Secretary-General Kofi Annan and UN's Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland at press conference on Asian Tsunami disaster
New York, 30 December 2004SG: Let me thank you for coming. This is a difficult period for all of us.
I returned to New York yesterday, to join in this effort, to lead the UN effort on the tsunami disaster. First of all let me say that my thoughts and prayers are with the people of the region, and with those in many other countries who have lost loved ones. As the death toll mounts, and we continue to search for the missing, we should also not forget the survivors, especially the poor, and the many millions of vulnerable in that region.
I have also had the chance to speak to all the leaders of the countries affected, not only to offer my condolences, but also to see how the UN and the international community can work with them, and to stress the need for effective coordination of national, regional and international efforts.
This is an unprecedented, global catastrophe and it requires an unprecedented, global response. Over the past few days, it has registered deeply in the consciousness and conscience of the world, as we seek to grasp the speed, the force and magnitude with which it happened.
But we must also remain committed for the longer term. We know that the impact will be felt for a long time to come.
The latest figures speak for themselves: at least one hundred and fifteen thousand are dead in the region; half a million injured; one million displaced; and at least five million in need of immediate assistance.
We have had a good response. As of today, a total of half a billion dollars in assistance has been pledged or received, as well as contributions in kind. More than 30 countries have stepped forward to help, as have millions of individuals from around the world.
As Jan Egeland has told you over the past few days, and I repeated earlier, coordination of the response is now absolutely essential. How well the international community and the affected countries work together now will determine how well we will deal with all aspects of the disaster -- both in the immediate and the longer term.
This morning, I met with the heads of UN agencies and those within the Inter-Agency Standing Committee on humanitarian relief. I also met with the newly formed Core Group, consisting of Australia, India, Japan and the United States; and my last meeting this morning was with the Permanent Representatives of the 12 countries most affected. This afternoon, after I leave you, I will be meeting with the European Union, following up on our efforts to assist.
Above all, I would like to assure the people of the region that the entire United Nations family stands ready to assist, and we stand behind them. We will work with them in every way we can to rebuild their lives, livelihoods and communities devastated by this catastrophe. I will now take a few questions.
Q: Could you give us an indication: there is a core group, there is the United Nations, there is a whole bunch of different groups coordinating - who is taking the leadership role on the humanitarian side of this? Did this come as a surprise to you, the American decision to create this special group? Also, perhaps a little bit on the bottlenecks for aid coming in: what is being done to try to address that issue?
SG: Thank you for the question. In fact, I did speak to Secretary of State Powell yesterday as the announcement was made, and we have also spoken this morning. The core group will support the United Nations effort. We also expect the core group to grow. There are other countries that have indicated a desire to join the core group, and I think it would be a good thing that we have a real international effort. It is clear that their purpose is to work with us and to support the United Nations effort, and we are going to make it a truly international effort. In fact, in the meetings we had this morning, Mr. Jim Wolfensohn of the World Bank also was a part of it. So we are beginning to look not only at the short term, but also at the longer-term recovery and reconstruction, together.
On the logistical problem, quite a lot is being done. In fact, from the discussions we had with Governments this morning, not only are some offering communication and transport, but they are also moving assets to the region. In fact, Jan Egeland will give you a bit more detail on the military efforts, military capacities that are being moved to the area, using Bangkok as a hub to be able to move goods into other areas. And other Governments have offered facilities for us to use their airports and move goods forward.
Q: With the work that the United Nations is already doing in places like Darfur, Afghanistan, et cetera, to what extent are the human resources of the United Nations strained by the need to get people to the South Asia region? Do you have enough people, trained people, to get in there and do that? Is there a strain on the United Nations system at this point?
SG: First of all, let me say that we do not do it alone; we do it with our essential partners. For example, in Asia, we are working with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the non-governmental organizations and the local Governments. The initial responses by the Governments have been really very good, and the local Red Cross and Red Crescents have been active; and so we work in partnership with them. But your point is well taken, that we are going to be stretched; we need to bring in additional people to work with us. And, of course, not only are we going to be stretched in terms of manpower and human resources, but we are also going to be stretched financially and technically. We hope that the response will be sustained across the board and that it will not be robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Q: There has been some dispute or contentiousness over the fact of whether wealthy countries are doing what they ought to do in general. Let me ask you about this particular crisis right now. Are you satisfied that the rich countries are stepping up in this particular crisis and giving you everything you need?
