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U.S. Envoy Vows Continued Support for Pakistan Earthquake Relief

20 October 2005

Ambassador Ryan Crocker praises Pakistani officials on relief coordination

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker October 20 praised Pakistani officials for their efficiency in coordinating relief efforts following the October 8 earthquake, which he described as “a disaster of virtually unimaginable proportions,” and said the United States would continue providing support to Pakistan through the relief and subsequent reconstruction efforts.

“[T]here is no human agency or agencies on earth that can manage, or could manage, immediate delivery of relief supplies to all those who need it.  You cannot get there from here in that kind of comprehensive way.  That said, clearly the Pakistani government and its international supporters are working the problem and working it effectively,” Crocker told reporters at Chaklala Airbase, which is serving as a staging point for relief efforts.

“I think the government of Pakistan, the FRC [Federal Relief Cell], the Pakistani military deserve enormous credit for the way they have organized because that organization has allowed us and other friends of Pakistan from around the world to fall in, in effective support of the larger effort,” he said.

Crocker spoke about the U.S. government response to the earthquake, which has included helicopters, airplanes, 1,200 tons of relief supplies, a field hospital and a company of engineers to help clear the roads, but he also pointed out that the response of American companies and private citizens has been quite generous.  (See U.S. Response to Earthquake in South Asia.)

“American companies, at the last count I had, pledged over $15 million to the relief efforts in Pakistan.  Private Americans are contributing by the thousands and Americans are coming forward.  There is a team of American physicians of Pakistani origin currently in country,” he said.

He said the public and private response from the United States illustrates how deeply the American people were moved by the magnitude of the disaster.

He said the United States hopes to provide its expertise on building in earthquake zones during the reconstruction process.

“We are coordinating with others with experience, for example the Japanese, as to how we might best combine our efforts to bring the best seismic advice to the table when the moment is right,” Crocker said.

Following is the transcript of the ambassador’s press conference:

(begin transcript)

[U.S. Embassy Islamabad]

U.S. Cooperation to Pakistan Earthquake Relief Efforts - An Update
Press Conference at Chaklala Airbase, Islamabad, Pakistan
October 20, 2005

Participants:
Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker
Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) Team Leader Bill Berger
Rear Admiral Michael A. LeFever

Ambassador Crocker:  We are now 12 days into what I think for all of us remains a disaster of virtually unimaginable proportions.  Our hearts go out to the families of the victims and to all the tens, indeed hundred of thousands, of people affected by the October 8 earthquake.  It is a disaster of incredible magnitude and it deserves a response proportionate to that disaster and that is what we’ve been working on since the day it happened. 

The U.S. government’s engagement here is a joint endeavor, it involves both a military response, Admiral LeFever’s team, and a civilian response through USAID, Bill Berger’s DART team.  It’s also important for me to stress at the outset that this is not the United States operating independently; we are operating in support of the Government of Pakistan’s relief efforts.  I had the opportunity yesterday to visit the Federal Relief Cell (FRC) and meet with Major General Farooq.  I was enormously impressed with the organization that he and his team have brought to bear in just a few short days. Literally from the airport to the affected areas way out in the mountains.  I think the government of Pakistan, the FRC, the Pakistani military deserve enormous credit for the way they have organized because that organization has allowed us and other friends of Pakistan from around the world to fall in, in effective support of the larger effort. 

The United States was in at the beginning.  Within 2 days of the earthquake we had our first relief planes on the ground, one military, one civilian, and we have kept that flow continuing from then until now.  The earthquake was Saturday morning, Sunday night in Washington the White House announced our initial contribution to this effort will be 50 million dollars.  Since then we have been active across the board.  We have brought in three, four, five fixed wing relief flights every night.  Admiral LeFever’s helicopters have been in Pakistan since the Monday following the earthquake.  They are running sorties literally from dawn until dusk.  There are twelve U.S. military helicopters, we also have two contract helicopters, and we had five Huey-2 helicopters from the State Department that were already in country at the time of the quake supporting Pakistan’s counter-narcotics efforts.  Those five Huey-2’s are crewed by Pakistanis.  They have been flying literally since the day of the quake and I think it’s another good example of the joint approach to this effort.   In this case it’s American airframes, Pakistani crews. 

