|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 9, 2005
Press Briefing on Tsunami Relief Efforts by Brigadier General John R. Allen , Alan PM Larson, Andrew S. Natsios, and Paul DC Wolfowitz
Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Room 450
PRESS BRIEFING ON TSUNAMI RELIEF EFFORTS BY
BRIGADIER GENERAL JOHN R. ALLEN, OFFICE OF SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
ALAN P. LARSON, UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR ECONOMIC, BUSINESS AND AGRICULTURAL AFFAIRS
ANDREW S. NATSIOS, ADMINISTRATOR, U.S. AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND
PAUL D. WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
4:03 P.M. EST
SECRETARY LARSON: Good afternoon. More than six weeks have passed since the Indian Ocean tsunami took more than 160 [sic] lives in one of the world's worst natural disasters. Thanks to the immediate and effective response of the U.S. military and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the United States, working with other members of the international community, was able to prevent additional loss of life and to deliver relief to those in need.
The President today is announcing that he will seek $950 million as part of a supplemental appropriations request to support the areas recovering from the tsunami and to cover the costs of the relief efforts to date. This amount includes an additional $600 million over and above the initial commitment of the United States of $350 million. We will use those resources to provide assistance and to work with the affected nations on rebuilding vital infrastructure that reemerging economies -- and to strengthen their societies. The President appreciates the efforts of former President Bush and former President Clinton to raise private donations in the United States, and we're very grateful to all those who donated money to help those in need.
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Thank you very much. I'd like to just briefly mention the activities of my agency, working with the State Department and DOD from the beginning of the response to the tsunami. We did an emergency food aid program in the early stages, as it transitioned. These countries are not food deficit, this was not a food emergency, but local food stocks were destroyed and people were homeless and they needed food. We immediately moved into rehabilitation as quickly as we could and did micro-finance to recapitalize some of the small businesses with very small loans, because many of the businesses, many of them were completely destroyed; job creation, because people's jobs were also destroyed, their livelihoods were destroyed, they had no income. And in order to get the markets moving, you need both recapitalizing of businesses, but also demand with cash in people's pockets in small amounts.
Health care and water and sanitation. We have also given grants to avoid having serious problems with human trafficking. Sometimes the darker forces in the world take advantage of chaos to prey on women and children, particularly unaccompanied children, and there's a whole network of systems that have been set up by the international community to stop that from happening and to deal with the emotional trauma of this tragedy.
In terms of the $950 million that the President has just announced in this supplemental for the response in the reconstruction phase, beyond the reimbursement for relief spending that's already taken place, the $650 million will be used for large-scale infrastructure like the reconstruction of highways. I think what's not commonly known is this was not just a tsunami disaster, it was an earthquake as well. And so many of the interior bridges within Aceh were completely destroyed by the earthquake before the tsunami arrived and many of the roads were damaged.
In order to do the reconstruction, that road system will have to be reconstructed, and we are now talking with the ministries in Indonesia and the ministries in Sri Lanka to focus on the projects that are their first priority. This is their reconstruction program, not ours. Our job is to help them do what they need to do in their own countries. They take the leadership, they have the lead, our job is supportive. We're also looking at smaller scale infrastructure, such as schools, health clinics, water distribution systems.
Secondly, we're looking at moving people back from displaced camps and temporary shelter to permanent reconstruction of housing in their communities, livelihood programs that will, in fact, restore things like the fishing fleet, which, of course, these are all coastal areas that were affected by the tsunami and the major resource -- or source of revenue for people in their homes was the fishing fleet, and many of those were destroyed or badly damaged, those ships and equipment.
Third, we are going to provide some technical assistance to the ministries in the governments who are in charge of coordinating this technical assistance, logisticians, capacity-building, so that they have the infrastructure, the management information systems and the other planning tools necessary to make sure that this is all done in a coordinated way.