And could I just ask you one thing along the same lines? In the teleconference, I understand, the question was raised as to whether this crisis was so gigantic that maybe the international community's response had to be much larger than it had been; and I wondered if that is a thought you had had.
SG: Let me say that, in this particular instance, the response has been very good. We have had a very good response. Governments have donated, and they have indicated to us that they will do more. Not only have they made pledges and contributions in terms of cash, but they have also given in-kind contributions and moved their assets – planes, equipment and things – into the region that would also be helpful to us. And the Governments in the region are also becoming very actively engaged in the process.
So, I am satisfied with the response so far. The only thing I want to stress is that we are in this for the long term, and we need to help people rebuild their lives. We need to help the poor who have lost everything rebuild their lives and work with the Governments to make that possible.
On the question of the magnitude of the crisis: yes, we did discuss it. Not only did we discuss it, we agreed that it is so huge that no one agency or one country can deal with it alone and that we need to coordinate our efforts and pool our efforts to have maximum impact on the crisis. Everybody seems to be aware of that. It is going to require lots of money, lots of effort and for the longer term.
Q: This disaster is tremendous, and there are calls now by the Italian Prime Minister to convene an emergency summit of the G-8. There are those who say, why doesn't the United Nations take the bull by the horns and ask for a bigger summit? There are countries like the Gulf States, with their rich resources, which can contribute a great deal.
Another question is on Sudan: tomorrow there will be a signing. Can we have your thoughts on this subject, and how can this help in solving the second-biggest disaster: in Darfur?
SG: We will be making a flash appeal on 6 January. That appeal will be made to all Governments with a capacity to contribute to the emergency. And there will be a second pledging conference on 11 January. So, our appeal is not limited to any group of countries. We will be reaching out and pleading with everybody; Governments – and individuals, as I have said – have also been very generous.
On your question on Darfur – I think you were in Nairobi with me when the Security Council met there – if the agreement is concluded and signed tomorrow, I think it will have a positive impact on the country. We would expect that once the agreement is signed, it will lead to a national conference and national dialogue, and it will also add momentum to the search for a solution in Darfur. Some of the agreements and the solutions they found for the north-south conflict could apply to Darfur and, in that respect, could facilitate the negotiations on the Darfur crisis.
Q: Where do you stand on calls for debt moratoriums or debt relief for the countries affected?
SG: I think this is an issue that we will discuss down the line. We have not really focused on it as such. But as I said, we are looking at the issue in the short term and the longer term, and all these issues will be looked at as we move along the line.
Q: You said that there has already been half a billion dollars of aid pledged by various Governments –
SG: No: I must say that $250 million is from the World Bank. Mr. Jim Wolfensohn, who was in the conference call with us, announced it. And so, he has been very good indicating that they are prepared to do more. So, half of it is from the World Bank.
Q: So, when you make this flash appeal, which I understand is going to be a six-month appeal, do you expect that appeal to exceed $1 billion?
SG: I think we are working on the assessment. Do you have a figure yet?
Mr. Egeland: We do not know yet. It should be in the hundreds of millions, but the flash appeal will be for the six-months humanitarian effort. Beyond that is, as the Secretary-General said, the reconstruction effort, which will be just tremendous. And the total damage is in the billions and billions of dollars. Much of that will, of course, be borne, as it is already, by some of the countries concerned.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, two questions. How do you evaluate the Islamic world response to the disaster? My second question is, how much is the latest figure of children who are victims and have disappeared in the earthquake?
SG: I don't have the details of that. I will ask Jan if he has the details to answer your question.
Mr. Egeland: We see one third of the victims being children. This is going through the dead, the wounded and also those affected. Actually, it would be more than a third of those who are affected in general. But of the casualties, it is around one third.
And the Islamic world is coming really to the relief of the tsunami victims. What is in this list – I am just going through the latest list of recorded contributions – it is page after page after page of countries, some traditional and very many untraditional. It is Latin American countries. It is Arab countries. It is Eastern European countries. And it is, more than anything, also Asian countries, neighbours. Some of the things we also heard and the Secretary-General was hearing of this morning, from India and Malaysia, has not yet entered our lists even.
