Friday, September 9, 2022

Serena Hotel, Islamabad, Pakistan

NICK HERSCH: Before we start, I'd like to introduce myself. I'm Nick Hersch, the Embassy spokesperson here at Embassy Islamabad. And our first speaker this afternoon will be Ambassador Donald Blome.

AMBASSADOR BLOME: Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us today to discuss the ongoing devastating floods and what the United States is doing to support Pakistan, our partner and friend. The immense loss of life, livelihoods, and homes, due to the floods throughout Pakistan is shocking. I, and the entire United States Government, offer our deepest condolences and unwavering support to Pakistan and its people. As this year is the 75th anniversary of bilateral relations between our two countries, the United States places great importance on our partnership with Pakistan. The depth and strength of our friendship is reflected in the immediate actions undertaken by the government, institutions, and people of the United States to help and support Pakistan and its people during this time of great need. U.S. companies have collectively donated millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance, while also providing food and other urgently needed supplies to those in need. Ordinary American citizens and many Pakistani-American citizens have been donating to charities and leading fundraisers to assist friends, family, and perfect strangers. On the government side, in the past week alone, senior officials from the U.S. Congress, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the White House, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, have traveled to Pakistan to witness the devastation firsthand and to meet with Pakistani counterparts to discuss ways the United States can help in both the short and the long term. And today, I'm delighted to be joined by USAID Administrator Power whose team has been instrumental in the U.S. response to the flooding. Thus far, the United States has provided over $30 million in total assistance to respond to these floods. Just a few hours ago, Administrator Power and I were at a Pakistani air base to witness the arrival of a U.S. Air Force plane loaded with supplies to assist those in need. Today's flight is one of approximately 20 that will deliver $2.2 million worth of essential life support resources, including food preparation and shelter materials, which will be delivered throughout the country in the coming days. Our assistance is saving lives and reducing suffering among the most vulnerable affected communities in Pakistan. We're doing what friends and partners do, supporting each other when we need it most. With that, let me please, please allow me to introduce Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development Samantha Power. She has been in Pakistan for the last few days to observe the impacts of these floods, and to see firsthand ongoing U.S. efforts to support the people of Pakistan. Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, Ambassador Blome for your leadership and good afternoon to all of you. I am very pleased to be with you here today and very pleased and humbled to be in Pakistan at this unimaginably difficult time for the Pakistani people. I'm grateful for the opportunity to get close and to better understand the devastating impacts of the floods and to discuss in greater detail with frontline responders what more the United States can do to stand with the Pakistani people in this hour of grave need. I spent yesterday in Karachi and the surrounding Sindh Province, making a number of stops. From the air, I witnessed the destruction wrought by these once in a century floods – field after field of submerged cotton and wheat crops, submerged date palms, the faint rim of only the roofs of homes and schools and medical facilities with everything else underwater. Rivers that seemed more like oceans that stretched mile after mile into the distance. I had seen the videos, of course, that so many have posted of this tragedy unfolding in so many communities, but only by not being able to see the end of the waters, only by traveling in the air over the course of the day for four or five hours, and seeing all of that water – that seemingly never ending pool of water – where homes and vibrant communities and industrious farmers, so recently had once planted their seeds and harvested their crops, only by seeing the scope of that does one have a sense of what it means when one third of a country is inundated by floods. I visited with survivors and displaced Pakistanis in the town of Dadu and there I heard stories of roads and bridges wiped out in an instant, families grabbing only what they could carry as they fled the rising waters, and I heard a lot about the deaths of livestock and widespread hunger and fears for the future. I also heard a piercing longing, a desire by families to return home – to what was left of their homes – as soon as possible, and a yearning by children to get back to school, to get back into the classroom.

I know that what I've seen in the last couple days amounts to just a small fraction of the devastation and loss of life here in Pakistan. More than $12 billion, and that's just the early estimate, in damage. A number that includes nearly 2 million homes, almost 4.5 million acres of farmland, nearly 6,600 kilometers of roads, nearly 19,000 schools damaged or destroyed, and more than 13 people whose lives have been taken, over a third of them children. At one point satellite images showed nearly a third of the entire country underwater forming a massive water body that was clearly visible from space. Most Pakistanis displaced by the flooding will have to start from scratch to rebuild homes and livelihoods. As some of USAID has already contributed more than $30 million toward assisting affected Pakistani communities providing emergency food, cash assistance, safe drinking water, temporary shelter, and other critical assistance. Today, here today, I am pleased to announce an additional $20 million in humanitarian assistance bringing the U.S. government's total humanitarian emergency contribution so far to more than $50 million in the last three weeks. The new funding is going to expand efforts to address the immediate needs identified by disaster response teams on the ground and our humanitarian partners – teams that I have met with during my time in Pakistan. I also look forward to detailed discussions of the humanitarian needs in this country with Prime Minister Sharif and with the UN Secretary-General later today. The United States is bringing a range of assets to bear in support of the Pakistani people and at the behest of the Pakistani authorities. 