And, finally, there's funding in this for early warning systems. Both tsunami early warning -- but I also must add that the greatest risk in the Indian Ocean is not tsunamis, it is typhoons. More people have died in the last 30 years from the typhoons than any other kind of disaster in that region. And so the early warning systems must include other natural disasters, which have killed a lot of people in the entire Indian Ocean area.
And we'll be working on that, again, with the governments of the countries involved and the donor -- other donor governments and international institutions. Thank you.
SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: Good afternoon. One of the things I wanted to point out is the group of people you see here in front of you is, I think, symbolic of the fact that this has been an extraordinary, and some people would say, almost unprecedented interagency effort by the U.S. government with incredible cooperation between State and Defense and USAID. And I want to thank my colleagues and compliment them -- special thanks to our men and women in uniform; and one of my staff, Brigadier General John Allen, who has been our coordinator for the military effort and will answer some of your questions later, when I have to leave.
This has been -- part of what the supplemental will do is go to pay for the military operations that we conducted, which were absolutely critical in saving probably tens of thousands of lives. The estimates are somewhere upwards of three-quarters of a million people were displaced; survivors were displaced, the great bulk of them in Indonesia and in areas that had very little access to the outside world. So for many of the people who were survivors, the only food and water they got for days were those delivered by helicopters from the U.S. military.
We had nearly 16,000 military personnel in the region focused on this effort; some 26 ships, including one Coast Guard cutter; 58 helicopters of different kinds; and 43 fixed-wing aircraft, most of them transports. In all, we delivered over 10 million pounds of food and provided over 400,000 gallons of fresh water to people who otherwise would probably have had nothing. And in the process we think also probably is one of the reasons why the spread of disease, which was very much feared in the aftermath of the tsunami, may have been averted. To date, we've also treated almost 2,500 patients in the U.S. Naval ship, Mercy; the hospital ship is still operating off the coast of Sumatra, treating people.
A "thank you" is owed to the American taxpayer, because the assets that made it possible to conduct this operation are way beyond the cost of the supplemental, as I think you understand. Those ships and aircraft that I mentioned cost the American taxpayer some $28 billion, and if we hadn't made that investment we wouldn't have been able to play this role. It was inspirational, actually, though, to visit the troops in the field three weeks ago in Aceh, as well as in Thailand and in Sri Lanka. They were enormously excited about their ability to contribute. You found fighter pilots carrying bags of rice -- which those of you who know fighter pilots know that's an unusual kind of activity -- but enormous enthusiasm for what they were able to do in the way of providing emergency relief.
We in the Department of Defense, but also the American people, more broadly, having achieved an enormous humanitarian success in the early days in preventing what could have been an even larger catastrophe, now have, I think, a very large stake in making sure that that success doesn't go to waste because the subsequent recovery effort fails.
And the magnitude of the recovery effort is truly enormous. There is a saying in the Defense Department that sometimes quantity is a quality all its own, and I think in this catastrophe that statement applies. I know one Acehnese who lives here in Washington, who lost his entire family in this catastrophe, except for an uncle and aunt who live here. And when he said his entire family, it turns out he means 200 members -- all his cousins, all his immediate family, all his extended family. And that's not, unfortunately, an atypical case.
And if you can imagine a young orphan facing life without his parents, but also without his community, without his home, without any of the things that might normally help kids who can be amazingly resilient, to recover, you can understand the magnitude of what these countries face. And Indonesia, being the hardest hit, faces it in particular magnitude.
In case it's not clear, while Indonesia is a very big country, this hit a very small province of some three or four million people in the extreme western part of the country, where infrastructure is very limited and it makes the whole effort particularly challenging. But also because it's Indonesia -- and at the risk of sounding like I'm a former ambassador to Indonesia, which I happen to be -- but I think it's a country of special importance in our time for two reasons.
First, because it's an emerging democracy. It had its second free and fair presidential election in its history back in September of last year. There is a new democratic government now in place in Indonesia -- enormously challenged by the magnitude of this catastrophe, but also with the opportunity, if it can meet that challenge, to demonstrate to its people, and particularly the people of Aceh that a democratic government can deliver. And I think that's a very important message that we want to see reinforced.