Q: Will you go to the region? Are you considering a trip? Can you update your statement at your end-of-the-year news conference regarding what a horrible year it was? And, describe looking at the images, I assume, on vacation, and whether you thought about coming back earlier and just what you were looking at. And the role of the United Nations after being bashed all year: is this, unfortunately on the back of horrible disaster, an opportunity for the United Nations?
SG: Let me say that at my last press conference, when I said this has been a horrible year, I didn't expect anything like this to happen before the year ended. It was bad enough up to that point. But this has been a real tragedy and disaster for those in that region.
Ever since the disaster struck, as I have indicated, I have been on the line with the leaders of the region, discussing what should be done and also been constantly in touch here with my team and Jan. And, of course, that also explains the reason why I am back now.
I think the United Nations has an important role to play, and we are going to play a lead role in this, working with the entire international community. And we have to rely on the generosity of the major donors. And as I have indicated, so far the response has been very good, and I would want to see it sustained.
I haven't planned an immediate trip, but it is not excluded.
Q: Mr. Secretary, picking up on Richard's question, I think a lot of people are asking exactly why you waited three days on vacation in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, before you decided to fly back to New York in the face of this extraordinary crisis. Could you give us a full explanation of your thinking on that? Secondly, what kind of signal does that 72-hour delay send to the nations to which you are now appealing for greater help?
SG: First of all, there was action. It wasn't inaction. We live in a world where you can operate from wherever you are. You know the world we live in now. You don't have to be physically here to be dealing with the leaders and the Governments I have been dealing with. You don't have to be physically here to be discussing with some of the agencies that we have done.
I came back here because we have reached a level that I wanted to have meetings with all the people that I have met with today. So, we have taken action. And I don't have to be sitting in my office to take action. I think the same goes for you in your profession.
Q: Given the magnitude of this disaster, shouldn't the United Nations, rather the United States, have taken the lead in establishing a coalition of donor and affected countries to deal with this disaster? And following up on the last two questions, shouldn't you, as Secretary-General, possibly be visiting the affected region to show moral support to the affected communities?
SG: First of all, on the question of how we pool the international community together, I think it is important that an initiative has been taken. We ourselves were discussing our possible initiative, but I applaud what has been done by the United States Government, by the United States Administration and President Bush. As I have said, we have spoken to other countries which are also going to join the group, and that group will be in support of the efforts that the United Nations is leading. So, we are very satisfied with that.
On the question of visits to the region, as I indicated, that is not excluded. But let me also say that we all need to be careful. When you have these sorts of massive emergencies, the urgent need is assistance to the people - shelter, food, water, health and other things. When we sometimes overwhelm them with high-profile visitors, we move people away from their work, and in fact we become more of a problem, an impediment, than actual assistance.
So, one should go to the region, but at the right time. Those who go to the region should make sure that they do not detract from the essential work that is being done, because it takes lots of efforts, and they have limited facilities. In some of these places, you often would not have even accommodation - and all the essential accommodation should go to those who actually doing it. So, yes, visit the region, but at the right time.
Q: This is a question for the Secretary General, or maybe Mr. Egeland. The death count keeps going up and up, and I am wondering what the process is. The United Nations is taking the lead road in compiling this. How do you calculate the death toll figures?
SG: Some of it comes from the Governments and the other agencies on the ground. And I am sure that some of the Governments themselves have been surprised. Those I was in touch with three days ago gave a certain number, and they thought that that was it. Those numbers have tripled or quadrupled. And as the sea washes them back to the shores, you keep finding new people. And there are areas that we have not have access to, and as you gain access to these new areas, you find additional horrors. Jan, you may want to add to that.
Mr. Egeland: The figures are still only estimates. The 115,000 figure will rise further today, I think. Indonesia has informed us that their official figure is now nearly 75,000 dead. Sri Lanka says that, in addition to the 24,000 confirmed, there are 6000 missing. So the two combined are more than 100,000 - just Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
The United Nations tried to monitor all the information flow in the whole area. We admit that we are behind, because we are totally reliant on local sources. And there are many fishing boats, fishermen, fishing villages that will never, ever, hear about. These are the nameless victims of this disaster. I heard in Somalia 100 fishing vessels had gone. There may be many more that we have never heard of. Along the Sumatra and Aceh coast, there are many communities where we have not even been able to visit yet. We hope to be able to do that in the next few hours.
