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27 January 2005

Tsunami Relief, Rehabilitation Aid Simultaneous, Natsios Says

Assistance efforts have been swift, coordinated, officials add

By Kathryn McConnell
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- U.S. relief and rehabilitation efforts are occurring simultaneously following the earthquake and tsunami that affected South Asia and East Africa, says Andrew Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The immense tsunami relief effort has been swift and coordinated among various U.S. agencies, officials told the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations January 26.

Natsios said that, in addition to ensuring that people in the affected areas have access to food, temporary shelter and clean water, near-term U.S. aid will target four key areas: "cash for work," home reconstruction, microcredit, and the fishing industry.

Providing "cash for work" to disaster survivors, especially for rebuilding their own communities, would ensure that people have a little personal income to spend on basic necessities and could help revive local markets and stimulate community economies, he said.

And having a positive work activity is also important for survivors who otherwise could become depressed thinking of the enormity of their losses, he added.

Providing help to people so they can reconstruct their homes would also help avoid the "shock" inactive people could experience in displaced persons' camps "doing nothing," Natsios said.

Reconstituting microcredit programs to help recapitalize businesses is another important factor in communities' economic recoveries, Natsios said.  Most of the microcredit institutions USAID had help establish in previous years in the area were destroyed in the disaster, he said.

The fourth focus, helping to rehabilitate the area's fishing industry, is important because fishing had been one of the primary businesses in the affected communities, Natsios said.

Natsios said USAID and State Department personnel were on the ground in the affected countries within hours after the disaster to make assessments of needs and provide services.

Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense, said the U.S. military also was involved heavily, quickly sending personnel stationed in the Pacific to the region, where they conducted aerial surveys of the devastation, provided logistical support and delivered 2,200 tons of USAID relief supplies.  At its peak, the military effort involved 15,000 personnel, Rodman said.

Many of the supplies -- including clean water, blankets, cooking utensils and medical supplies -- had been pre-positioned in warehouses in the region or were procured from suppliers in the region, Natsios said.

The United States also worked closely with local people (who he called "the most motivated" to see their communities rebuild), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with needed technical expertise, and other donors, he said.

Natsios said one of USAID's priorities now will be to help build local capacity to respond to disasters.  He suggested that the U.S. military be used to train local military forces on how to respond to disasters.

A top priority, Natsios said, will be to create a tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean area and eventually for the entire world.

Effective early warnings for tsunamis require using a scientific detection system developed with help from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which operates the U.S. National Weather Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which concentrates on the field of natural resources.

It also requires establishing a system for transmitting information from the detection system to governments in areas where a disaster might occur.  A third component is another information transmission system to tell local communities what the potential disaster may involve and what they should do to minimize loss of life and destruction of property.

Another post-disaster intervention is to work with local governments, the United Nations and NGOs to establish protections for vulnerable people -- particularly children -- from human trafficking, Natsios said.

The United States is supporting the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which is establishing local registries to account for surviving children, a tool that can help prevent the potential for trafficking, he said.

The administrator said funding for long-term reconstruction in the tsunami-hit area should come from "all available resources."  For example, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has already named Sri Lanka as eligible to apply for assistance from its Millennium Challenge Account (MCA).  MCC could work with the Sri Lankan government to develop a proposal for rebuilding the country's business sector, he said.

Another important partner in relief and reconstruction efforts is the private sector, Natsios said.  More than $580 million has already been privately donated, and the amount is "rising every day," he said.

The private sector now contributes 80 percent of all foreign aid coming from the United States annually, he said.

Natsios said news reports that the United States was not being generous in its response to the disaster and to development needs in general is unfounded.  The United States has committed an initial $350 million for tsunami aid.  In 2003, Natsios added, the United States gave 40 percent of the world's total humanitarian aid, which was just a portion of total U.S. development assistance.

The Bush administration soon will send to Congress a supplemental budget request that will include funds for tsunami relief, Natsios said.  Committee members said they looked forward to receiving a tsunami-funding request soon.

Several members praised the officials for the rapid and coordinated U.S. response to the disaster, work that helped prevent further loss of life, said Representative Christopher Smith.

The text of Natsios' prepared testimony is available at http://wwwc.house.gov/international_relations/109/nat012605.htm.

The text of Larson's prepared testimony is available at http://wwwc.house.gov/international_relations/109/lar012605.htm.

For additional information see U.S. Response to Tsunami

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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