Secondly, it is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. So if we're looking at what the President talked about in his inaugural address about the spread of freedom in the Muslim world, and we talk about elections in the last six months, it actually starts with Indonesia in September and Afghanistan in October and the Palestinian Authority and the Iraqi transitional government in January.
It's very important, as the President has explained, and his Cabinet explained, that we support that movement of freedom, particularly in the Muslim world. This challenge comes to a country that stands to be in the forefront of that movement, and I think it's, therefore, above and beyond the humanitarian considerations which would be compelling enough. We have an enormous interest in seeing this succeed. Most of that going forward will be done by USAID and for the U.S. government and civilian agencies. But we stand ready to assist as appropriate, including, possibly, in the provision of the kind of planning resources that our military is very good at.
But I want to compliment my colleagues, both on the military side and the civilian side. It's been a great success so far, and it's very important to sustain it. Thank you.
Q Two questions. One, in replenishing the money for the Defense Department and for USAID, can you give the breakdown? It says $346 million for the two together, but can we get a breakdown?
And, also, the fact sheet talks about the supplemental possibly funding debt deferment, but with all the breakdown of money, there doesn't appear to be any left. How does that work?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: The question is, how does the $950 million break down in terms of reimbursement for expenditures that have already been made. And let me give you the numbers here. DOD has spent -- let's see here -- $101 million?
GENERAL ALLEN: Well, the -- single number is --
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Okay. The AID amount that we have spent is, I believe, $101 million for relief response to date, mostly in terms of humanitarian relief and some rehabilitation, not yet reconstruction. And that will be reimbursed.
GENERAL ALLEN: And on the DOD side, we have obligated $101 million to date for incremental operational costs, and about $12.4 million or so for humanitarian costs.
SECRETARY LARSON: The reason why a specific number isn't given on the debt side is it depends on what countries ask for. We realized at the outset that it was possible that the tsunami could affect finances in a way that would make it difficult to make payments, and so there was an agreement -- first in the G7 and then broadened to the Paris Club -- that said we would understand if countries wished to defer their payments until they had a chance to assess how difficult their financial situation has been.
Since then, the G7 have made clear their willingness to see a period like that extend for up to a year. But some countries may well choose not to avail themselves of that. I know in my conversations with a number of the countries of the region, they would prefer to get direct cash assistance to meet the immediate needs of rehabilitation and relief, rather than to have resources diverted into debt relief.
So the exact amount will be something that will be determined in consultation with these countries based on their priorities and preferences, but it would be a rather smaller share of the total magnitude.
Q If I could just follow up quickly. But there's no money left over in this breakdown in the $950 million to do that, so would that require a separate supplemental if there were debt deferment?
SECRETARY LARSON: No, and I think -- you know, one of the things that we want to make clear is that these are -- represent our very strong ideas about what would be the best uses. The details will have to be worked out based on the needs assessments that are ongoing. We've got the preliminary results so far and so there will be adjustments, and among those adjustments would be pinpointing any amount that would be needed to pay for the cost of a short-term debt deferral.
Q Sir, I understand some countries like India, they have refused to get direct help from individual countries like the U.S., but they are seeking our help from the multinational, like the U.N. agencies. So is there any money going, as far as India is concerned? How much is going to India or through these agencies?
SECRETARY LARSON: In a sense, sir, I think you answered your own question. I mean, to this point the Indian authorities have made clear to us that they are not requesting bilateral assistance from us or others. But the exact country breakdown of these funds will be something that will be determined as these needs assessments come in and as we deepen our consultation with the countries that have been affected.
We're certainly not anticipating at this stage funds for India, because India has said that they aren't seeking funds from the United States.
Q Are you providing the U.S. any direct money to the U.N. -- or U.N. agencies so they provide help to --
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: We have provided $4.1 million in assistance at pecuniary level through NGOs in India. Some of them are Indian NGOs, some of them are U.S.-based NGOs, some of them are U.N. agencies.
