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U.S. Identifies Critical Needs in Wake of Earthquake Disaster

20 October 2005

Officials worry about donor fatigue after frequent natural disasters

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Security Affairs Writer

Washington – With a death toll from the October 8 South Asian earthquake expected to rise above 47,000, the assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs says there is an “urgent need in the region for winterized tents and blankets, food, medicines, water purification equipment and earth-moving equipment.”

Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific October 20, Christina Rocca said the United States has offered monetary contributions as well as assistance in kind, such as military airlift.  She also said the United States is helping mobilize stepped up international community support and U.S. officials will be very active in Geneva during an international donors conference on October 26. 

Faced with a disaster of enormous proportions, Rocca said the United States has authorized $50 million in humanitarian assistance to Pakistan already, while the U.S. Embassy in India has contributed $50,000 to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund and $50,000 to Save the Children.  The United States has asked India how it could be more helpful and, she said, that conversation is ongoing.  (See related article.)

Michael Hess, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) assistant administrator for democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance, said the United States has worked specifically with India on training in the area of disaster assistance and the benefits of that effort are manifest in this current disaster.

By the end of the week, Hess said initial plans will be unveiled on how to help Pakistan’s public health and education sectors, which severely were damaged by the 7.6-magnitude earthquake.

U.S. MILITARY DELIVERIES

In light of the many natural disasters that have occurred in 2005, Hess also expressed concern that “donor fatigue” will affect efforts to help Pakistan.  So far, he said, USAID has organized six airlifts to Pakistan delivering 1,150 rolls of plastic sheeting; 1,570 tents; 15,000 blankets; 10,000 10-liter water containers; eight water bladders; 20 concrete saws; and two mobile water purifications units.  He also said 10 World Health Organization emergency health kits have been airlifted and each one has sufficient supplies to treat 10,000 people for three months.

Hess said his agency also gave $2 million to the American Red Cross, $1.5 million to the International Organization for Migration and $500,000 to the International Committee of the Red Cross.  It also provided $3.8 million to the World Food Program for logistics and air operations.  In addition, AID is giving UNICEF $2 million to focus on sanitation and clean water requirements, the assistant administrator added.  (See related article.)

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Peter Verga provided subcommittee members with updated information on the U.S. military’s support for the relief operations.  He said 391 U.S. personnel and 12 helicopters now are flying relief support missions, another 19 helicopters will join the effort in coming days. So far, the official said, helicopters flown in from places like Afghanistan and Bahrain have completed 279 sorties, delivered 625 short tons of humanitarian relief and evacuated 3,778 individuals.

Additionally, 51 airlift missions have been conducted delivering 246 tents, 1,920 cots, 6,000 blankets, 153,600 pre-packaged meals, 32 tons of medical supplies and 1.039 short tons of cargo.

Verga said two U.S. Navy ships sailed into port in Karachi, Pakistan, port with 32 pieces of engineering equipment for road repair and reconstruction work.  (See related article.)

Subcommittee Chairman James Leach said all Americans are united in expressing their sympathy to the victims of the earthquake in South Asia.  “The case for prompt humanitarian assistance to the many thousands throughout the region affected by this calamity is compelling,” he said.

NEED FOR TEMPORARY HOUSING

Hess said disaster relief officials are very concerned about the onset of winter.  Leach, who recently visited Mongolia, urged humanitarian relief workers to look into providing yurts for the homeless facing the threat of inclement weather.  There is nothing less expensive or easier to transport, he said, and yurts can be assembled in a few hours.

Hess said temporary housing, especially with continuing after shocks, is an area of special concern.  With respect to Leach’s suggestion, he said no yurts (tent-like, portable structures traditionally used by nomads on the Central Asian steppes) have been found yet, but he indicated that officials will be looking for them.

Hess said he expects the relief operations “to go on for quite awhile,” and added that serious reconstruction efforts cannot begin until after the snow melts in the spring.

Rocca said the Pakistanis are sensitive to the need to rebuild structures that can withstand aftershocks and possible future earthquakes.  Hess said the Pakistanis have asked for technical support when it comes to rebuilding earthquake-proof structures, adding, “we stand ready to help.”

The full text of Hess’ prepared statement is available on the USAID Web site, as is additional information about USAID’s broader efforts to assist India and Pakistan.

For more information about U.S. relief operations, see U.S. Response to the Earthquake in South Asia.

(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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