Secretary-General's press encounter on assistance for victims of South Asia earthquake
Geneva, Switzerland, 26 October 2005SG: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I am happy to be able to talk to you this afternoon. Today we are here to alert the world to the needs of the victims of the earthquake in South Asia. It is a desperate situation. You've heard the phrase, we are in a race against time. Indeed we are. In the next few weeks, the snow will come, it will get extremely cold, and there are still people in the open, without shelter, and we really need to get assistance to them. The agencies are working extremely hard to assist these people, but they need your support. We need the support of Governments, the private citizens, private sector, and anyone who can spare a euro, a pound or a dollar. We saw this generosity in the time of the tsunami. We need it here too. I know it's been a difficult year in terms of natural disasters. Beginning with the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, this disaster in Central America, now we have the earthquake. And there must be a bit of a fatigue, but we need your help to save lives. And I will be extremely happy for anything you can do, and I'm not talking just to Governments, I'm talking to you, the ordinary citizens, the private companies. Let us show solidarity with the people in need. It is urgent and it's desperate. I will take your questions if you have any.
Q: Secretary-General, two questions. First of all, there has been disappointment expressed by some major NGOs about the lack of response so far. Secondly, you talk about a year of disasters, how overstretched are your staff, what would happen if you had another one to face, say next week?
SG: We will have to do it, but we will be further stretched. We have no choice when these crises hit. We have assistance coordination teams spread around the world and we call on them, and we also work with Governments. So we'll need to call on all our resources and reserves to join us if another one were to hit. So you are right. You have constraints on the resources side, and there are moments when you have constraints on the human resource side. But we will have to do it if we were to face another disaster. It has been a very, very difficult year, and I think the NGOs who are complaining about lack of response to appeals are right, we share that view and we feel it too.
Q: Monsieur le Secrétaire général, comment expliquez-vous la différence de réaction de la communauté internationale, si l'on pense aux réactions après le tsunami et la lenteur de la mobilisation pour les victimes du Pakistan?
SG: C'est difficile à expliquer, mais disons que, avec le tsunami, d'abord c'était Noël; les gens sont très généreux dans cette période. Et aussi, c'était une catastrophe qui a touché un peu plus de cinquante pays. On voyait le petit enfant sans sa mère, des familles qui ont tout perdu. Il y avait des petits vidéos qui sont passés partout. Le monde s'est mobilisé pour aider. Et ici évidemment, on n'a pas eu le même genre de situation mais j'espère qu'on va pouvoir les aider quand même.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you have met a few minutes ago with Ministers from India and Pakistan. What did you tell them in terms of resolving some blockages related to movement of forces, helicopters and things like that? Did you share some ideas with them?
SG: Yes, we did discuss the cooperation between India and Pakistan, particularly across the line of control and the efforts both Governments have made. And I want to commend them. They have been working together, and they have cooperated since the crisis. And in fact, there's an Indian Minister here, at the pledging conference - he is here to show his solidarity with the Pakistani people. And the two Prime Ministers have spoken and I think it's a very, very positive sign, and they are going to be continuing their cooperation.
Q: Do you get the impression that it's Islamic image is one of the major reasons, the world, especially the western world, has failed to react to the quake calamity and tragedy?
SG: I think it is very difficult to say that that is the reason. After all, Indonesia was also Islamic. When it was hit by the tsunami, the whole world reacted. Yes, Pakistan is also Islamic, and the response has been very slow. I have admitted and have been pushing Governments to help. But I don't think you can put the reason down solely to the fact that because Pakistan is an Islamic or a Muslim country, particularly when you consider that Indonesia, which got the lion's share of the resources and donations given for the tsunami, was also an Islamic State.
Q: Monsieur le Secrétaire général, vu la difficulté que vous avez d'obtenir une aide de la part de la communauté internationale, je pose cette question : alors que les achats d'armes atteignent 1000 milliards de dollars, ne pensez-vous pas que c'est le moment de dépenser l'argent autrement que dans l'achat d'armes et plus pour l'aide humanitaire? Merci.
SG: Là je suis entièrement d'accord avec vous.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, doesn't this situation with the lack of funds make the Global Emergency Fund all the more urgent, and what is your next step in this direction?
SG: Absolutely, we need a Global Revolving Fund very urgently. We are asking for $ 550 million today. If we had had a Revolving Fund of, let us say $500 million, we could have started the operation immediately, then waited for contributions to come in. Now, without that Fund, we have to wait for the contributions to come in to be able to operate effectively. And I think some of you have heard me say that the way we are forced to operate is a bit like a fire station. You tell the fire chief you need a fire station, but we will build you one when the fire breaks.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, let me take you to another part of the world.
SG: Central America.
Q: Exactly, Mexico has requested that the United Nations coordinates all humanitarian assistance to Mexico and Central America affected by natural disasters. Have you agreed to that?
SG: They all need help. They all have needs that the world should pay attention to. And we are active in Central America. The UN agencies are active and they are working there. In fact, yesterday, before I left New York, I saw the Guatemalan Ambassador and we talked about it and he requested further assistance which we are looking at. But there again, we need resources. We made an appeal. How much have we received?
Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator: We have received a fraction of the $22 million.
SG: We wanted $22 million, we got a fraction of that. But we are pressing on and that is why I think I'm reaching beyond Governments to the public at large and to the private sector to help.
Q: How confident are you that the money which will be promised today will really come through?
SG: Well, we will find out in an hour or two. I would hope that we will raise a substantial portion of the money we are asking for. And, perhaps with further pledges, that could be redeemed in the not-too-distant future. But the Ministers and the delegations who are here I hope are here to pledge. Thank you very much.