The last count I had, we had brought in by military aircraft, over 1,200 tons of relief supplies and as I said those flights continue at the rate of 4 or 5 a day.  USAID thus far has spent about $17 million in the civilian relief effort and there is a great deal more to come.  We are currently in the process of deploying a U.S. military field hospital up to the affected areas.  We are also deploying a company of military engineers, “Seabees” as they are very famously known in America.  They will be in-bound in the next day or so.  They will team up with Pakistani engineers and they will move forward jointly to help with the process of clearing roads. 

I would also like to note that not all of the assistance from America to Pakistan is official, by any means.  Americans are stepping up to this in a major way.  American companies, at the last count I had, pledged over $15 million to the relief efforts in Pakistan.  Private Americans are contributing by the thousands and Americans are coming forward.  There is a team of American physicians of Pakistani origin currently in country.  I met with the head of that effort.  They’ll be doubling the number of doctors they have by the weekend, and I think what all of this tells all of us is that both the government and the people of America have been struck deeply by the magnitude of what has happened here.  We’re present now in the relief operation.  We will also be present as Pakistan moves ahead to recovery and reconstruction.  I would like to ask Admiral LeFever if he would care to say a few words.

Admiral LeFever: Thank you.  Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.  As the Ambassador mentioned, I’m Rear Admiral Mike LeFever.  I’m the Commander of the Disaster Assistance Center here heading up US military relief efforts in support of the wonderful job that the government of Pakistan and the Pakistan military are doing.  Since we’ve been established roughly over a week ago, we have roughly about 400 U.S. personnel, military and civilian personnel on the ground working hard to support all the relief efforts and all facets of the recovery that is ongoing.  These efforts have included aviation support, logistics, medical and engineering expertise.  We have done that working very closely with the Pakistanis’ well-run operation as they lead the efforts to aid their people. 

As the Ambassador said we have 12 U.S. helicopters currently working and since the time they’ve been working they have delivered over 1.2 million pounds of supplies to the affected areas.  They probably, at the same time, escorted many folks, including doctors and experts, into the affected areas and recovered over 1,900 casualties back here to the base to be provided into the local hospitals. 

Also as you noticed, the Ambassador said the aircraft that are coming in each night, our men and women have been assisting as cargo handlers and have offloaded more than 2.3 million pounds of relief supplies right here at Chaklala.  In the coming weeks, as the Ambassador mentioned, we’ll be having a 36 intensive care unit bed facility at the request of the government of Pakistan moved up to the area of Muzaffarabad.  As you noted a few days ago, navy ships entered Karachi and off loaded the engineering supplies and road clearing supplies.  They will be joined shortly and by the end of next week will be in locations working with the Pakistanis and clearing the primary and secondary roads to help the effort of re-supply into the disaster regions.  Obviously we are honored and privileged to be working in this great friendship, in support of this disaster relief with the Pakistani military and the government of Pakistan. 

Bill Berger: Thank you, Ambassador.  Just to tell you a little bit about who we are, the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) was established by Congress in 1964 to coordinate the U.S. government’s response to international disasters.  Our job here is to support the U.S. embassy and the U.S. mission in large disasters, major disasters like this, to work with the U.S. military, to form the U.S. government’s team in support of the host nation. 

We have a rather small team but we’re long on years of experience.  We have over 250 years of aggregate experience in dealing with disasters around the world.  And I must say, echoing the words of the Ambassador, that it is the experience of our team that we have had very good cooperation in working with the Pakistan government and that we feel that they are doing an incredible job in responding to this disaster given the complexity of the operations. 

OFDA’s mandate is to save lives and alleviate human suffering and relieve some of the economic impacts of disaster.  The disaster response team has been here since just a couple of days after the disaster and in the 12 days since the earthquake hit has committed over $16.8 million.  We responded to the U.N. Flash Appeal with $10.8 million and we brought in commodities along with our Department of Defense:  15,000 blankets, 15,000 water containers, over 1,150 rolls of plastic sheeting, 1,500 tents, twenty cutting saws, water treatment units, and as the Ambassador said, this is the beginning, this isn’t the end of our operation. 

We have also been programming and giving grants to local and international NGO’s to respond to this disaster.  We have also supplied to the American Red Cross $2 million to give to the International Federation of the Red Cross.  As I said, we’re just at the beginning of our effort, and it is our intention to support the rest of the USG team and the government of Pakistan through this very difficult time.  Thank you.

Question 1:  Thank you very much sir.  My question is that you have given different (inaudible) and different sectors.  Is there any consolidated figure (inaudible) what has been the total aid received from the US.  And secondly after the proposals by President General Musharraf of allowing Kashmiris across the LOC, the focus a little bit seems in Washington about Pak-Indo (inaudible) rather than our relief and reconstruction and rehabilitation. Thank you.