Yesterday in Sindh province, I met up with the first U.S. military aircraft to land at the request of the government here to deliver materials needed to establish an air bridge, an air bridge that is now up and running, which will deliver critical relief supplies, materials for temporary shelter and cooking, for example. And these are materials that DoD is transporting from USAID's warehouse in Dubai to the Pakistani people. Earlier today, here in Islamabad, I met with U.S. and Pakistani service men and women who were unloading some of these supplies. This aircraft, yesterday's aircraft, establishing the air bridge in Sindh, today's aircraft in Islamabad, carrying shelter and food preparation supplies, will be the first of many. And USAID will continue to work hand in hand with the Pakistani authorities and the U.S. Department of Defense to make sure that this assistance reaches those most in need. It is clear that recovery from these historic floods will require a concerted effort by the donor community and international financial institutions in the coming years. While more than $34 million in aid is arriving from the United Kingdom, Qatar, Canada, Australia, and the European Commission, as well as through the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, we need more countries to commit more resources to address immediate needs, and looking ahead, to help the Pakistani people who have been devastated by these floods to rebuild. 

The needs of flood affected communities go beyond the one time provision of emergency assistance. This disaster is closely linked to climate change. Northern Pakistan boasts more glacial ice than anywhere in the world outside of the poles. But that ice, as you well know, is quickly melting, aggravating the flooding, and the monsoon rains are not only heavier than ever before, they are far less predictable. Moving forward, the U.S. government intends to partner with community leaders, government officials, and the private sector to strengthen Pakistan's ability to prepare for, mitigate, and respond to floods and other natural disasters caused by climate change. We also intend to promote climate smart agriculture programs to increase crop production and mitigate the effects of climate change on Pakistan's agricultural sector. We need to support Pakistani farming communities and disaster management authorities to respond more effectively to future natural disasters. And we will build on USAID's prior programming to expand emergency response programs, bolster early warning and rapid response systems, and improve coordination and information sharing between community leaders and Pakistani Government disaster management specialists. The partnership that I am describing, the partnership that we continue to deepen, builds on years of cooperation between our two peoples and between our two countries. Just over a decade ago, when the country was struck by the super floods of 2010, the U.S. government worked to prevent the spread of disease, to provide emergency food assistance, and to begin the recovery effort. Then that included funding for agriculture and food security programs in flood affected areas, financial support for small farmers, restoring cultivated land, and construction of over 100 state-of-the art disaster-resilient school buildings, some of which right now are actually functioning as temporary shelters in flood affected areas. As we commemorate 75 years of relations between our two countries, today's announcement of $20 million in additional emergency funding is another mark of our long standing commitment to the Pakistani people. We call on our friends and other donor governments around the world to join us in increasing their own commitments, to help Pakistan rebuild and recover. Thank you so much, and I am eager to take your questions.

HERSCH: So we have time for a few questions. Does anyone, I notice some folks do, Myra?

MYRA IMRAN: Thank you. First of all, I would like to welcome you to Pakistan. And I just wanted to ask a simple question of what will be the role of USAID in distribution of the relief goods? And also, is there any plan and discussion of how to contribute or assist Pakistan in the rehabilitation process? Because relief process is going to be like for one month now and after that it's a long process of rehabilitation. Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Could, I just actually – didn't hear the first question, what will be USAID's role, I heard the second part of the question.

IMRAN: Distribution or delivery of goods.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Distribution. Okay, thank you so much. So let me say that, I have to remember now, the DART, what date was the DART deployed? One week. So, one week ago, we deployed our crack elite disaster relief team – it's called the DART, the Disaster Assistance Response Team. And that team has been deployed, it has been expanding and will continue to expand. It is a team that is backed up as well by an emergency team at headquarters in Washington, where a lot of additional coordination with donor governments, with NGOs on the ground, with United Nations agencies occurs. One of the things that DART does very well is enhance coordination on the ground, work with those organizations that have fanned out into the country, and more importantly, will fan out, because we know that the scale up really hasn't happened sufficiently yet, to identify what the priority needs are in particular communities. And one of the things I want to stress here today is that we have set up this air bridge very deliberately in Sindh province, in Sukkur, knowing that is really an epicenter of the crisis, but also knowing that there is not a very extensive international or NGO presence on the ground in Sukkur and in Balochistan. And so, that is where our air bridge will, we hope, catalyze the creation of a broader logistics hub to extend the reach into the affected communities. One of the things that the DART will do, and we have incredible Pakistani staff team members who are part of this DART, as well as Americans who comprise the team, but they will fan out, and actually they will be monitoring distribution, and offering oversight. Because we know, of course, we've heard many of the concerns. There are concerns: will the aid get to the right people at the right time? Is the aid being properly prioritized? There are so many needs right now, that determining, again, how to allocate what the right distribution of resources is between food needs, shelter needs, health needs, given the grave risk of waterborne diseases for those families that have remained in their home areas, or that are wanting to go back. Most of the families I met with yesterday who are displaced, are very, very eager to go home. And I did not get the impression that they're going to wait for the floodwaters to fully recede before they go home – creating, of course, significant health risks. So, that DART team along, again, with the scaled-up presence of international organizations, and Pakistani NGOs who will be critical to this. I think they will give us that kind of oversight, that kind of monitoring, so that we can continue to adjust as the needs themselves evolve, as they already have, and as they will day to day. 

