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03 January 2005

Furthering Relief Efforts for Victims Is Aim of Powell Visit

Getting aid into the hands of the needy a top priority, Powell says

The U.S. delegation en route to several countries hurt by the December 26 earthquake and tsunami will be assessing the situation in the region and looking for ways the United States can further help relief efforts, according to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In remarks made en route to Bangkok, Powell said President Bush asked the delegation to visit the hardest-hit countries "to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the nations of the region and to make an assessment, as well, of the situation and see what else we might need to do."

Powell said the delegation is coordinating its visits to avoid interfering with ongoing relief efforts in the countries.

"All of the nations that we are visiting have welcomed the visit. In fact, when I had concerns that we would be intruding in Sri Lanka and did not have it on the original schedule, the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka called and said, 'Please come, if it's only for a few hours at the airport in Colombo.  It's important for Sri Lankans to see United States presence here,'" Powell said.

The delegation includes Powell; Florida Governor Jeb Bush, President Bush's brother; Andrew Natsios, the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); and Mike Brown, the administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It is scheduled to travel to Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand, Jakarta and Banda Aceh in Indonesia, and Colombo in Sri Lanka.

Powell is also scheduled to participate in an international conference in Jakarta January 6 that will include United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and leaders from several European nations.

Powell said the main challenge currently facing disaster relief efforts is "retail distribution," or transporting aid from ports and airports to the remote areas where it is needed.

"With respect to retail distribution, our helicopters are already at work, and as more helicopters come in, they'll be able to do more.  We have some 12,000 U.S. troops committed now, mostly at sea, aboard the ships coming in from the sea.  Whether more will be required or not, or are available to be committed, this is what I will talk to the Task Force Commander about," he said.

The secretary said that the international community has now committed over $2 billion to relief and reconstruction efforts, but he noted: "this isn't $2 billion that gets spent right away."

"There is no shortage of money at the moment," Powell said.  "The international organizations are being adequately provided for now, but there will be needs in the future."

Powell added that one possible use of some of the funds is providing employment "that will give people economic wherewithal, but also can use their energy to help in the rehabilitation and reconstruction effort."

According to Natsios, part of the $2 billion collected so far will go toward a jobs program in Sri Lanka that will enable tsunami survivors to buy necessities on their own and "also will get them moving and ... show that progress is being made in cleaning the mess up."

Natsios said that many of the survivors are currently in a state of shock from having lost homes, businesses, and entire neighborhoods in addition to family members.  Participating in reconstruction efforts may help them in their personal recovery efforts, he said.

"[J]ust the physical evidence of the mess is a reminder every hour of every day that everything is gone," he said.  "[I]f we can begin to get them moving, working as a community again, it has an effect psychologically, economically and just physically on the infrastructure."

For additional information go to U.S. Response to Tsunami and Earthquake in Asia

Following is the State Department transcript of their remarks:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State

Office of the Spokesman

(Bangkok, Thailand)

January 3, 2005



January 3, 2005

SECRETARY POWELL:  Hi, everybody. This is the last leg of a long trip. I'm pleased that you're all able to join Governor Bush and me for what I think is an important trip. The President wanted both of us to come out here to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the nations of the region and to make an assessment, as well, of the situation and see what else we might need to do.  The schedule, of course, has been floating and will continue to float for the next couple of days as we make sure that our activities do not get in the way of the relief efforts.

In Thailand, after meetings tomorrow morning with the Task Force Commander who is now on the scene, General Blackman, I will then meet with Thai leaders and then we will go down to Phuket. And then in Jakarta, I think you are familiar with what we are planning to do. So far it looks like we'll be able to get up to Banda Aceh, or somewhere up in Northern Sumatra.  And then the ASEAN Conference is on the 6th.  After the conference we will be going to Colombo. I'm not sure how far outside of Colombo we'll be able to get, or whether it will just be meetings at the airport.  But, I was very anxious to do it and they were very anxious for us to come.  They're anxious to talk to us about the situation and to see an American presence. 

I think you have all the statistics and Andrew Natsios is here, who can give you any detail you need on the level of support.  But, a lot of aid is now pouring in.  I think the real challenge will be the distribution of the aid out of the ports and off the airfields.  We're starting to make some progress with the carrier Lincoln and its embarked helicopters, and when the Bonhomme Richard group comes into the area--they're still discussing how we use...some of the ships may go one direction, some of the ships in another direction, in order to cover the region.