Most of the money that we have provided to U.N. agencies have been through WFP, the World Food Program, and most of that food was to Sri Lanka and to Indonesia. Some money was given, I think, a couple of million dollars, to UNICEF to stop human trafficking, and some money was given to the World Health Organization to do -- to begin some immunization campaigns with UNICEF, and I think a small amount of money was given to UNOCHA to provide the coordinating systems that they need to coordinate the international relief effort in terms of information sharing.
Q My question is for Mr. Wolfowitz, mainly because you are ex-ambassador to Indonesia and also been there recently. As you said, Indonesia, being the largest Muslim country with 150 million people -- although, none Arab -- how would you say that the image of the United States has improved considering the extraordinary efforts that you have put into relief in the tsunami? And the second question, would you consider restoring military ties with Indonesia, as some people indicated?
SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: The question was how the U.S. response to this catastrophe has affected perceptions of the United States in Indonesia. And my impression from a short visit there and lots of emails from friends and reading Indonesian newspapers is, I think it's had quite an impact, it -- that we were there and able to help and ready to help. The whole experience, I think, was, on both sides, attitudes changed. The normal Indonesian reluctance to take help from outside, I think, was overcome by the sense that any country would need help in this kind of disaster. There's a natural suspicion anywhere in the world, and in Indonesia it's quite strong, about having foreign military participate in anything. But, again, the need overcame the natural suspicion. And the end result, I think, was that people saw we came, we gave help, and we left. We didn't come for any military purpose.
Beyond that, you asked the question of restoring relations with the Indonesian military. "Restoring" isn't quite the right word. We have already fairly extensive relations, but there are a lot of restrictions on those relations, imposed both by policy and by law, because of, unfortunately, a long record of human rights abuses by the Indonesian military and, particularly, the terrible atrocities committed in East Timor in 1998.
They've made some progress in accounting for those things. They've made some very large strides, I think, in -- large strides, in terms of military reform; it's significant that the military has been -- has given up or has had taken away its assigned seats in the parliament, so all the members of parliament are now elected. The fact that Indonesia had these two free, fair presidential elections definitely required the military to accept the idea that civilian democratic authority was now the way the country would be governed. They have a civilian defense minister now, only for the second time in their history.
So there is a lot that is changing, and I think we have to look at our relationship with the Indonesian military and look at those restrictions, not only in the light of the past, but in the light of where we are and where we are going forward -- and that is to say what kind of relationship should we have to support this movement toward democracy in Indonesia, and now in the wake of the tsunami, what sort of relationship will most assist the recovery effort.
And on that score, again, it happens to have taken place in Aceh where a very frequent -- very bloody insurgency has been taking place over a long period of time, and it is going to be necessary, I think, to get a cooperative attitude from the Indonesian military in order to deal with the recovery effort.
So all those things have to be considered. I mean, it's not something the administration is going to move on, on its own. I know Secretary of State Rice is in consultation with many members of Congress now about what is the way forward. But I would simply say, I think we need to look at the way forward, not just in the light of the past, but in the light of the challenges that we face right now.
Q Could I follow up on -- Mr. Deputy Secretary -- Paul Wolfensohn -- I'm sorry, John [sic] Wolfensohn at the World Bank warned shortly after the disaster of the dangers of rebuilding in some of the same low-lying areas that would be susceptible to typhoons, as well as additional tsunamis. Is there any consideration begin given to that, the allocation of these reconstruction funds?
SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: There is, and in fact, I learned from a geologist who went on the trip with us that in large areas of the -- there's been a -- I guess they call it subsidence of the earth two or three feet, and it raises real questions about where to put roads, whether to put roads on the old structure or to put them in new places. So the challenge is huge. And one of the things we have offered assistance on is to provide both civilian and military planners, not just from the United States, but among other things, from this nine-nation group that we've put together in Thailand to assist the Indonesian Planning Ministry in working out some of these problems. There is a mixture of political policy decisions, which only the Indonesian government can take, as to, if you relocate villages, where do you relocate them to, and issues of that kind. But then there are pure engineering logistics challenges which are going to be formidable, and a lot of difficult planning is going to go into this.