We need more logistic capabilities, and one of the things we will be discussing with the core group - and it makes a lot of sense to have a core group of some of the countries having military and civil defence assets in the region - is helicopters, assistance in having air freight control and so on, so we can move in a better manner.
SG: Let me say that at the end of the day, when things have quietened down and we have really analysed the figures, it is quite possible that the figures we are giving you now may have to change. But we are working with the figures that we have, based on the estimates that we have been given. And this happens in most emergencies, that the final figure is usually quite different.
Question (interpretation from French): You have stressed the long-term aspect. You will recall that on 26 December 2003, in Bam, Iran, there was another major earthquake, which caused 40,000 deaths and nearly 100,000 homeless people. At the time, donors made pledges, but two days ago Iranian President Khatami said that of that $1 billion only about $17 million has actually been disbursed. How can you ensure that that kind of problem does not happen again?
Also, Africa is beset by disaster - I am thinking of Somalia and parts of Tanzania. I know that there are efforts under way in this area, but what do you intend to do to give them further assistance to African victims?
The Secretary-General (interpretation from French): Not all the money that was pledged for the Iran crisis has been disbursed. I hope that this time, as the international community is really aware - everyone is involved - we will fulfil our promises. This is why, right from the outset I have said that what we need to do is to work for the long term, because it is a long road to travel. I hope that this time the international community will accept this thinking. And the efforts that we are making involve African countries, as well. This morning the representative of Somalia came and spoke to us. We discussed these issues. There is a team in place in Somalia, so we are busy assisting African countries, also.
Q: The International Conference on Disaster Reduction is going to be held in Kobe next month. What kind of discussions or outcomes would you like to see, especially in terms of an early-warning system for tsunamis? Would you consider attending the Conference yourself because of the tsunami disaster?
SG: Let me say that it will be an opportunity for the international community to look at disasters and early-warning systems - and, of course, the question of why we did not have a warning system in the Indian Ocean for the tsunami would also be discussed. Of course, now it is very much on the agenda. I think it will raise awareness amongst all countries and participants that prevention is a very essential work, and we need not only an early-warning system but also prevention and planning against some of these disasters, as some other countries have done. Japan, for example, has been able to plan and design for these kinds of disasters. And I think this will be a chance to share experiences.
As of the moment, I do not have plans to attend the Conference.
Q: Mr. Egeland brought up the question of the millennium goal of 0.7 per cent of GDP for foreign aid. First of all, should this be a separate account? Should this be in that account? And is it the correct thing to talk about in this context?
The second Q: Mr. Brahimi keeps making comments publicly that your spokesman tells me do not reflect your view on the Israeli-Palestinian issues. Do they? And, secondly, is it time to let him go, then?
SG: Let me start with your first question. Or do you want me to start with the second? Okay, I will start with the second.
I had really not wanted to get into any other topic except this major disaster that we have in front of us. But I will say that Mr. Brahimi, who is a very experienced diplomat and has served the international community well, has sometimes expressed his views. I think I gave a statement on this not more than two weeks ago, and I do not think I have anything to add to that statement. Fred, you issued a statement? No, I issued a statement. Fred can give you a copy. And that is still my position.
Q: What about the first question?
SG: On the question of 0.7: first of all, most Governments distinguish between humanitarian emergency funds and development assistance funds. And I think that that is the way it should be. One is for long-term development and the other is for immediate relief. Some - but very few - have it all in one basket. So, when we talk of development funds, we are talking about long-term developmental efforts. And I think I would want Governments to be able to respond to emergencies by making additional resources available, rather than taking it out of the development funds, because it does not really move us forward.
Q: How do you feel about the way some people are treating the United Nations as a political football in the midst of a humanitarian disaster?
SG: Well, as you have heard this morning, we see that we have such a major and huge task to do that we are focusing on it. And I think as long as we focus on our work and work effectively with our partners and help coordinate this effort, if there are people who are determined to play football, they will also give up and probably join in the constructive work.
Q: What do you think the tsunami is going to do to the international war on terrorism? Do you feel that, perhaps, it may dislodge it from the top of the international agenda? And given the extent and magnitude of what is described as terrorism activities in places like Indonesia, how concerned are you that donor money, or some of it, may end up flowing into what some Governments call the “wrong pockets” there?
