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After the War in Iraq

February 26, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Now, two views on U.S. relief and humanitarian planning for a post-war Iraq. Andrew Natsios is the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, the lead federal agency for such planning. Kenneth Bacon is president of Refugees International, an independent humanitarian aid organization in Washington. He was assistant secretary of defense for public affairs during the Clinton administration.

In general terms, how large a humanitarian crisis are you expecting if there is a war?

ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, whenever we have a potential for a major emergency, whether it’s a war or famine or something like that, we plan for the worst possible scenario and then we hope for the best. If you’re an emergency manager, that’s how you do your planning. I’ve never seen an emergency actually turn out to be the worst scenario, but we always make preparation for it just in case. So we’re planning for a lot more refugees and displaced people than we’re probably going to get. But we have to do that just to make sure.

JIM LEHRER: Like how — give me a rough figure of how many.

ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, the number, the planning figure is two and a half million, about two million to two and a half million that the international community has been using. We ourselves are planning for a million of those that we will be responsible for in terms of plastic sheeting and emergency rations and medical care and that sort of thing.

JIM LEHRER: You’re talking about refugees within the country or people who flee to another country?

ANDREW NATSIOS: People are refugees if they cross a national border throughout their own country. If they’re in their own country, they’re internally displaced, but both require assistance.

JIM LEHRER: Does that number jibe with your figures, Mr. Bacon?

KENNETH BACON: Yes, the U.N. figures I think is what everybody is using. First, no one really knows. It depends on the length of a war, if there is one. It depends on what Saddam Hussein does with his weapons of mass destruction. There are many, many uncertainties. The U.N. is projecting 1.5 million refugees who cross or attempt to cross a border and about 900,000 internally displaced, so as Andrew said two to two and a half million displaced people.

JIM LEHRER: And what are you planning to do for these displaced people and these refugees?

ANDREW NATSIOS: We have assembled a DART Team, a Disaster Assistance Response Team, which is the typical mechanism we use to advance our humanitarian forces into the field in any emergency, whether it’s an earthquake, or war or famine. This is the largest team we’ve ever had in American history. There are 60 people on it. That may not sound a lot, but a typical emergency response –

JIM LEHRER: What kind of people are they?

ANDREW NATSIOS: They’re water experts; they’re medical doctors; they’re logisticians; they’re communications specialists. They’re rapid assessment people. There’s a manual on training. They’ve been training for four or five months now for this.

JIM LEHRER: These are employees of the U.S. Government?

ANDREW NATSIOS: They are employees of the U.S. Government and many agencies even though the DART team, disaster team reports to me in AID, we have people from the public health service. There are people from the State Department refugee office. So it’s a multi-disciplinary team. It’s very large and some of the team is already out in the region.

JIM LEHRER: Will they go into Iraq with the troops more or less?

ANDREW NATSIOS: They will but not literally in the front lines.

JIM LEHRER: Sure, absolutely.

ANDREW NATSIOS: They will go in the rear guard as the troops move forward should a war take place. No decision has been made. I want to emphasize that.

JIM LEHRER: I can’t say that often enough. Yes, this is if …

ANDREW NATSIOS: If, if.

JIM LEHRER: — obviously. But is the assumption you’re making, is the assumption you’re making that all the needs of these people will have to be met by the United States?

ANDREW NATSIOS: We know that other donors– I’ve been talking with other donor governments, northern governments who are allies of ours and who work with us in humanitarian emergencies around the world, and we are coordinating our work, number one. We’ve spoken with about a half dozen of the largest NGO’s, Non-Governmental Organizations in the world. They are positioned in the air. We’ve given some grant money several months ago to do advance planning. They positioned their staffs on the border areas to move in when it’s necessary.

We’ve been in conversation with international organizations within the U.N., the ICRC, the IOM, about what they will do. Some of them have very large numbers of people in the country and have been there for some time. But Iraq is unlike Afghanistan as your program just showed in that this is not a poor third world country that has a lot of NGO’s in it to begin with because NGO’s would not go to a middle income country. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. There were 100 NGO’s there before Sept. 11 and so they already had an infrastructure; this is a little different. The other difference is, though, the U.N. agencies are there in large numbers and have been for ten years. So they do have an infrastructure.

JIM LEHRER: What’s your assessment of how well the planning is, as we speak now; if a war, in fact, does happen, the United States and all the others as just outlined, are they ready?

