December 30, 2004
We are so proud to have this opportunity to talk to you today on "Ask the White House". Although the situation in South Asia is very fluid and changes
hourly, I would like to answer some of the basic questions that have come up so far and will continue to provide updates as additional information
Tom, from New Hampshire
Administrator Natsios,Thank you for taking questions today. What
exactly is USAID and how is the organization you oversee helping with
USAID is the U.S. Governments international humanitarian relief and development agency. The agency was founded as permanent successor to the Marshall Plan which was originally founded to assist European nations in recovering from the destruction of World War II. Today, we work in more than 80 countries and provide a wide variety of assistance to the developing world. These services include the wide range of assistance such as medical care including vaccinations, maternal health, agricultural development, micro-enterprise support and HIV/AIDS prevention and assistance, to name but a few. Our budget under President Bush is now over $14 billion annually. We are also at the front lines in our reconstruction and democracy building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
With the regard to the Indian Ocean disaster response USAID is working in four main areas: providing food assistance; health and medical assistance; shelter; and clean water and sanitation support. Within a few hours of the disaster occurring USAID had already mobilized staff to head to the affected region, generated disaster declarations which unlocked immediate funding to flow to these countries to support emergency services and provided $4 million in immediate relief funding to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. Since that time we have now received assessments from our Disaster Assistance Response Teams (DART) in the region and we have now increased our commitment to an initial $35 million for this phase of our assistance.
Chris, from Rochester NY writes:
Thank you for taking the time to read all of these questions. I have two
questions to ask you if you would not mind.
First, what were the largest known waves, in terms of height, recorded
the recent disaster? Second, what is America doing specifically to aid
nations effected by the disaster?
Thank you for your time, and have an excellent day.
We would need to ask the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) with the specific heights of waves, but we have heard reports from the field that one of the waves was seen in the Sumatra region to be as high as sixty feet.
With regard to the Indian Ocean disaster response USAID is working in five main areas: providing food assistance, medical care, shelter, water and water purification and sanitation support. Within six hours of the disaster occurring USAID had already mobilized staff to head to the affected region, generated disaster declarations which unlocked immediate funding to flow to these countries to support emergency services and provided $4 million in immediate relief funding to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. Since that time we have now received assessments from our Disaster Assistance Response Teams (DART) in the region and we have now increased our commitment to an initial $35 million for this phase of our assistance program.
atthew, from california writes:
where is the best place to help with a donation for the relief effort for
Tsunami Relief is the first feature on the left side of USAIDs website at www.usaid.gov and it has a Click here to donate now link which provides all the donor information that you may need to make charitable and humanitarian donations directly to organizations that will be working in the region. I have been urging through my various media appearances that the American public should, through their extraordinary kindness and generosity, focus on cash donations to these organizations as opposed to shipments of used clothing, canned goods or other commodities. There is three main reasons for this type of disaster response: First, cash is the fastest and most direct way to get assistance to specific affected areas through non-governmental and charitable organizations who are established and respected in the disaster response field. Secondly, the cost of shipping these types of goods exceeds the value of the goods themselves and many of these goods may not be culturally appropriate or timely in their arrival. Lastly, cash will also be used for the purchase of goods on the ground in the affected areas in order to help jump-start the local economies which were so severely impacted by the tsunami.
Abdul, from Freetown,Sierra Leone
What are the US Embassies required to do in facilitating donotations to
tsunami victims. Thank you.
U.S. embassies serve as the main point of coordination of U.S. response efforts in each affected country. The USAID Mission comes under the authority of the U.S. Ambassador in each nation and also coordinates with the U.S. military on the ground to ensure a coordinated U.S. response with host government officials and the broader international donor community.
Robert, from Portland, Oregon
It would be great to illustrate to the world just how large an effort we are
making to help the Southeast Asia Earthquake victims. I read that we are
sending not only money, but a navy carrier group, air force planes ect. What
a great opportunity to show the world how much we care.
The United States has traditionally been the most generous of the donor governments in providing humanitarian assistance in disaster relief. During the last fiscal year 2003 the United States provided $2.4 billion in disaster assistance for emergencies worldwide including the emergency in the Darfur region in Sudan, the Caribbean hurricanes, etc. Our contributions amounted to 40 percent of the total disaster contributions last year. America will continue to be the most generous of nations through our government-to-government contributions channeled through USAID and through donations from private charitable organizations and non-governmental organizations. This is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the generosity of the American spirit.
Richard, from Half Moon Bay CA
What are the leading challenges in the effots of saving lives and restoring
order for the devasted countries of the Asian tsunami? If the american
people and corporations donate close to a half billion dollars (in private
donations), what can we expect of our Military? Will they be available to
deliver the logistics of air drops and sea support for delivering the
When handling disasters of this nature, which I have been involved in for more than 15 years both in government and as a representative of a multinational NGO, the usual practice is that we usually get adequate support financially in the initial emergency relief phase (i.e. the first three weeks or so after the disaster occurs) because that phase requires less investment. However, the longer rehabilitation and reconstruction phase costs much more in terms of investment and may last up to five years. Thus the second phase will cost more but the worlds attention may be redirected to other issues. What we need is for money to be contributed in a flexible fashion that will allow us to restore water and electricity and sewage systems and rebuild peoples homes and schools with some of this funding. Thats the big risk too much focus at the beginning and then people tend to forget about it in the later stages of the response.