Ambassador Crocker: In response to the first, we do try to put out a consolidated picture of our overall assistance but at this stage we are far more interested in getting the assistance out than we are in figuring out exactly how much it is.  For example, the assistance that is going forward on the military side which is very, very substantial, to this point has not been monetized.  That is why I am talking in terms of amounts rather than dollar values.  We do put out I think now, a daily summary of what we have done.  I’ll take a look at that and be sure it’s as consolidated as it can be, but again right now we are far more interested in just getting the relief out.  We will figure out what it adds up to later.  That’s kind of, I guess, a response on the second part of the second question. 

Clearly, we would all like to see good things come of this awful disaster that has struck Kashmir so hard, as well as the Northwest Frontier Province.  And there have been some encouraging things said, I think in both India and Pakistan.  All of that said, I think again what we have to be focused on here is, certainly for the United States, what we can do to assist the government of Pakistan in dealing with a critical human crisis, and we’ll deal with the other stuff later. 

Question 2:  My name is Tran, I’m with the AP.  I wanted to ask a little bit more about the military assistance. When Secretary of State Rice was here she promised that more military aid, specifically helicopters, would be coming in.  Can you give us what the current status is on that, how many helicopters are coming, where they’re coming from.  Thank you, Admiral.

Admiral Lefever:  We are providing, as the Ambassador said, we have 12 US helicopters on the ground currently -- medium and heavy lift and some utility aircraft.  We are currently flowing in over 20 more helicopters expected to arrive shortly.  They are being brought in, and in fact, from all around the world.  This group is coming from Air National Guard Units, from the United States.  So they are being flown into Afghanistan and are being assembled because they needed to be broken down on the aircraft.  They are being assembled in Afghanistan and then when they are fully assembled and ready for flight they will be moving down.  We expect to see 4 of those coming by the middle of next week, and shortly thereafter some several more aircraft.  We currently have 9 aircraft on the ground in Afghanistan in various stages of being assembled, and preparations to be flown here to Islamabad. 

Question 3:  I also wondered if you could make any statement at all about what you think has been your assessment of the speed of the relief.  We’ve already heard from a number of people about obviously the difficulty in reaching some of the terrain.  Obviously I’ve heard concern from a lot of people that aid isn’t getting there fast enough, I mean obviously the supplies are coming in, you just can’t get them out into some of these more remote areas.  Can you comment on that? 

Ambassador Crocker: Yes, it’s part of the compounded tragedy here.  The scale of it is, of course, devastating enough but the fact that it occurred in relatively inaccessible areas has made it that much harder and I think all of you who have been here have seen something of this; there is no human agency or agencies on earth that can manage, or could manage, immediate delivery of relief supplies to all those who need it.  You cannot get there from here in that kind of comprehensive way.  That said, clearly the Pakistani government and its international supporters are working the problem and working it effectively. 

Helicopters are pushing out to more and more remote areas.  They are doing so at real risk and we saw how great that risk can be with the loss of a Pakistani helicopter and its crew several days ago.  It’s a formidable challenge.  We have seen, and I was briefed on this yesterday, that the Federal Relief Cell and the Pakistani army are sending dismounted troops and mules into the remoter valleys where the terrain is too difficult even for helicopters to land.  General Farooq briefed us yesterday on a major ground operation – of several thousand soldiers and mules to bring in supplies and literally carrying casualties out on the backs of soldiers.  So it’s again, the terrain has been an enemy.  In many respects just as the earthquake itself has.  There is a sustained coordinated effort to overcome that, but it takes far more time than any of us would like to see. 

Question 4: Could you tell us, is the United States sending any seismic experts or geologists to help Pakistan find the details about the seismic activity? 

Ambassador Crocker: I mentioned that we expect to be a part of the reconstruction efforts just as we have been a part of this relief effort.  We have already had some discussions with the Pakistani authorities for this next phase.  Clearly we and they are focused on that, how reconstruction takes place in an active seismic area.  How do you site new construction?  How is it engineered?  How is it built?  So this is in play.  Clearly we are not at the point yet where it would make a lot of sense to send out seismic teams for reconstruction when we are so deeply engaged in relief.  But we will be there for that.  We are coordinating with others with experience, for example the Japanese, as to how we might best combine our efforts to bring the best seismic advice to the table when the moment is right. 

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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