On your second question, which was about rehabilitation, we met today, the Ambassador and myself, with the coordinating body, comprised of the civil administration, military leadership, planning minister, and it is clear that now a number of assessments have been commissioned, and the assessments are staggered, in terms of their timing across various provinces. But as those assessments come in, I think, USAID will look to see what our comparative advantages are how we can contribute, while also along with the rest of the U.S. government, working within international financial institutions, within the United Nations, within other organizations to see, again, how large-scale resources can be mobilized. But this is going to be a very, very difficult road back and of course, it is a road back – and I experienced this talking to families, it's a road back that is clouded by the recognition that climate shocks are now a part of what every country has to grapple with and every community has to grapple with all around the world. 

I just came, not long ago, from Somalia and from Kenya. And the Horn of Africa, for the first time in recorded history, is experiencing its fifth straight failed rainy season. Five in a row never happened, the most that had ever happened before were three in a row. And now they've just, it's become clear that the fifth season, failed rainy season, is about to commence. So, records are being shattered everywhere, and there is either too much water or too little water, wherever you look, including in different parts of Pakistan, where there's too much water in one basin, and of course, mammoth biblical flooding across so much of the country. So, this is going to be an important task and as the rebuilding effort commences, really thinking through just as we did with the schools that were built in a different way after the 2010 floods, how can we take the learning and the know how that is being accumulated all around the world about how to prevent the next disaster even as you recover from the current disaster, that learning, that engineering expertise is going to be critical. 

HERSCH: Next question – Asad.

ASAD TOOR: Thank you. As a journalist, I want to ask that I have seen a press release of USCENTCOM on the second of September, that the USCENTCOM Commander General, Michael Erik spoke to Pakistani Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. In the press release, it mentioned that CENTCOM is sending a team for assessment of damages here. May I know what sort of damages the CENTCOM team is coming to assess here? And the second question is that you have mentioned that you will look into the rehabilitation, so is that you will work with the provincial authorities as well? And if you will work with the provincial authorities, can you elaborate on, you will work on the request of the provincial authorities, or USAID itself will initiate anything? 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Okay. Thank you. The Ambassador may want to add something to my response on CENTCOM, but I, in some ways, the news of the last 48 hours, 24 hours really, I think outpaces the premise for the question. So what CENTCOM was assessing, I'm not familiar with the particular statement you're referencing, but what CENTCOM has assessed in lockstep with the Embassy here and with our DART team on the ground is how can CENTCOM take advantage of its unique capabilities to respond to the Pakistani government's request for support. And the reason I say that, in a way the assessment has been overtaken by events is that, as I mentioned, yesterday the air bridge was established in Sindh province at Sukkur airport – forklifts and means of unloading pallets and everything unloaded yesterday. And then here in Islamabad, we saw the first commodities being unloaded, and that is enough shelter supplies, just one plane load, so enough shelter supplies for 7,000 people, tarps and other means of creating temporary shelter, as well as food preparation materials for around 40,000 Pakistanis. And so those are, in a way, an outgrowth of the assessment. And what you will see in the coming days, is that air bridge in Sindh province, continuing to flow sorties in with commodities from USAID's airport, excuse me, USAID's warehouse in Dubai, right into the heart of where the needs are the greatest and where the international presence has yet to scale up sufficiently. So, I think the assessment, jointly between USAID and our partners on the ground and CENTCOM, has produced the decision to launch at the request of the Pakistani government this airbridge. And the second part of your question? 