Alyssa, from Minneapolis writes:
Is there a way to organize volunteers who would like to help with this
disaster to be transported to the areas affects and do what we can to assist
those in need?
The first responders in any fast-onset natural disaster like this are the people themselves neighbors, neighboring villages that are unaffected, the national emergency response agencies. They already have a home in the community, they already know the language, they already have a working knowledge of the geography and the indigenous transportation systems. They are the best volunteers that we have and our job is to support them. The more volunteers that come from abroad, the greater the risk that they will fill up the hotel rooms, and utilize critical local resources which may be needed in the response locally. That being said, we encourage you to visit the web site of CIDI The Center for International Disaster Information which can accessed at http://www.cidi.org. This organization is underwritten by USAID and serves as a global clearinghouse of information on disasters, assistance and other related issues.
Ben, from Illinois writes:
What nations are at the forefront in providing relief and aid?
There has been a massive outpouring of support for the relief efforts from around the world. As President Bush announced yesterday, the United States is helping to take the lead along with India, Japan, and Australia as a core assistance working group. Already dozens of other countries are contributing as well including the European Union, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Some are offering cash, some commodities and others technical assistance. The growth in contributions is nevertheless expected to continue.
Jim, from Andrews, Texas
Do we (America) need to worry about this tragedy happening here?
While the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) is a better resource for this question, USAID is aware of several U.S. systems that would alert our coasts to imminent disasters of this nature.
Summer, from Dallas, Texas
Who or what division of the government deals with the disaster aid
decisions? Such as, how much is givin and who it is givin to?
The President has designated USAID as the lead U.S. agency in the provision of disaster assistance. In addition, there are a number of other U.S. agencies and departments which contribute humanitarian and disaster assistance in these types of circumstances. For example, the U.S. Department of State is the lead agency offering diplomatic and consular coordination. The Department of Defense provide logistical and delivery support through its many assets in the region. Each agency or department contributes its own unique assets, personnel and contributions to the overall U.S. response.
Dennis, from Petaluma, CA writes:
Is there or will there be a list available of all the world governments who
provide aid, both economic and humanitarian to the countries effected by
the earthquake-tsunami catastrophy? Where would one look to view such a
list and will the list include details such as degree of contribution?
There is a daily report produced by USAID for public consumption which can be found on our Tsunami Response web page which you can download and is updated regularly to provide most donor support information you have requested. Go to: http://www.usaid.gov/locations/asia_near_east/tsunami
Michael, from Powell, TN
Besides sending money, food, and workers, is there anything else we will do
for the people?
I thank you for your question and your impending contribution to this effort. There are three phases to crisis response which we use to marshal our foreign assistance resources. First, in the emergency needs phase we focus on food, health, shelter and water & sanitation. These will keep people alive and forestall the onset of communicable diseases. Second, in the rehabilitation phase, we seek to restore basic services to pre-crisis levels so that civil unrest will not find fertile ground. And lastly, we will of course be supportive of the reconstruction and long term development needs of these nations. USAID Missions have been working for years in Sri Lanka, Maldives, India, Indonesia and Thailand, and these missions have shifted their dedicated staff, both expatriate Americans and foreign nationals, to assist in each phase of our relief efforts as just outlined above.
Laura, from Illinois writes:
Instead of giving money to charitable organizations for the tsunami
relief effort can money be sent to our government for disbursement? If so,
to where should we send money?
We request that people offer their kind and generous donations to the various charities and non-governmental organizations who are working in the affected countries in this effort.
Ryan, from Hoffman Estates, Illinois
Besides giving money, what more is the United States doing to help will
We will be involved in many ways but here are three specific things we are doing right now: first, we have already dispatched personnel and technical expertise to the affected areas to help determine the extent and nature of the disaster and to assess what we can do immediately to save further lose of life. Secondly, as President Bush has announced, we will assist in organizing the international community to meet the financial and technical needs for the emergency relief and reconstruction for these nations. Lastly, we expect that we will be equally involved in the longer term reconstruction and development of these nations over the coming years.
Robbie, from Australia writes:
After reading the media in Australia.I have heard Australia will be
helping rebuild parts of indonesia the were Devestated by the earthquake
and Tsunami.My question is will the USA also help the rebuilding of any of
these countries?thank you
Yes. The U.S. will bring its expertise as requested by the host governments to assist in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the affected countries. It is still too early to determine those requirements as such but we will of course be ready to help.
Thank you for submitting your questions today for Administrator Natsios.