Massive Relief Efforts Underway to Aid South Asia After Tsunami
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MARGARET WARNER: Now, for a look at how the private relief organizations are responding to the disaster, we turn to: Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.
His organization is working in India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia; and Ken Hackett, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services. His group is also working in India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, and in Thailand, as well.
And welcome to you both. Mr. Hackett, beginning with you, it’s been a little less than 72 hours since the first tsunami hit. How much actual aid have you been able to deliver in that short a time?
KEN HACKETT: Not a tremendous amount. What we did is we provided cash to our partners in India and Indonesia.
We’re collaborating with another American organization, Save the Children, and to our partners in Sri Lanka and in Thailand. They bought food.
In the case of India now, they’re running shelters for hundreds of thousands of people, and as your commentator said before, there are structures in many of these countries that can be activated very quickly.
Now, we provided enough food for a couple of days, and much, much more is going to be needed.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Offenheiser, what about for your organization? Do you do the same thing?
You’re working with local groups on the ground, or do you actually have people in there and supplies that you’re delivering?
RAYMOND OFFENHEISER: We do have people on the ground in Sri Lanka and in Indonesia and in India. Similar to what Ken has said, we’re working through local partner organizations.
Even in some of the more remote areas where we’ve had staff, even though supplies haven’t arrived, there has been a tremendous civil society response, local non-governmental organizations that are actually dealing with a lot of the problems of finding the bodies and disposing of them and trying to provide water and what food they may be able to get — even areas that are not even in direct communications yet with the capital.
At this point, we have 27 tons of relief supplies in the air that will be arriving in Sri Lanka and also moving on to Indonesia shortly that involves basically plastic for tenting, food supplies as well as equipment to provide potable water.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Mr. Hackett, pick up on that. How do NGO’s like yours, non-governmental organizations, how do you know what’s needed in what amounts and where?
KEN HACKETT: Well, like Ray’s organization, Oxfam, we are resident in these countries. We have connections with partners.
We have ongoing programs, and as your commentator said, in some of these countries, there’s a long history of responding to disasters. So you can move your people into place quite rapidly.
You have credible connections. And some of us have stocks in place which we can make available as well as cash. So you know the terrain because you’ve been there around a number of years.
MARGARET WARNER: So are you saying, in other words, that some of these supplies needed like sheeting or the water purification tablets and for that matter the body bags, you and other organizations already have pre-positioned in the region?
KEN HACKETT: Some of those. For instance, we have some U.S. Government-supplied food down in India, and that is being made available right away in addition to the cash.
You can buy some of the plastic sheeting, not enough, but then things like body bags and other types of things it’s better to bring in.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Offenheiser, give us a sense of the scale of this relief effort as it unfolds. The latest figures are now more than 50,000 dead.
How many tens of thousands of people in this region are ultimately going to need the services of organizations like yours?
RAYMOND OFFENHEISER: Well, if I can reflect for a moment on an experience I had in Bangladesh in 1996, there was a hurricane that hit the coast of Bangladesh, and it was a similar situation where there were lots of coastal communities that were affected.
And I think there may be some important lessons to learn from that experience that we could perhaps apply to this one as we observe what’s unfolding.
The first one is that, you know, while we’re hearing a lot from the tourist areas that have… where the communications infrastructure may be still intact and from some of the capitals, what we’re just beginning to hear unfold is the story from the more remote coastal areas.
And the real story that I think is going to unfold in the next couple days is the impact that this is going to have on poor communities up and down these coastlines.
Poor, they’re forced basically in lowland areas or on offshore islands who basically have been wiped out. And we probably don’t even have a clear demographic of the numbers of these people that are there.
And based on my experience in the Bangladesh emergency, I think we’re going to see numbers go up substantially. So I think it’s going to be days before we really know what the numbers are. And it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we went over 100,000.
MARGARET WARNER: You mean 100,000 dead?
RAYMOND OFFENHEISER: Yes. That would not surprise me at all. Because I think there are lots of areas that we have not gotten to on the Sri Lankan coast.
I don’t think we’ve seen really any numbers from Burma as yet. That’s significant. I think we’re going to see the numbers go up on the Indian coast, as well.
So I think these numbers are going to climb steadily toward 100,000 in the coming days.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me interrupt you just a minute and go to Mr. Hackett. Then we can come back to other lessons.
