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Interview With Theophanis Papathanasiou of ERT Network

Henrietta R. Fore, Acting Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and Acting USAID Administrator
Athens, Greece
August 29, 2007

USAID Assistance Fighting Wildfires in South Eastern Europe

: Thank you very much for this interview. You were here during the last few days and you watched and you felt the pain of the Greek people. I want you to express your feelings and how did you feel for the Greek people.

ACTING DIRECTOR FORE: I have had the great honor of visiting the country on the part of 500,000 Americans who have come to visit Greece [annually in recent years]. But I have come at a time when the fires have been raging through the country and with deep concern we watch everyday how the battle is faring and how the people are faring. We carry such enormous concern and condolences to the people of Greece for the loss of life, for the loss of property, and the loss of trees. It is a heartbreaking time, so I carry the condolences of Secretary of State, Secretary Rice, and Deputy Secretary Negroponte, who is a Greek-American, a part of our very prominent Greek-American community. But all the American people are just very concerned and my husband and I were caught up in that. We're just enormously concerned.

QUESTION: Out of the pictures that you saw on the television and you heard, what strikes you the most out of this big tragedy?

ACTING DIRECTOR FORE: Oh, the loss of life. The loss of any life is something that we all mourn, but it is family members. But I am also struck by the courage of the Greek citizenry: the courage to stand by their homes, the courage to stand by their family, to look after things themselves, to be independent and strong and to be very practical about the engagement of the fires. But with the winds, so much is so difficult and everyone is just struggling to cope. And I am just very impressed by the courage of the Greeks, as well as the firefighters.

QUESTION: I understand that today you had some meetings to discuss the possible ways that the United States will help Greece. Can you tell us a few things, what you discussed in these meetings?

ACTING DIRECTOR FORE: Yes, we have earlier this week made a donation to the Hellenic Red Cross just for immediate needs. But we've been talking about next steps and what the longer term needs will be, because this is one of those events that is a crisis, but it has longer term implications. So we want to be sure that we are being good friends and that we are here as needed and where needed. So we talked about firefighting, about good techniques and what we can do to help on that. We also talked about watershed management and reforestation, bringing back the economic livelihood of the people, whether it is olive trees or vineyards or orchards or whether it is pine trees near Olympia. All of it is important and it is to bring back and to rebuild Greece, so homes, and other ways that non-profit organizations and governments can work with the people to try to help and contribute and reconstruct.

QUESTION: How will Greek-American organizations contribute to this cause?

ACTING DIRECTOR FORE: Oh there's a very strong outpouring, led by the Greek-Americans. It's a very strong community, a very vibrant community in America, and very interested in trying to help. They've begun talking about ways they can help, but we want to be sure that it's guided as you would wish it to be, so that it's coming in the ways that are most helpful for both immediate needs as well as for the medium term and the long term. I think that there will be a good number of donations in cash, but I think there'll also be an outpouring of people that want to send blankets and other things just to help. They want to contribute. We know that there will be donations of a remarkable amount of equipment and know-how for both management of this in the future as well as prevention.

QUESTION: Did you discuss today any concrete steps as far as the reconstruction of the area in Ileia [province]?

ACTING DIRECTOR FORE: I was talking with Hellenic Aid, and we have a very strong relationship. We work around the world together, but particularly in the Balkans and in this region. And we were talking about ways that we can try and mix good firefighting with good reforestation and techniques with nature, tourism, energy projects - things that will improve the entire area, so there will be immediate help, but also there will be some items that will be later in the fall, that we will do some joint projects that we can do with neighboring countries as well as here in Greece in a number of sites. So we've begun to have some very good and productive discussions and I think in the next few days and weeks that more will be developed. But it is a very strong desire on our part to help; to be sure we are here in the ways that you need help now, here in Greece as well as in the region, because in the region there are also a number of forest fires that have occurred.

QUESTION: Ok, thank you very much for this interview. Thanks a lot.

ACTING DIRECTOR FORE: You're welcome. Thank you. And I can't tell you just how much we personally feel about wanting to help, so thank you very much.

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