Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his Special Envoy for Tsunami-affected countries, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, at press conference at UN headquarters
New York, 13 April 2005SG: It's now nearly 100 days since the United Nations was asked to take the lead in coordinating relief efforts for the victims of the tsunami. It was a massive and daunting challenge. In all the circumstances, I think Jan Egeland here, and Margareta Wahlstrom in the region, have done a remarkable job; and the response to our appeals for funds has been truly amazing.
But from very early, on I looked for a really high-profile figure, with exceptional talent and qualities, who could act as a special envoy and lead the overall effort of the United Nations system in the countries affected. The General Assembly also requested that I appoint such a person.
Even now, we continue to see pictures and hear stories of the terrible devastation caused by this unprecedented disaster. But the effects of the tragedy have largely faded – as we knew they would – from the front pages and from our nightly news. So it's vitally important that we have someone capable of sustaining international interest in the fate of the survivors and their communities – and someone with vision and commitment to ensure that, this time, the international community really does follow through and support the people and the transition from immediate relief to longer-term recovery and reconstruction. Too often, in the aftermath of previous natural disasters, that has not been the case.
I had hoped to introduce my special envoy to you – not that he needs any introduction – on 1 February. I'm sorry that that was not possible, first because he had another mission to complete – leading the United States private fund-raising effort with former President George H.W. Bush, at the request of the incumbent President Bush – and, then, because of health problems, from which I'm delighted to see him fully recovered. But meantime, his former chief of staff, Mr. Erskine Bowles, has been getting on with the job – and I think you will all agree that President Clinton is so obviously the right person for this job that it was worth waiting a few weeks to get him on board. From now on, he will devote himself fully to leading the United Nations effort.
No one could possibly be better qualified for this task than President Clinton. I am truly delighted that he has agreed to undertake it, and I am already very much enjoying working with him, and so are the other colleagues who are working with him, and I know he and Mr. Bowles are also enjoying the United Nations colleagues who are on the team.
Margareta Wahlstrom will still keep an overview on all humanitarian relief issues in the affected countries, and Mr. Clinton will work very closely with her, but he will also represent me and the United Nations system in all aspects of national and international response to the crisis.
He will liaise with the Governments of both affected and donor countries, and do everything necessary to maximize and maintain coordination at the policy level among all those involved in the recovery effort – including Governments, humanitarian and development agencies, regional organizations and the international financial institutions – in order, especially, to support the transition from emergency relief to recovery and reconstruction. I rely on him to make sure that donors do not only pledge but disburse the money needed for recovery and reconstruction, and that it actually reaches the communities who need it most.
And finally, I have asked him to mobilize support for regional efforts to establish a mechanism for disaster prevention and mitigation, making sure in particular that the proposed regional early warning system for the Indian Ocean countries and South-East Asia is established in a coordinated and a coherent manner.
Let me now give him the floor to tell you how he sees his role. Thank you, Mr. President; thank you for accepting this assignment.
Mr. Clinton: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. First of all, I'm honoured by your request and I thank you for asking me to help. I'd like to also say how much I appreciate the work that the United Nations has done to this point. Jan Egeland, Margareta Wahlstrom and all their colleagues I think have been terrific. I want to thank my long-term friend Erskine Bowles for agreeing to come in here and help me get this organized and executed for the next several months. And I'd like to thank the UN personnel who've been assigned to work with us. They've all been really terrific in their ability and their commitment, and I'm grateful.
I think that it is generally recognized that the world community did a terrific job in responding to this unprecedented disaster in the immediate aftermath: the Governments, the international agencies, the non-governmental organizations. It was staggering. I think it is also generally recognized by those who've ever been through these kinds of things that, as we move from relief into recovery and reconstruction, the most difficult period is upon us. That is, within six to nine months all these countries will have very well developed long-term reconstruction plans; they'll be implementing them; they will know who's going to give what money and how it's going to be done. But now we are in a period where we're finished sending water and water pills and emergency food, but where the homes haven't been rebuilt, the jobs haven't all been restored, not all of the fishing boats have been replaced, the sanitation facilities have not all been reconstructed, the wells haven't all been dug. All the things that have to be done must now be done. And this is the most difficult period. I believe that my job is to ensure, first of all, that the money which has been committed by the donors – countries – be invested, but that we assure the donors that it is spent effectively, responsibly and in a transparent manner.
