10/10/2005
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE ON RECENT DISASTERS IN SOUTH ASIA , CENTRAL AMERICA


Despite being stretched thin by the current proliferation of natural disasters and complex emergencies, the United Nations system was able to respond swiftly to the mudslides in Central America and the earthquake in South Asia, Ed Tsui, Director of the New York Office of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said this afternoon at a Headquarters press conference on humanitarian assistance to countries affected by those events.


“The request for international assistance came in on the same day”, he said, referring to an appeal from the Pakistani Government, “and we immediately dispatched what we call the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team to the country to assist the Government, particularly in coordinating all types of international assistance going into Pakistan.”


Massive destruction took place in six northern districts of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, as well as parts of India and Afghanistan, he said.  The unconfirmed Pakistani Government estimate of casualties was now 30,000 dead and 40,000 injured.  Sectors that required the most assistance included shelter, food, medicine, logistic support -- particularly helicopters -- and field hospitals.


A $100,000 emergency grant was immediately provided by OCHA to “kick start” operations in Pakistan, Mr. Tsui said, and three assessment units were now working in three different areas to determine the full scope of humanitarian assistance needed.  The logistics team was working closely with the Government to determine the total transport need.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had opened a warehouse in Peshawar and was organizing logistics support, he said, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was leading the international response in water and sanitation, nutrition and education.


In addition, he said that the World Health Organization (WHO) had deployed an assessment team and was supporting the Pakistani Ministry of Health, assisted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  The World Food Programme (WFP) had allocated an initial sum of $500,000 and was delivering 200 tons of high energy biscuits, as well as providing logistics support.


Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland would interrupt his tour of tsunami-affected countries to support the South Asian earthquake relief operations, Mr. Tsui said.


In Guatemala, where hurricane Stan last week caused severe mudslides that affected 15 out of the country’s 22 departments, the United Nations had also quickly dispatched a UNDAC team at the request of the Government, he said.  The United Nations country team was already on the ground providing initial food and other assistance.  Agencies providing assistance included UNICEF, WFP, WHO, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).


An appeal would be launched today for $22 million for relief efforts in Guatemala, and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Margareta Walhström would support the operations there, Mr. Tsui said.

Asked whether the world had learned lessons in quick disaster response since the Indian Ocean tsunami, Mr. Tsui replied that the international community had been building up capacity in that area over the years, and
12 countries had immediately offered search and rescue teams for the earthquake.  “In that sense, the international community moved very quickly”, he said, adding that some countries also quickly offered financial support.


Asked to specify the 12 countries, he named Japan, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Turkey, China, Russian Federation, Netherlands, Singapore, Korea, Greece and Poland.


When another correspondent asked if Islamic countries had offered support for Pakistan, he said that Mr. Egeland had been working to broaden the donor base for humanitarian relief and had been talking in particular to Middle Eastern countries to get them to provide such relief through multilateral channels.  He could not as yet specify the support pledged from those countries in the current emergencies, however.


Finally, he confirmed that there was a problem with access to Guatemala.  That was one of the reasons Ms. Walhström was going there, he said.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record