SG: I think the essential thing is, as I said, not only to be generous and coordinate the efforts, but also to monitor and ensure that it goes to the people who actually need it and it doesn't get into the wrong hands. That will be the responsibility of those of us and the Governments who are involved in this relief operation.
I don't think that the fact that we are dealing with the tsunami crisis will detract over the long term from the concern Governments have about terrorism. I think terrorism is a long-term issue and it is not going to go away because we are today focused on the tsunami.
Q: I have two questions. We are seeing this disaster as a human threat, I think. Do you think it could be prevented or was there any way to minimize this disaster? The other question is: As you are focusing on the structural change in this international body, do you think this disaster will affect that somehow?
SG: I think, on your first question, we all agree that, if there had been an early-warning system, it could have mitigated against the disaster and they would have had some notice – not much, because of the speed and the suddenness with which the disaster occurred. But they would have had some warning and perhaps saved some people.
As to whether it would affect the reform proposals on the table, I hope not. I don't think it should. I think perhaps it should underscore the fact that, as an international community, we need to work together. And I think the response not only to the tsunami, but the victims are also international. Many countries lost people and Governments are responding very effectively. And so I hope it underscores the need for us to cooperate across national borders and work together.
Q: Returning to the long-term question, is it clear to you that major donor countries will have to increase their ODA budgets in order, as you said, not to rob Peter to pay Paul? Secondly, what sort of political opportunity is there for the developed world to show a commitment to the developing world over the long-term in order to maintain, as it either does or does not maintain, a focus on reconstruction?
SG: I think I would want to see Governments respond to this crisis without depleting resources from the development account, because we are already behind in many countries in our efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals. And in fact we have been saying that, to meet those Goals, we need an additional $50 billion a year. If, instead of seeing an increase in the development budget, we were to see a decrease or a deviation of the funds to other emergency issues, then it will be a very difficult situation and it will almost be impossible to meet the development goals that leaders of the world set themselves five years ago.
On the question of political advantage, I think it is an opportunity. Let me put it this way: it is an opportunity for the developed world to work together with the developing countries, and not only to work together with them, but to work together in the long run in their own interests to ensure that we don't have situations which fester and create desperate people who could be capable of doing all sorts of things. And so I think, by working together with the developing countries and ensuring that people who have lost everything are able to rebuild their lives, it would be in the interests of all.
Q: This morning, an official of CARE USA said that no one wants to admit that there are limits to what can be done. She said that we may be in a situation where everything that can be done is not enough. To what extent would you agree that everything that can be done is not enough?
SG: That is possible, because the needs are enormous. The Governments themselves are doing whatever they can. The region is being mobilized and, of course, the wider international community is also coming in. And it is conceivable that one may not be able to fulfil every possible need of each of the countries and each of the coastal villages that have been destroyed. But what we could not forgive ourselves for is for not even trying, not even really making an effort to help these people meet their desperate needs. I think our common humanity demands it and we should all do our best to really help them. If we fall short, at least we can be satisfied that we did everything possible.
Q: Can you just flesh out in a little more detail the kinds of logistical problems you're facing? Are they problems of transportation, with coordination and other things? Just describe in a little more detail how that's unfolding and what you're facing.
Mr. Egeland: Our main problems now are in northern Sumatra and Aceh. We have problems all over, and I agree that it is beyond the reach of all our combined resources in these five massive parallel operations from Somalia to Indonesia.
In Aceh, today 50 trucks of relief supplies are arriving. They will have arrived because it's already late there. Tomorrow, we will have eight full airplanes arriving. I discussed today with Washington whether we can draw on some assets on their side, after consultations with the Indonesian Government, to set up what we call an “air-freight handling centre” in Aceh. Tomorrow, we will have to set up a camp for relief workers – 90 of them – which is fully self-contained, with kitchen, food, lodging, everything, because they have nowhere to stay and we don't want them to be an additional burden on the people there.
One of the figures we had was that, in one of the towns in Aceh, there are 40,000 dead. So it just shows that, in that area, we have the full blast of the epicentre. And it is also the area where infrastructure was the worst to start with, distances are the biggest, and where most of the existing infrastructure is totally, totally gone.