Secondly, I think that, in cooperation with the UN people who've been working on this, we're going to have to work harder and harder on a nation-by-nation basis to coordinate all the work being done by all of us, both Governments, UN people, NGOs.
Thirdly, I think that we have to have an unshakable commitment to building back these areas better than they were before. I don't think it's acceptable just to replace what was destroyed. The human price these people have paid alone argues for a commitment to better, safer housing, better schools, better health care facilities, better governmental buildings and, hopefully, a more diversified economy that will generate higher incomes and be less subject to radical disruption.
And, thirdly, it seems to me that we have to both learn from – Finally, we have to learn from what has been done and from what we're doing now, and come up with a set of best practices for how we should have an early warning system, how we should mitigate the disasters that do occur, how we should manage those that occur and how we should deal with the kinds of challenges that we face here.
Now, if we do all these things, then we will have a model which not only the United Nations but the NGO community and the world can use in future crises. I think that there are several issues that are now going to come to the fore, and you'll see them. We have to deal with the issue of equity in investment in these affected areas. What does it mean to be an affected person, family or community? A lot of people have been adversely affected by this who did not actually lose a family member, but who lost a home. A lot of people didn't lose a home, but their businesses have been devastated. The Maldives lost 62 per cent of their annual GDP, and the tourists haven't returned there, or to Sri Lanka for that matter, or fully to Thailand. So we have to have a sense of equity.
We have to have a sense of priorities. We've got to restore livelihoods as quickly as possible and make sure temporary housing is there, and deal with the fundamental public health issues, like sanitation and clean water, over the long run. I think we have to make a special effort to help the displaced persons, obviously. And in the countries I mentioned, we've got to try to get the tourists to go back. Unless – if people – There are people who are under the impression that these entire countries have been devastated for tourism even though they have many places that are open for business. And if the tourists don't go back, it will simply require higher levels of aid and it will take the countries longer to rebound.
So, in sum, here's what I think my job is. My job is to be, first of all, accountable to the Secretary-General and the United Nations, to the affected populations and their Governments, to the NGOs and the international institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, whose work is essential. It is to, one, make sure the finances which have been promised are provided and to raise whatever funds are necessary over and above that, but only under conditions that assure that the money is well spent and accountably spent.
Two, to assist in the coordination of all the efforts so that we don't waste money and we don't have unnecessary delays. It is more difficult now than it was in the beginning. But as these countries come up with their plans, we will organize around those plans and it will be easier for all of us to know what to do.
Three, to continue to communicate, as we are trying to do today, to the world that this is a problem that's nowhere near solved, and we can't lose our concentration on it.
And, finally, to champion best practices and to champion the idea that we have a moral obligation to build these areas back better than they were before the crisis began.
I think we've got a good chance to succeed, and I am honoured to be asked to undertake the task.
The SG: Thank you very much, Mr. President.
We'll take your questions.
Q: Gentlemen, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents' Association, welcome to this briefing.
President Clinton, you mentioned that you're at the phase now of recovery – from relief to recovery. Are you finding donor fatigue already setting in, the idea that people are not following through with their pledges? If so, what are you doing to try to keep pushing and pressuring them to give what they've pledged?
Mr. Clinton: No, not yet. We won't know whether donor fatigue has set in and whether commitments aren't being kept until we have national plans. You know, all these national plans will say, here's what we plan to do within what time frame in these areas; here's what it costs; here's how much we can come up with. Then what we will attempt to do is to figure out how to fill the gap with donor Governments and with NGOs. And we'll go through that. At that point we'll know whether there's donor fatigue.