But, Mr. Hackett, what are the biggest obstacles for NGO’s like yourself to getting the aid where it’s needed in the right amounts?
KEN HACKETT: Well, the magnitude and the scope of this particular disaster, the number of countries that it hit and the demands it places on our capacities is, first off, an immense challenge.
We had the Caribbean hurricanes earlier this year, and that stressed us in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Grenada, et cetera, but it was a close geographic proximity.
Here we’re talking about major distances. We haven’t even found out what the impact of the tidal wave has been in Madagascar, but we know that it has had some impact. So we’re talking thousands of miles.
Secondly, and to be honest, for an organization like mine, and it’s probably true for Ray’s organization, as well, 2004 was a rough year.
The kickoff in Darfur, the hurricanes in the Caribbean — that really stretched my staff where they worked long hours, continuously seven days a week, and many of them were on vacation, and to pull them back was tough, but they came.
That’s an extra little burden to make your staff get motivated quickly during a holiday time, but they do it because that’s what we’re about.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Offenheiser, how do, and to what degree do all of you, first of all, the non-governmental organizations, try to coordinate and avoid duplication?
How much coordination is there when you have something this massive?
RAYMOND OFFENHEISER: Well, I think we learned in Rwanda the price of not collaborating.
And ever since the Rwandan emergencies, we have worked very, very closely together and actually the NGO community, Ken’s organization and Oxfam and others have actually gone to the U.N. and asked the U.N. to even strengthen its coordination capacity so that the U.N. can take a strong lead in providing an overall coordination umbrella for the region, and our organizations, those of us who have large organizations that cover much of the region, can actually work very closely together.
So now, in effect, for those of us on the ground, we’re trying to figure out where to deploy. We’re talking to our sister organizations about where they’re working.
We’re trying to avoid duplication. Some of us are trying to figure out, should we be providing the food or the water supply or the shelter.
And there’s a very, I think, rational division of labor that we have been able to work out over the years and that each of our organizations has networks of partner organizations on the ground that we’re busy mobilizing right now as await the arrival of these supplies, and as we’re dealing with these short-term needs of dealing with the dead and trying to forestall any disease outbreak.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Mr. Hackett, how does what you do, how do you coordinate with what the U.N. is doing on its own?
And then we hear about all this money being pledged by governments like the U.S. Government and European governments and government agencies. What is that role?
KEN HACKETT: Most of that most effectively happens in the country, where there are teams of people, both U.S. government, U.N. and the humanitarian aid agencies who come together almost on a daily basis, as Ray was saying, coordinate their efforts, try not to duplicate them.
You find out what resources one organization has or is willing to make available, and you complement each other. I mean, it doesn’t work perfectly, but I would say that the larger organizations, the organizations that have more experience and have been involved in situations like this for many years, know the value in collaboration and complementing each other ran than competing with each other.
MARGARET WARNER: And then, Mr. Offenheiser, what about money? Do you have enough money? How do you respond quickly in a situation like that?
Is the money pouring in, at least at a rate sufficient to keep up with your need to spend it during this emergency phase, this first phase?
RAYMOND OFFENHEISER: Well, the private response from the American public so far, at least to Oxfam, has been quite extraordinary. I think we raised about $500,000 in less than 24 hours, which has been really quite remarkable.
And our hope is that we can continue to secure more private financing for this work. I think the response of the international community, the U.S. government upping its initial contribution to $35 million is a good step forward.
I think in the way these emergencies unfold, we need to get infrastructure in place in order to be able to absorb the money.
So in the short run I think we don’t want to have a situation like we had in New York around 9/11 where you may over fund the short-term emergency and under fund the long-term rebuilding process.
For us it’s actually better that we get money in a timely fashion so that we can get these supplies, get them moving and not forget that these, the process is not just a one-week or two-week or three-week venture, but it’s a long-term process in which we’ve got to get people back to their homes, rebuild homes, rebuild livelihoods, get people back farming and reunite families.
It’s a larger, longer-term enterprise that we’re involved in which, probably given the scale of this emergency, will have a price tag on it into the billions of dollars. I think down the road we’re looking at some significant contributions.
MARGARET WARNER: Raymond Offenheiser of Oxfam and Ken Hackett of Catholic Relief Services, thank you both.
KEN HACKETT: Thank you.
RAYMOND OFFENHEISER: Thank you.