Over $2 billion now has [been] committed by the international community.  But keep in mind, this isn't $2 billion that gets spent right away. This is money that we'll spend out over an extended period of time.  There is no shortage of money at the moment.  The international organizations are being adequately provided for now, but there will be needs in the future.  As Andrew can say to you, one of the things we're going to be looking at is getting some money into the system that could help employment -- employment that will give people economic wherewithal, but also can use their energy to help in the rehabilitation and reconstruction effort.  So, we're looking at creative ways of helping these economies get jump-started.  We will give you the details as they are known to us, and let me ask Governor Bush to say a word. Then I'll be delighted to take your questions.

GOVERNOR BUSH:  Thank you, Secretary.  I'd like to reiterate the Secretary's comments in terms of the importance of this trip to show not only our government's support for the relief efforts, but the American people's support.  I guess that's partly my role to be here, having gone through the hurricanes last summer and received the benefit of the outpouring of support of the American people that allowed us to recover quickly. 

My focus here is to look at the assessment, as Secretary Powell said, but also focus on the longer-term recovery issues and report back to the President.   And I look forward to doing that. The relief effort is a logistical nightmare, but it is something that can be overcome.  Irrespective of how much tragedy is taking place, there will be a way to get food and water and medicine to people.  The long-term recovery issues are the ones that are a greater challenge, and the ones where I think the expertise of our country can be brought to bear to really help people.  Millions of people are counting on that help, and I know that our country, once again, will be there to help them.

SECRETARY POWELL:  I'd also note that Mike Brown, the FEMA Administrator, is also with us and he'll be making his assessment as well, to see if there is any expertise or capability that FEMA has that might be useful in this situation.  Okay?

QUESTION:  I wanted to ask about the Americans.  What is the latest on the number of missing, the number killed?  And, how do you know these Americans are out there?  Is it because of visas, because their relatives have called in?

SECRETARY POWELL:  We've confirmed 15 Americans known dead.  There were two official Americans missing. One has now been accounted for: a State Department employee.  And then there's still one DOD official or person that is unaccounted for.  The number of private citizens or citizens unaccounted for still lingers around 4-5,000. But, what does that mean?  It means that people have called into our call centers and said, "I don't know where my son, my daughter, my husband is.  They were there somewhere and we don't know where they are."  And so, that's how they get counted as unaccounted -- because we can't tell you where they are.

And we have been grinding this number down at a rate of several hundred a day.  And our consular officers are working full time on this, both at the embassies -- you'll have a chance to see a consular operation in the course of the next two days -- but also back in Washington, where all the call center stuff comes in.  My own judgment is that this number will go down as people surface, as they say, "No, that's not where I was, I was somewhere else" or "I'm okay," or they're able to make contact with our consular officers or their families.  Now, they may make contact with their family, but the family doesn't notify us right away that they now know where their loved one is. So, we'll have to follow up with all these families over time, saying, "Have you heard anything? Do you know where your loved one is?"  And hopefully that number will come down.

But, we can't ignore the very distinct possibility that there are other Americans, that there are Americans within this number who have lost their lives and we just don't know about it yet.

QUESTION:  So, it could be in the hundreds?

SECRETARY POWELL:  Barbara, I will not get into speculation as to what the numbers can be because that just gets a lot of families very excited and upset.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what do you see as some of the biggest issues that you'll have to resolve in terms of coordinating this?  Are there disputes over logistics, or is it priorities or what?

SECRETARY POWELL:  I think what we're going to find is that the major challenge is going to be the retail distribution of aid.  It's one thing to get stacks of bottled water and food...and both the Governor and I have been through this: he in Florida, and me in a number of places in the world...where you have a sudden infusion of assistance: Provide Comfort in the northern mountains of Turkey and Iraq come to mind back in 1991.  You have a sudden infusion of assistance and then you get organized on the ground to distribute that assistance in a sensible way.  And then you start to relocate people back to their homes, or into temporary homes, so that you're giving them shelter and you're able to sustain the population.  And then you make sure you're on guard for disease and you make sure you're providing for sanitation and clean water, wholesale, not just bottled water.