So far, the Governments have been quite responsible, and I think they've been quite moved by the enormous generosity of their own citizens in giving money here. But you can't expect – There are a lot of NGOs that have enormous amounts of money. I mean, the Red Cross has got a staggering amount of money. And you can't really expect them to spend it until there's a plan on which they can spend it where they can say, okay, this is where I fit into this plan; this is where I belong and what I'm going to do. So there may be donor fatigue, but it hasn't had a chance to express itself yet.
Q: Mr. President, in mid-January you were quoted as saying that a lot of US charities had donated up to about a third of a billion dollars at that point. Can you update us on that figure? And a follow-up Q: Would you one day consider succeeding Secretary-General Kofi Annan?
Mr. Clinton: Well, first of all, I don't have the latest figure, but I believe that the number is somewhere between $750 [million] and $1 billion, I think, that individuals have given to charities in America. And according to an article I read in USA Today, it is estimated that about a third of American households have contributed, over half of them over the Internet. So I think that – let me just make a general comment here. We saw this phenomenon in a recent presidential election in America for both parties, where, for the first time since money became important in buying television ads, small donors swamped big donors in the aggregate impact of their giving because the Internet technology enabled ordinary citizens to have an impact. This is the first international crisis that I am aware of where technology has facilitated the impact of ordinary people, not only in our country but throughout the world, in contributing to NGOs.
What I hope will happen is that the world's other crises, as we go along, if we can do a good job here, if we do our job, if we can report back to not only the big donors and the Governments but the NGOs and the individual donors, if we can be accountable, if we can be transparent, and if we can be effective, I hope that then the Secretary-General will be able to issue a call – if we ever get an ultimate resolution of what should be done in Darfur, for example, and in Somalia – for people to help there. And they will know it will work, because we'll have a model here.
So I would like to see, in effect, the democratization of the whole process of achieving the Millennium Development Goals and alleviating poverty and dealing with a lot of these other challenges, and I think it is now a realistic possibility. If I'd said this five years ago, you would have thought I was drinking my own Kool-Aid, but now we actually know – we have two separate examples of the power of ordinary people together through technology to move the world.
And in terms of the other job, I support the Secretary-General we have. I like him, I admire him, I think he's doing a good job. And I like the job I have. So I'm going to do the job I've got, which includes now a job for him. I'm his employee. It would be unseemly for me to be anything else right now.
Q: Mr. President, did you accept to be the Secretary-General's envoy out of concern for the people affected, out of concern for the future of the United Nations, or out of concern for the image of your own country in that part of the world and elsewhere? And should Americans primarily worry about the image of their country or the future of the United Nations?
Mr. Clinton: Well, the answer to your first question is, I accepted this solely because I think the world has an enormous obligation, when a tragedy of this magnitude hits, to help people repair their lives and to try to, in some small manner, compensate for the loss of life by rebuilding in a better, stronger fashion and by learning something from it. So I feel very strongly about it, and that's why I did it. And that's the only reason I did it.
However, I think we – There was a public opinion survey published in Indonesia recently which showed that the approval rating of the United States after the American military, the USAID and all the citizens gave all the assistance they did, went from 36 per cent to 58 per cent, because we did not have an ulterior motive. We just went someplace and dealt with people on a human basis because it was right. So, to answer your second question, I think the United States should be concerned about the future of the UN in a positive way and supportive of it, and supportive of improving of it. And I think we should be concerned not so much about our image in the rest of the world but our reality in the rest of the world and trust the fact that our image may be brought into line with our reality.
If you look at the – People saw America whole, if you will. They saw us as people, in Indonesia and other countries, when as people we related to them. And I think that that's an important and legitimate thing. We live in a world where we're going to have religious and political and ethnic differences. We're going to have conflicts. But in an interdependent world no nation is big or strong enough to occupy, jail or dispose of all of its adversaries or its potential adversaries. So every country, even the biggest one, should be trying to build a world with more friends and more partners and fewer enemies. But the way to do that is not to worry about your image; the way to do that is to worry about your reality and then trust people to let the image reflect the reality.