So we have a sense, as identifying the supplemental of where it seems the priorities are. But the reason we're encouraging them to put together as detailed a plan as possible is so that efforts -- the various international donors can direct their efforts into the highest priority areas and not duplicate one another.
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Could I just add something on that. The Sri Lankan government is drafting a statute to require a setback in all the coast areas because of what happened, and they realize this is a very complex subject because, basically, you're taking land away from people if you put a setback requirement, and many of that land -- much of that land has been owned in common in communities or by individuals over -- and through families over generations. And so it's a very sensitive issue from a legal standpoint, a social standpoint, economic standpoint.
They asked us to send some technical experts, land use planning experts from AID -- we are doing that -- to help them draft the statute and to go through a community-based process to talk with the people about what the effect will be of whatever they draft.
But they are thinking through these issues, and they realize that something needs to be done to avoid putting people at risk again.
Q Yes, I just want to make clear, this will be part of the $81 billion supplemental; correct?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Yes.
Q And when will that be going up to the Hill?
MS. ANDREWS: Monday.
Q Congress is particularly worried about accountability for this money, particularly with Indonesia ranked by Transparency International as the 5th most corrupt. How can you assure that the money you're giving is going to be spent the way it should be?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: First, the business model that the USAID and the State Department uses is not to go through governments. This is not a judgment on Indonesia, per se. We go through private contracting companies, many of which will be locally based. Many of the construction companies we use will be Indonesian construction or Sri Lankan construction companies. But we do not go through governments anywhere in the world with, I think, four or five exceptions, which have a geostrategic importance; for political reasons, we might do some budget transfers. So we're not planning to put any money, per se, through government.
Secondly, the assistance that we provide to governments will be in the form of people; technical assistance of the kind that I just mentioned, the kind that Secretary Wolfowitz just mentioned, that will be assigned to ministries to build capacity and build institutions. Our business model goes through NGOs, international agencies, contractors, universities, farmers cooperatives, micro finance institutions. And it's a highly accountable system. I might also add that Jan Egeland announced, and he's implementing -- with the help, I believe, of Price Waterhouse if I'm not mistaken -- a new accountability system for all public and private funds spent in any of these countries. It will be a centralized management information system to increase the level of accountability and transparency for all funds, regardless of where they're from.
Q And you have confidence in that system, then?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Well, the system is new. And we're not running it, so I can't guarantee you how it's going to be run. But Price Waterhouse is a very serious institution, and I think Jan is a serious guy. So we're going to work with him and we're going to provide our data to that system so that it includes the information from the United States. I can't guarantee you, though, since it's new, that it's going to be faultless. But for the appropriated amount of money that the U.S. Congress is going to be approving, I can assure you that there will be very high levels of accountability.
Q Is that because governments are not trustable or trustworthy?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: We used a business model in AID in the 1950s, '60s, '70s, and early '80s, which went through governments, and we had a lot of trouble. I'm not mentioning specific countries, but there were issues around accountability and transparency. And we simply didn't want to have that problem anymore, so went to a different business model. The work gets done. We use local people. Most of the people who will be working on this will, in fact, be Sri Lankans and Indonesians, but we want robust, very strong accounting systems and management information systems. And the only way to ensure this is to use our own systems to make sure the work gets done quickly.
We do, also, build capacity, though in the ministries. It's just we don't want this much money -- $900 million dollars is an awful lot of money, and it's going to be spent over a relatively short period of time, and we have to have complete transparency and accountability.