With respect to the coordination, this truly was unprecedented--12 countries involved in a single incident, in a single catastrophe; 12 countries spread over thousands of miles--so, it truly is unprecedented. And there is no organization standing in place, ready to deal with something like this.  So, as a result, individual nations started to take action.  And, that's why three days into the crisis, President Bush directed the creation of a core group, a core group of four nations representing nations in the region, who had the capacity to help others.  I include the United States in that, in the region, because of our military presence in the region, and our diplomatic presence and our communications ability. 

And that core group started to coordinate its efforts so that there wasn't duplication.  There's been some controversy about this, but I immediately called Kofi Annan at the same time we established the core group.  Shortly after President Bush directed it, I called all of the foreign ministers that night--I think it's Tuesday night.  I called all the foreign ministers of the three countries involved and said, "Are you in?"  We called the ambassadors in early and told them what we wanted to do, and then late that night I called them.  There's a 12-hour difference, so I'm always at night and it's their morning, or vice versa. All three immediately agreed, and the next morning when I had their agreement, I called Kofi.  We had been talking to the UN all along, and Kofi immediately agreed, made it clear there was not going to be any conflict.  It was all going to be complementary.  And, by Thursday we had our first meeting, SVTS meeting....our television intercom meeting, with the ambassadors or charge´s of the core group in my command center, operations center, and with Kofi Annan and his principal leaders up in New York: Mark Malloch Brown and Jim Morris of World Food Program and Jan Egelund and others.  And we made sure that we were coordinated with the UN. And then I went up Friday and reinforced that. The Secretary General is pleased.

And I think the ASEAN meeting on Thursday, which has turned into much more than an ASEAN meeting.  The Secretary General was going to have a flash appeal meeting in New York, but he's now shifted all of that to Jakarta. So, we're going to have EU, Prime Minister Koizumi, Prime Minster Howard, a number of other regional leaders who will be coming to it.  And that's an opportunity of us to iron out any coordination difficulties.  Right now, I would say things are going exceptionally well when you consider that we are only eight days into this 12-nation crisis.

We also have to keep in mind your point.  There are sovereign interests here in each of these countries.  They are in charge of their relief effort.  They are the ones responsible to their people.  They will be there long after we have gone. And so, we have to make sure that what we are doing is consistent with the desires and the sovereign interests of those nations.  They are the principal responders and we are supporting them. 

QUESTION:  After you visit Phuket and Banda Aceh, are you prepared on Thursday to increase the U.S. pledge of money? Or do you feel at this point that enough money has been committed? And we don't necessarily need until we see what longer-term needs are needed?

SECRETARY POWELL:  You're asking me to give you the results of the trip before we've had the trip.  I don't anticipate an increase in money. We haven't spent the money that we've [committed] so far. Very small amounts of cash have gone out of this $2 billion fund, because it's not all needed right now.  So, I will see what I see. I will hear from our commanders on the ground and then we'll make recommendations to President Bush.  But, at the moment I don't see a need for any additional financial add to the number, but the President has made it clear that we will do what is necessary.  We made it clear all last week we would do what is necessary and we will scale up as it is necessary to scale up.

It's been the experience with all of the other countries that we're involved.  Much was made of how we scaled up, but every other country went through the same experience: the Japanese, the Chinese, the UK, Canada.  All of them started from a crisis last Sunday that looked like might have resulted in the loss know, do Lexis-Nexis in your newspapers...and I think it was like 10,000 or something.  And by Thursday we were looking at over 100,000.  And so, everybody started to scale up.  How much additional scaling may be necessary, I'll just have to wait and see, and see what the needs actually are.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, are you concerned that, despite your best efforts, that your trip may actually siphon some rescue, relief efforts away, because helicopters, policemen are going to be involved in moving you around?  Do you think the visit itself will help dispel some of the criticism, which I realize you regard as unjustified, of the initial U.S. contributions and the President's taking little time to speak out? What can the U.S. government do to help out on retail distribution?  Is there any talk of additional military deployments beyond the Abraham Lincoln and the Bonhomme Richard?

SECRETARY POWELL:  All of the nations that we are visiting have welcomed the visit. In fact, when I had concerns that we would be intruding in Sri Lanka and did not have it on the original schedule, the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka called and said, "Please come, if it's only for a few hours at the airport in Colombo.  It's important for Sri Lankans to see United States presence here."  So, we have been careful in the scheduling of the trip to not interfere with the relief effort. Obviously, an additional plane is an additional plane.  It takes up some time and energy and space.  But, we have made sure that our ambassadors know that we are not looking for anything special, we do not want to get in the way of things.