Q: President Clinton, given what you just said about the UN and the US's concern for it, and also concerning the tidal wave of reaction to his nomination, what do you feel about the fitness of John Bolton to be the US Ambassador to the United Nations?
Mr. Clinton: Somebody else in my family gets a vote on that, and I'm going to let her speak. I don't – She's not telling me how to be the UN envoy for the tsunami, so if I express an opinion on that, I'd be, in effect, telling her how to be a senator, and that would not be good for my home life. I'm not going to do that.
Q: For President Clinton: Somalia, a country you know quite a bit about, but it doesn't have a viable State at the moment, how is that affecting tsunami relief efforts, and how can this tsunami relief effort right some of the wrongs of the international community for Somalia's past?
Mr. Clinton: Let me say: the honest answer to your question is, I don't know. But I intend to find out. I wrote a lot about America's both noble and sad encounter with Somalia in the early ྖs in my book, and I would like to do something to help the Somali people here and also help to build the infrastructure of organized life there, and I will do what I can to do it. But I do not know enough yet about how to do it to make an intelligent comment to you, but I assure you it's a big issue with me, and I'll do what I can to have a positive impact.
Q: Mr. President, the Secretary-General just said that you intend to fully devote yourself to this effort. Can you just share with us what you mean by that? Does that mean you will be working here full-time, part-time, half-time? For the next few years?
Mr. Clinton: I expect to be here a lot, and I expect – I am going back to the region in just a few weeks, and I am going to spend, frankly, whatever time it takes to do it. You know, I'm still – I'm running my foundation, but my book is written now, and I've fulfilled all my obligations to my publisher – except I'm supposed to do a little bit of signing for my paperback. And my health is restored. My doctor specifically said, in response to the kind comments the Secretary-General said about that, that I am now free to engage in any activity that I feel strong enough to undertake, but that I should expect it to take two to four to five weeks before my entire stamina has returned. So I'm going to spend whatever time it takes to do these four things I told you I was going to do, and if it takes half-time, I'll do it; if I can do it 40 per cent of my time, I'll do it; if it takes two thirds of my time, I'll do it. I intend to do this. I keep score by results. That's the way I kept score the whole – all the nearly 30 years I was in public life, and that's the way I'm keeping score now. So I'm going to do what it takes to achieve the objectives that the Secretary-General set for me.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, given that the tsunami presents an environment – a need for an unprecedented unity, specifically in Asia, how concerned are you that there is increasing tension in Asia, specifically between China and Japan in the context of your reform report?
The SG: I think on the tsunami crisis, both countries have been very helpful and very cooperative, and I expect that to continue. They both attended the Jakarta meeting in January, when the countries in the region laid out a strategy for tackling the aftermath of the tsunami, and I hope we will not – they will not allow their differences or discussions of the Security Council reform to impact negatively on the help that we need to give to the countries affected in the region. And I hope the other countries will not allow that to happen. We intend to work with them constructively on recovery and reconstruction, and so far I have no indication that they will allow the discussions on the Security Council to disrupt our efforts.
Question (interpretation from French): [Unintelligible] Someone has said that the money must be well invested. Are mechanisms now available to the United Nations to ensure that that happens?
And what motivated you to choose former President Clinton for this job as your special envoy for tsunami recovery in Asia?
The Secretary-General (interpretation from French): With regard to the first question, we have a system of accountability that can help us to produce a rather detailed report for Member States and people who have given us money. We are in contact with the [PricewaterhouseCoopers] accounting firm, which has already begun to work on this. Between now and May, we should be able to distribute publicly the work that we have done and show how we have spent the money in order to really show people that we have done everything transparently. That will begin in May.
I chose President Clinton because I believe he is the person we need. He has the vision, the experience, the dynamism and the respect throughout the world that will enable him to do this work.