Q Thank you so much. I have two questions. One, regarding tsunami early warning system. Thirty-five million will be disbursed for this system. Could you elaborate, how this $35 million will be spent for an early warning system? I mean, are you going to send an (inaudible) specialist or a kind of special equipment. And also my second question is for General Allen. Could you update the military operation? I mean, could you update the present status of the military operation there? And also, how are you going to commit yourself to the long-term reconstruction process in Indonesia? Thank you.
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: There are three elements to a successful early warning system. By the way, there are already early warning systems in the Indian Ocean: in Vietnam, in Bangladesh, and the South Pacific islands for typhoons. So we already have experience with early warning systems that we've worked on with the Japanese government, with U.N. agencies, with NOAA in our government, and with the U.S. Geological Survey.
There are three elements to it. One are the sensor devices that will tell us that an earthquake has taken place or that a tsunami has taken place or that a typhoon is approaching. The second is a communication system to get the information from the sensory devices to the communities and the national agencies of the countries that are at risk. And then the third part of this is a community-based education system. So when the alarms go off, people in the villages know where to go. You don't want them going to a more dangerous place. If they went to a low-lying area, they'd be more -- they'd be worse off than they were before.
So they have to have training in what the -- how much time they have, when the warning system goes off, when the alarms go off, where they will get information from, where they will go to escape risk and hazard. That is going to be worked out with the governments involved. There is an international consortium of scientists who are working with our scientists in the United States and Japan and Australia and the national agencies.
So this is an international effort. We will contribute to it. How we break down that budget will be determined after the plan has actually been completed, and that hasn't happened yet.
GENERAL ALLEN: To address your question on what the operation looks like now and where we'll go in a long-term, as you know, when we were organized initially to respond to the relief requirements, we were organized with a headquarters in Utapao, Thailand. And that unit was called the Combined Support Force 536, and the term "combined" would imply both a U.S. government interagency response, but also an international response, as well.
That headquarters in Utapao had three subsidiary headquarters, one located in the three principle areas in which we were providing relief. We called them Combined Support Groups, so there was a CSG in Indonesia, one in Sri Lanka, and one in Thailand.
As the international response grew, and as there was this convergence of international assistance, and additional assistance that was coming from the United States, as the capacity to provide relief grew, there was less requirement for the immediate capabilities that our forces brought to bear in the early emergency period of the relief. So as that grew, we began to stand down our military operation.
For example, we have already closed down the CSG in Thailand; we have closed down the CSG in Sri Lanka; we'll be closing down the CSG soon in Indonesia; and, ultimately, soon, we'll be closing down the combined support for its headquarters in Utapao.
Now, what will remain -- and there's about 3,600 Americans in the region now; most of them are aboard our ships that are still operating, providing helicopter support and some landing craft support to deliver relief supplies -- what will remain for some period of time, as long as there is a need, out to about the middle of March or so, is the USNS, the hospital ship, Mercy. Mercy is jointly crewed by both Navy physicians and medical personnel, but also physicians and medical personnel from non-governmental organizations. It's really an innovative approach in this regard.
When the disaster started, we immediately sailed the Mercy for the region. And it took over 30 days to get there. And as the medical needs of the region began to develop, we ultimately flew the crew that would man the medical portion of the ship, we flew them to Singapore to arrive at the same time as the ship, so that we had a tailored medical response.
So the Mercy will remain off the coast, primarily of Indonesia, in the short-term, providing as it is, probably as we speak right now, medical support to include primarily acute care, operator -- operation room -- operator room support. And we're also sending teams of medical experts ashore to augment some, frankly, the exhausted Indonesian physicians and medical personnel in the round-the-clock work that they have done so well in their hospitals.
Other ways in which we could contribute as the relief effort becomes completely civilianized in this regard is, we'll have engineers who could provide assistance, if requested, to come out and do surveys with respect to reconstruction of the infrastructure and so on. But we also, as the Secretary mentioned, we have very capable strategic planners who are ready, based on the offers that we have made to the host nations, we are ready to provide these planners to support their strategic planning for the recovery in the long-term rehabilitation of their countries.