KENNETH BACON: I think the U.S. has been working very hard to deal with the humanitarian problems. And if there is a war, private relief agencies and the U.S. Government will have exactly the same goal, which is to hold humanitarian problems to a minimum, to deal with them quickly and efficiently. Having said that, I think there are three issues that have concerned us and many other relief agencies. We’re actually an advocacy agency, Refugees International, not a relief agency but we work very closely with relief agencies. The first — and these three problems are funds, access and facts.

On the funding issue, the government has spent billions of dollars pre-positioning troops and equipment in the Middle East for a potential war. They’ve spent, to my estimate, I think $1 million pre-positioning relief organizations. USAID has made a grant of $900,000 to set up a humanitarian coordination center in Amman, Jordan, and to finance some pre-positioning of people.

But even somebody from the U.N. Office of Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs said yesterday that one of their biggest concerns is there’s not enough humanitarian relief infrastructure from private agencies in the area today. And he doesn’t foresee it getting there quickly enough to meet the needs. So that’s the first. The second is access. As you know, because of the sanctions on Iraq, it’s difficult for Americans other than news reporters to travel in and out of Iraq. And this is applied to humanitarian workers as well. And we have been working for months and months with the government holding many meetings, weekly meetings.

JIM LEHRER: Our government — the U.S. Government.

KENNETH BACON: The U.S. Government.

JIM LEHRER: Right.

KENNETH BACON: Trying to get a lifting of U.S. licensing requirements that prevent NGOs from going in and making assessment missions. There has been a breakthrough within the last week or two. But still no NGO has a license that’s allowed them to go in yet. And we’ve missed weeks or months of time when NGOs might have gone in to survey sites or conditions.

And then the third are facts. The government has begun briefing and engaging with the public and the NGOs this week in sort of laying out their principles, which are the right principles, laying out their plans, giving some indication of how much food they pre-positioned but it only came this week.

JIM LEHRER: So they’re not ready, in other words. That’s the bottom line.

KENNETH BACON: I think it’s hard to tell. I think that they are making great preparations. I think it would be important if they had coordinated much more with humanitarian operations along the way.

JIM LEHRER: Why didn’t you do that?

ANDREW NATSIOS: Let me first say we’ve spent nearly $100 million on this. Not a million. A million went to six NGO’s to do some pre-positioning. But we’ve moved huge amounts, container loads of plastic sheeting, water purification systems, of military rations for civilians, of all sorts of things that are required, health kits for millions of people that are already in the theater right now. They’re in warehouses. We rented the warehouses months ago.

Some of this planning we could not do publicly because it would have appeared that some decision had already been made. It hasn’t been made. And we didn’t want to get embroiled in some political dispute over the question so we ratcheted up what AID would normally do to a much higher level so we could substitute –

JIM LEHRER: You didn’t tell anybody about it?

ANDREW NATSIOS: We didn’t. We did it very quietly. The work we did do for the last three months, we’ve been meeting with the Non-Governmental Organizations and other international bodies for three months now on a weekly basis to share the information we could share with them and I think they are more prepared than Ken has suggested. I might also add that the NGO’s weren’t in Iraq and even if they had the (inaudible) license, they weren’t going to go into Iraq. Saddam Hussein wouldn’t have let them in.

JIM LEHRER: In a general way, starting with you, Ken Bacon and then come back to you, Mr. Natsios, on this — one of the major arguments against going to war has been oh, oh, this will trigger a huge humanitarian chaos among the people of Iraq — and that that is a key role for the … in other words the United States must do everything possible to keep that from happening. Do you – looking at it from your perspective – looking at it from your perspective, do you see the U.S. doing that?

KENNETH BACON: I think the U.N. feels, U.N. agencies particularly the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees feels they are not adequately funded to make the preparations they need to make. Other U.N. agencies and the UNHCR have gotten some U.S. funding but they feel frankly they’re not ready at this time. Nor do many of the humanitarian relief agencies. I think we are all scrambling to get ready as quickly as possible. But remember the ideal here is to be able to move in at the earliest possible minute to address these humanitarian problems.

ANDREW NATSIOS: In most emergencies in the world we have a week or two to prepare. We’ve had five months to prepare, more time than I have ever in 14 years of this kind of work, we’ve never had five months of work and such intense planning. The documentation, we’ve trained sixty people for four months. We’ve been coordinating very carefully. We’re better prepared, in my view, than I’ve been than we’ve been in the community for any other emergency. Of course, we’d like more time and more information. But we’ve never had that in any emergency in 14 years.

JIM LEHRER: So you’re fairly confident.

ANDREW NATSIOS: I am.

JIM LEHRER: All right. We’ll leave it there. Thank you both.