TOOR: On provincial authority.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: On provincial authority – that's an excellent question. I think that there is broad recognition, including here in Islamabad, that the provincial authorities are absolutely critical. Their knowledge of how communities are structured, of who the beneficiaries are, of where the vulnerabilities are, you can't run a major humanitarian response, never mind a rebuilding effort, without bringing that expertise and those insights around prioritization to bear. So, what we are seeing in the scale up is a lot of cohabitation. For example, in Sindh province, what we are seeing is actually, as the UN begins to expand its presence on the ground, they are looking to co-locate with the provincial authorities and then in turn, of course, the military is playing an absolutely critical leadership role. And as the UN cohabitates formalizes coordination mechanisms, OSHA for the UN is the coordinating mechanism for the full range of humanitarian actors who are on the ground. And again our USAID DART team, also, will be critical in that coordination structure as well. So, it's early. It's late from the standpoint of the needs of flooding survivors, but these coordinating structures, I think, are really ramping up, both here centrally, and at the local level, really just in the course of the last few days. 

HERSCH: Thank you. I think we only have time for one more question, actually. Waqar. 

WAQAR BHATTI: My name is Waqar Bhatti and I'm from the News International. It is very good that the U.S. government is providing 50 million U.S. dollars for the flood, flood affectees and for the rehabilitation, but the problem is that extreme weather events are happening very frequently in Pakistan. We had extreme summers, we had droughts, we had GLOF incidents here, then this flood. The real issue is for Pakistan is not the aid, but climate change mitigation and adaptation. We are going to see climate change related outbreaks of diseases in the coming months and years. We are going to see the migration, we are going to see food insecurity, how USAID and the U.S. government is going to help Pakistan's capacity building in the area of climate change, mitigation, and adaptation. Because we can't rely on the aid forever, we need to prepare ourselves and the U.S. has expertise in this area. Thank you so much. 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. I mean, the question you pose is the most important question, I think gripping all of us right now, which is, how do we expend resources – life saving resources – to meet emergencies of this magnitude? At the same time, we make investments to ensure that we are not just simply attending to emergency after emergency after emergency together going forward. So, what I can say is that from the U.S. perspective we recognize that a country like Pakistan is responsible for a very, very small share of global emissions and that we, the United States, are responsible for a much more substantial share. And it is those emissions from the world collectively that have given rise to these very extreme climate shocks, which are likely only to intensify, they're likely to recur, and to intensify. That's why the work that Secretary Kerry, Special Envoy Kerry, has spearheaded on behalf of President Biden to try to dramatically accelerate mitigation commitments – commitments to lower emissions – that's why President Biden's Inflation Reduction Act and the historic nearly $400 billion of investment within the United States to curb our emissions, so that we are not continuing to contribute to the rising of temperatures in the same way. Those investments, that leadership on mitigation, is incredibly important. At the same time, to your question and to Pakistan's vulnerabilities, President Biden has launched something called The Prepare Initiative, which is the President's Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience. And, he has committed to work with our Congress to increase our international adaptation assistance by six-fold numbers, and that aims to help more than half a billion people globally, including in Pakistan, adapt to and manage the impacts of climate change. 

I would also note that USAID does a lot of food security work, and that has always been an investment in agricultural resilience. But now, we are seeing, really, our food security work and our climate adaptation work come together. And we are bringing to bear here in Pakistan, an additional $8 million to work with farmers to ensure that they have climate resistant seeds, that they have the latest technology and the latest satellite data about what the vulnerabilities and the risks are. Again, that's just a small example, we really need to – we and other large developed economies – need to be funding adaptation at scale, because it is those investments that will help communities withstand what we know is coming. A little bit like the schools I mentioned, that state-of-the art building that was done the last time the floods hit Pakistan, many of those schools have fared much, much better than the infrastructure that was not built with resilience in mind. And so, between that, and large scale engineering, and irrigation and drainage solutions, I mean, there's an awful lot that will have to be done, including accommodating transitions from people who have had one form of livelihood – and who now, maybe because they have migrated to an urban area from a rural area, need support as they transition from one location to another. One of the answers also, and this is very near and dear to USAID's heart, and also to the work we've done in Pakistan over many generations, but education will be a big part of the answer here too, where helping, again, the children of farmers who are now finding themselves submerged in water, to help those kids be able to pursue other pursuits professionally, over time, making sure that they have opportunities, beyond the opportunities that their fathers or their grandfathers have had, that’s critical as well. So, unfortunately the more one digs into this question, the more one realizes just how comprehensive an adaptation solution has to be. Ranging from infrastructure to a different way of doing agriculture, to dramatic investments in rural education, and so forth, as well as health investments, because there will be more water, there will be both more water and less water as you said. And more water means more water-borne diseases and so it becomes more and more important to get mosquito nets, and mosquito repellant, and other forms of medicine, and medical response capability out into parts of the country that have lacked that. So, this is a multi-year, multi-generational, effort that we have to spearhead, together. Thank you.

HERSCH: Thank you all for joining us this afternoon. Thank you Administrator Power. Thank you Ambassador Blome. Have a good rest of your day, everyone. 



Administrator Samantha Power Travels to Pakistan

Samantha Power Administrator Samantha Power Travels to Pakistan
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