Q Can you say how soon you're going to close the Indonesia --
GENERAL ALLEN: It will be in the next few days.
Q Next few days?
GENERAL ALLEN: Yes.
Q I have a question regarding the tsunami early warning system. There has been a meeting recently in Bangkok and the countries like India, Indonesia and Thailand couldn't agree on where the system should be installed. So if anybody could update us on where exactly, and how this is going to be resolved?
SECRETARY LARSON: There is an ongoing process of meetings, as Mr. Natsios mentioned, involving scientists and officials that is designed really to find the best way of building on existing international systems. There's a very effective Pacific tsunami warning system that includes the detection devices that Andrew mentioned, as well as a network of cooperation. And I think the basic idea here is to expand and strengthen that system -- expand it so it has more geographic coverage, strengthen it so that it works more effectively. But it is going to take a little bit of time for those who are most knowledgeable about the technological issues and the cooperation issues to come forward with the -- I think the best approach for the Indian Ocean and for the other regions.
But what this does is allows the United States to play a leading role not only in those discussions, but we have money available to participate in the actual deployment of these expanded and improved systems.
Q Can you estimate what the private donations were?
SECRETARY LARSON: The latest number on private donations that we have seen -- and these are collected by the Center on Philanthropy in Indiana -- is in excess of $800 million. So it's a real outpouring of private contributions from American citizens.
Q This is a huge amount of money. I'm wondering whether this amount is the biggest amount in the past of financial commitment of the United States to supply to a single natural disaster.
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: I think the largest -- this is the largest. The largest probably before this was Hurricane Mitch in Central America. But we did not spend this much money. So I would say, historically -- we can check our records in AID -- I think this proposal of President Bush is the most generous and the most extensive in American history for the U.S. government.
Q Including this money today, I think more than $6 billion has been pledged altogether. I'd like to get a sense in how you think this money will be effectively coordinated and allocated and spent so all the countries are cooperating and there aren't overlapping or gaps in the reconstruction efforts?
SECRETARY LARSON: Well, one basic point -- and I know Andrew and I agree on this -- the fundamental role of coordination is done at the host country level. It will be very important for all of us in the international community that are trying to be of assistance -- that's bilateral donors like the United States, as well as the World Bank and the United Nations -- to work within the framework and the priorities that have been established by each country.
Now, the countries are requesting and getting help in evaluating those priorities. The World Bank and the United Nations have been very active, working with us and others to help them assess their needs and to establish priorities. Those assessments are being refined further at this point. But it really will be in the framework of these national strategies. The United Nations has a very important convening role in bringing donors together to sit down with countries, but we hold very strongly to the principle that the coordination, the primary responsibility for coordination lies with the affected countries, and our responsibility is to work very cooperatively with them within the framework that they set.
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: I would just add one thing. Everything that Alan just said I agree with, and strongly endorse. We have AID missions in India, a regional mission for Southeast Asia in Bangkok, a mission in Thailand and a mission in Sri Lanka. We are, in fact, beefing up or increasing the number of staff in Sri Lanka and Indonesia now. In fact, there's a meeting going on in Bangkok of our regional staff right now to increase the staff so that we can manage this much larger portfolio.
But we have regular development programs in, and we have, just in Indonesia, I think there are a couple of hundred staff, half of whom are Indonesian -- they are foreign service nationals who work for AID in the mission. So the people on the ground spend a lot of time, even in the regular program, let alone this sort of circumstance, coordinating our programs, because frequently we invest in the same thing together. You'll get three donor governments putting money into the same micro-finance lending institution, for example, or the same university or the same farmers cooperative chain, or that sort of thing. So we do this -- that's what a large part of what our work is. And we do it through the ministries of the governments and the countries that we're working with.
MS. ANDREWS: Thank you everybody, very much. If you'll just sit tight for a second, the statement by the President has just been released, and I think we have copies of it to pass out to everyone.
END 4:45 P.M. EST