There are some of the areas that have had conflicts or have conflicts – Somalia has still an active conflict going. We still have to reach with our food trucks. There has been a conflict both in Aceh and in the Tamil areas. We are heartened to see that we have not had political access problems, and I believe that this phenomenal catastrophe can bring not only the world together more than anything in the long term, but also the peoples of the region together and even the peoples of the countries concerned. So in all of this there are confidence-building measures that are possible.
Q: My question is about the support of the United States and their core group in the United Nations effort. Can you be more specific about the efforts of the core group and how they will complement the United Nations? And what are the coordination tasks being done to make sure that efforts are not duplicated between the different agencies?
Mr. Egeland: In the meeting today with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, which is all the United Nations agencies, the Red Cross and Red Crescent and the non-governmental organizations, we again reviewed the structure, which is that OCHA, which is my Office – and I am the Emergency Relief Coordinator – is the one to coordinate our collective efforts through the country teams, where we have Resident Coordinators, strengthened by additional staff that we sent from some 15 countries, and a few dozen experts that have come to strengthen the country teams. So it is now actually pretty clear who should bring water to Aceh, who should concentrate on medicine – medical facilities – in Aceh, who should bring the food to Aceh, who will do the tent camp for everybody there, and who will do the logistics at the airport: we have divided the task between ourselves.
It makes a lot of sense that the United States took the initiative with this core group, because several of these have now sent military assets there. They have a heavy presence in the region. And as such I regard this group a little bit like the European Union group, whom we were meeting now – the Secretary-General and a few of us – this afternoon. The European Union will have the ministers' meeting on 7 January, the day after we launch the flash appeal, and they will then be able to respond as such.
Q: Mr. Egeland, there has been a lot of warnings out of Geneva about diseases. Have you had any evidence yet that diseases have begun to break out anywhere?
Mr. Egeland: Yes. This morning we were informed by the World Health Organization that diarrhoeal disease is on the clear rise. I have also heard that respiratory disease is on the rise. And we could be in the situation that more children could die from diarrhoea in the next weeks than those who were killed by the tsunami. This is always the after-effect of major natural disasters. It is also the after-effect of wars: more children die from preventable disease than from war.
Q: [unintelligible] cholera and things like that? No?
Mr. Egeland: Nothing like that. In terms of cholera and others – that kind of diseases – we are becoming increasingly good in combating that with the kind of standby teams that we have and that can go very quickly to try to kill an outbreak. But diarrhoea and malaria will be on the rise. These are water-borne diseases, if you like –and malaria also flourishes when there is a lot of water – and that will kill many people, unfortunately.
Q: What are the regions where you are getting these outbreaks? [unintelligible]?
Mr. Egeland: Well, we have heard from Sri Lanka and Indonesia already – the rise of disease. But I think it will be safe to say that we have had much more disease in all of the areas affected. And remember: India is also a severely affected society.
Q: I just wanted to check: this 40 million that the World Health Organization is calling for – this is in addition to the 130 million that you called for the other day?
Mr. Egeland: The 130 million was the appeals of the country team, including the World Health Organization officials, in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Beyond these three countries, the World Health Organization also have needs, and therefore part of it is inside and part of it is outside, because it is for all of the countries, as I have understood.
Q: I had hoped to ask the Secretary-General this question because it is appropriate for him to do so, but I did not have a chance. President Bush had spoken about setting up a centre or a system – a global system to monitor future disasters. The Secretary-General has met with the coordinators – the four countries coordinating the major disaster relief programmes. And he has also spoken to Secretary Powell. Does he have any sense of where this agency or system – global system – will be placed: Whether it will be within the United Nations system or outside of it?
Mr. Egeland: These are among the things I hope we will be discussing in the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, in Kobe Japan, from 18 to 22 January. We will have 2,000 international experts and officials from 150 countries. We discussed today that we will have a special event looking at preparedness and early warning in these kind of situations. It is debated in the academic and scientific community what kind of early warning systems we can have and could have: for example, on tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. We, the United Nations, want to facilitate that, and we want to discuss which organizations should take part. I coordinate the international strategy for disaster reduction with a special secretariat in Geneva reporting to me, as Emergency Relief Coordinator. And in that network everybody from the World Meteorological Organization to the International Telecommunication Union and all our United Nations agencies – the World Bank and so on – participate. So, that could be one forum.