With respect to retail distribution, our helicopters are already at work, and as more helicopters come in, they'll be able to do more.  We have some 12,000 U.S. troops committed now, mostly at sea, aboard the ships coming in from the sea.  Whether more will be required or not, or are available to be committed, this is what I will talk to the Task Force Commander about.  He got on the ground on Saturday and he's been doing his assessment.  I'll hear from him in the morning, a Marine Lt. General, Task Force 536, I think it's called.  But, we'll check the number.

QUESTION:  What's his name?

SECRETARY POWELL:  His name is Blackman. I'll get the spelling for you.

QUESTION:  And on the criticism?

SECRETARY POWELL:  There is always, you know, commentary about how one of these things unfolds.  And why didn't everybody know instantly what the requirement was going to be. And, I accept that. It's what happens.  But, I'm the one who is sitting there on a Sunday after church, trying to make sense of what has happened, with reports coming in from all over the region.  When you think you are dealing with something that has hit Phuket, and then suddenly you get reports about the Maldives, which as a nation of islands and atolls, sits about an average of three feet above sea level.

And you start to try to figure out what are the implications of that?  And when you think you're starting to get a handle on it, and you see your task forces being set up...with AID hard at work, AID setting up task forces, State Department, Defense Department, all getting alerted within the first dozen hours or so.

And, immediately our ambassadors in the region declared disasters.  And once they do that, they are free to give money out of their contingency funds to the countries concerned, up to roughly $100,000.  It's just something to get started, to show our commitment, but also to give these countries an immediate infusion of cash.

And then by Monday morning, we had responded to the appeal of the International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent.  Our military had started to Task Force organize themselves and start to dispatch troops.  And, we started to get a better assessment of what was going on.  And then, in late Sunday I discovered that the wave had gone all the way across the ocean and hit Kenya and Somalia.

And so, from my perspective, having been through many of these, in a period of four days, five days, I think a great deal was accomplished.  And the reason I emphasize this is I don't think the American people should be given the impression that their president and their government was not hard at work on this from day one.

GOVERNOR BUSH:  One purpose of this trip that is important to recognize is that the people that are on the ground right now are working 24 hours a day, whether they're AID workers or other folks from the State Department, or the hundreds, maybe thousands of international relief workers that are in these communities.  And they need encouragement. 

My experience is that if you don't go say, "thank you" to the people that are true heroes, that are acting on their sense of compassion and doing it under extraordinary circumstances--this won't be pretty--that you're not in the way when you come a long distance and say, "thanks."

So, I know that the Secretary is very sensitive about making sure we don't get in the way, but I also think we need to be mindful of the fact that there's a lot of work being done and someone needs to put an arm around somebody and say, "thank you for a job well done."

SECRETARY POWELL:  And one other element, of course, is that it will draw a lot of public attention, international attention to the need and hopefully as a result of that, generate additional support, especially from the private sector.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, apart from the humanitarian, which obviously takes priority, what do you see as the political stakes for the U.S. involvement in this effort in countries like Indonesia, Muslim countries, Sri Lanka and for the region as a whole?

SECRETARY POWELL:  We have good relations with all of these countries, even though there have been disagreements on specific policy issues such as, of course, Iraq.  So, I think the political implications of us responding promptly and responding, frankly, to the satisfaction of the governments concerned, despite all the commentary about our response...the governments that we are responding to and are helping were pleased from the very first night, Sunday night, when they were called.  And then when the president called their heads of government and heads of state about 24 hours after I talked to the foreign ministers.  They were very pleased that the United States was responding in this manner. And I think that can translate into a political effect.

Hopefully, this might give us a little bit of traction in resolving the conflict in Aceh, if the two sides would realize that this is a time to not be arguing and fighting with each other, but to help their citizens.  And the same thing in Sri Lanka. Both sides are suffering as a result of this tragedy: LTTE, as well as the government.  And to the extent it sort of quiets things in these conflicts, then maybe there is an opportunity for political momentum. The point I have been making all week long is that we are not doing this because we are seeking political advantage or just because we are trying to make ourselves look better with the Muslims. We are doing this because these are human beings in need, in desperate need and the United States has always been a generous, compassionate country and a generous, compassionate people and this is what we do.

