this was very unusual to have a tsunami in the Indian Ocean. If you look at the historical record, this was a very unusual event. What is very common are typhoons and so there's -- I have been urging our staff and the interagency (inaudible) of scientists to try to get public attention focused when they all know this is the case, that the typhoon risk in the Indian Ocean is much higher.

Four hundred thousand people died in a typhoon in Bangladesh in the 1970s and we installed with the Bangladesh Government this earning warning system which is connected to the National Weather Service weather satellites. And that was used in 1991 to evacuate 5 to 6 million people before a typhoon struck that ended up killing a couple hundred thousand people, would have killed 5 or 6 million people if we had not had the system in place. So we need to focus our attention not just in the tsunami early warning, but storm early warning, because that is a greater risk in the Indian Ocean.

AMBASSADOR HARTWICK: In fact, the conference in Hawaii was called "All Hazards." It wasn't just tsunami.

MR. ERELI: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that. There was an early warning system, I think, from the U.S. which detected the tsunami kind of a wave that just after the --

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: That was the -- we have an earthquake center in the U.S.

QUESTION: Right.

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: I don't think they predicted a tsunami. They predicted -- they simply reported on the magnitude of the earthquake that caused the tsunami. There's a difference.

QUESTION: And this was after the main attack, right?

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: This was after the event. Any earthquake that takes place of any magnitude in the world, our National Geographic Survey can tell you where it took place and the amount -- the level of the earthquake fairly quickly. And that's what they use -- there is an early warning system for tsunamis in the U.S. along our coast.

QUESTION: But how was it, because of the time lag that failed to really get world attention on the first attack? How has this been -- how have amends been made?

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: You can have an earthquake early warning system, but it will not tell you whether or not a tsunami is going to occur. Tsunamis are unusual anywhere in the world, but as I said, particularly unusual in the Indian Ocean. They have to take place a certain place with certain geological formations before a tsunami can actually begin after -- in the aftermath of an earthquake.

There is no way of predicting that a tsunami was going to take place, given the current state of instruments in the Indian Ocean. The idea would be to put some buoys in place that are designed specifically to take data from the ocean and then transfer it into an alarm system in communities so that people can start evacuating if the earthquake looks like it's going to start a tsunami. And that's what they're debating. They're debating basically the buoy system, the alarm system and the evacuation system.

QUESTION: It's being debated?

MR. ERELI: Well, it's being -- not debated. It's being discussed and planned.

QUESTION: But it seems the thing to do?

MR. ERELI: Oh, it is the thing to do. Yes.

QUESTION: Do you happen to have -- I don't know, this wasn't the purpose of the briefing -- what I suppose would be about as final figures as there are for American losses -- missing? Did we ever --

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Do you know, offhand?

QUESTION: I don't know if you've brought it along.

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: I didn't bring it along.

QUESTION: It's been a long time.

MR. ERELI: It hasn't changed since the last time we announced it. I'd have to go check the --

QUESTION: No, it's all right. So there's no change.

MR. ERELI: No change.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: To be clear, this figure of $656 million is that essentially the new money that's being brought to the --

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: The -- no. The $131 million we've already spent will be reimbursed out of the $656 million. But that money is not Pentagon money. The Pentagon money is the difference between the $901 million and the $656.

QUESTION: So that --

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: So $656 is the civilian money. And of that, $131 million has already been expended and will be reimbursed.

QUESTION: Oh, I see.

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yes. During Secretary Zoellick's visit to Jakarta (inaudible), he mentioned that AID would be working closely together with the Supreme Audit Agency of Indonesia.

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Yes.

QUESTION: With Mr. Kuntoro leading the agency.

AMBASSADOR HARTWICK: It's not the auditing agency. That's the implementing agency.

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: It's the Reconstruction Commission.

QUESTION: Right, right. Now. So far, have you -- until this moment, have you experienced any difficulties working closely together with that agency?

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: We were very pleased with his appointment. Our staff, we have a very large AID mission that precedes the tsunami in Indonesia. They knew of his reputation, they've worked with the members of the government before, and we have very high levels of cooperation now. We're very pleased with the work we're doing with the Indonesian Government.

QUESTION: Okay.

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Thank you all very much.

AMBASSADOR HARTWICK: Thank you.

2005/646

Released on June 23, 2005


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