Q: Two questions: One, there were reports about wild animals being spared somehow, probably running away with some kind of inner – . Do you have confirmation for that? And, if so, will that be an early warning type of system. And secondly, do you feel that your comment – that “stingy” comment – created a healthy competition?
Mr. Egeland: The first one I do not know of. But I know there are many quite creative ideas, actually, to do early warning. Yes, so there are many ways and manners.
On the second one: No, I did not want to raise any discussion in the midst of this emergency. But, to your earlier question to SG: I was asked a question in this forum at the end of a very long press conference, when we discussed disaster prevention, preparedness, the Kobe Conference, the global needs. And in that context, I said that I am not satisfied with the many rich countries in the world, who are getting increasingly rich, and their ability to respond to the needs of those who are getting increasingly poor. It is my job, my full-time job, to advocate for the poor and to ask for more money from those who can give. I am particularly oriented to get more money from the newly rich countries in Asia, in the Gulf region, in Latin America, in Eastern Europe. And I was thinking as much of those as any of the traditional donors, and I am very sad that my clarification – which I thought was very clear also in the press conference – did not stop that one discussion. I see now that it may also lead to discussion of additional funding for good causes, and I would welcome that.
Q: When we talk about the damage and deaths in the coastal areas around the Indian Ocean, we are talking clearly about water and flooding. When you spoke a moment ago about the damage in Aceh and you said this caught the full blast of the epicentre, were you saying that the people who died there died from the earthquake, or died from the flooding, or died from both of those?
Mr. Egeland: I think it can be both, because really that is the only region which really also had a full blast of the earthquake. And many could be dead in buildings collapsing before they were drowned by the tsunami, actually. This is so close to the epicentre also that there was absolutely no time, really, between the earthquake and the tsunami. So, in a way, it is an academic exercise to see what was worst.
Q: Mr. Egeland, in answer to my question about the United Nations human resources being stretched thin, perhaps, by this, the Secretary-General referred to the idea of bringing some people in. Can you flesh out what he means by that: what number of people; putting people on contract for a period of time – what does he have in mind there, or do you have in mind?
Mr. Egeland: We are overstretched. We were overstretched already with Darfur and eastern Congo. Again, also back to my frustration of the funding for good causes – my good causes – is in eastern Congo we have surveys saying that 1,000 people die per day from preventable disease and from humanitarian neglect. That is a tsunami every four months – for years. We do not have enough resources. We do not, either, have enough personnel. However, I think it would be defeatist to say that, no, it is limited what we can do. In this world, everything is possible. And there are additional assets that we can and should bring on. I lie awake at night thinking of new ways we can bring in new partners and new resources. We have a very good opportunity to bring in military and civil defense assets here, and I welcome, really, the offer of the United States and Australia and India and Singapore and many other countries of military and civil defense assets to this response to natural disaster – because we do not have the capacities that they can bring.
So, that is one additional layer of support. If we also look at the list, it is very encouraging to see: I mean, East Timor gives $50,000. It is one of the poorest countries on the Earth. Eastern European countries are among those who now give us personnel that we sent within the first 24 hours – the wave of experts that we call the United Nations Disaster Assessment Teams. They were not in the family before. So: yes, we can. Everything is possible if we think creatively and if we are generous as an international community.
Q: To clarify that: I guess you are not really referring to adding people to the United Nations payroll?
Mr. Egeland: For example, the United Nations Disaster Assessment Teams came, in the first 48 hours, from 12 countries. They were paid by their own countries. They would be municipality workers in London or in Estonia or in India or anywhere else, or work in non-governmental organizations: highly trained people stand by. We cover some of the cost; usually the country itself covers their salary. That is the kind of standby arrangements that I think is the future, because we cannot have expensive staff hanging around in New York and Geneva – or Bangkok or Nairobi for that matter. We must be able to respond quickly by having standby arrangements. And, more and more, those should not be in the north-west, where most of the standby arrangements are now; most of them are within Nordic countries and Britain and Switzerland and Japan and Canada and the United States. We should have much more standby arrangements, as we are building them already, in Asia, in Latin America and in Africa. So, that is really the future.