We did it in the Caribbean earlier this year in almost the same way:  small increments of money, and then finally when we got the full scope of it, went to the Congress and got $120 million. And that's my experience as to how these things unfold. 

One more.

QUESTION:  This one is for Governor Bush.  Could you tell us in some detail as to how it arose that you came on the trip, whose idea it was and when it was presented and what you thought of it?

GOVERNOR BUSH:  Well, I got a call from Secretary Powell, and then I got a call from the President and I said, "yes." And I was honored to be asked.


GOVERNOR BUSH:  It really was that simple.  This was kind of...I had to clear or tomorrow, I don't know what day we're in right now, Monday is the start of life again not just in the real world, but in state government world. And so, I had a bunch of things I had to change around, but it wasn't a problem at all. I was honored to be asked.

In 1988, right after the Presidential election, my dad asked me to go to Yerevan with my son, in Armenia.  An incredibly devastating earthquake, nothing in terms of the magnitude of the death here. But I think 75,000 people may have died, as I recall. And we went and it made a big difference: the fact that a family member would go--this was on Christmas Eve--go to a far off place.  These hardened Soviet Communists were crying as they saw my son hand out medicine and toys to children that looked just like him in this hospital that was...needed a whole lot of help.  And so, I think family matters in a lot of places outside of the United States just as it does in the United States.  And the fact that whoever came up with the idea, whether it was the President or...I don't know, Secretary, isn't it always the President that has the best ideas?


QUESTION: [When did you make the decision?]

GOVERNOR BUSH:  I suggested he go.


SECRETARY POWELL: Thanks Jeb.  Let's see, I've got to keep my days straight, but by Wednesday the scope of it was becoming so clear that we started to think about a trip.  Andrew and I were sitting in my office, I think either Wednesday or Thursday morning, looking at each other saying we've got to go.  And then the President, in order to show his concern and deep interest, asked if Jeb would go and I immediately called Jeb when I got the President's suggestion.  And he, in typical fashion, he was ready, willing and able.  I am very pleased that he was able to clear his calendar.

Let me ask Andrew Natsios if he would like to say a word.

ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS:  I would just add a couple of things we are beginning to see on the ground that are a little disturbing to us because of the scale of them.  We are beginning to see real psychological problems among many of the survivors.  People are going into shock basically.  They are paralyzed, they can't act, essentially because they have lost, many of them, their entire families, their whole neighborhoods, their houses, their businesses, everything is destroyed.  You see this in many emergencies but not on this scale.  And so the two things that the Secretary and the Governor just mentioned actually do contribute to this.  We've noticed when we see the people, large numbers of people in shock, the visits of very visible high-level people will restore a sense of hope that they are not being forgotten, they are not being lost.  I mean, we will get that when you visit one of these sites.  You see the change in people by the fact that you are there; it makes a big difference.

The second thing, which the Secretary also mentioned, is getting people to work again.  One therapy that we use is simply getting people to do something.  It is a sort of form of occupational therapy.  If they are in shock and then they start getting a job to start cleaning up the mess, it does have an effect psychologically that gets their body functioning again and they have some sense of hope.  So, the jobs program that the Secretary mentioned that we just committed $10 million dollars to in Sri Lanka is not a lot of money, I mean 50 bucks a month, something like that.  Very small amounts of money in people's pockets will allow them to buy necessities on their own but also will get them moving and it will show that progress is being made in cleaning the mess up.  Because just the physical evidence of the mess is a reminder every hour of every day that everything is gone.  And if we can begin to get them moving, working as a community again, it has an effect psychologically, economically and just physically on the infrastructure.

SECRETARY POWELL:  The other thing I might add, is when you were asking about visits and the impact of visits, the Indonesians really wanted to have this ASEAN summit for the purpose of bringing people to the scene, not out to the actual scene of the disaster, but to Jakarta.  And it started out with ASEAN, and then it became ASEAN and others, and now it has become a fairly large international conference.  And these sorts of things do have an impact in terms of generating support, bringing public attention to the crisis but also giving a sense of optimism and hope to the people who will see this and realize they are not alone, folks are coming to help them.  Okay?

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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