On-The-Record Briefing on World Food DayAndrew Natsios, Administrator of the Agency for International Development
Remarks to the Press
October 16, 2001
MR. REEKER: Welcome back to the State Department, everyone. As you know, Secretary Powell is continuing his travels in South Asia. He arrived this morning our time in New Delhi. He has meetings today and tomorrow before heading on to Shanghai, to be joined later in the week by the President for the APEC Summit. With Ambassador Boucher accompanying him, I am here to try to bring you the news of the day and take your questions. I would like to welcome to our briefing room today some senior fellows from the Atlantic Council of the United States. I know that the Atlantic Council has conducted a program worldwide to bring together senior military officers, government officials, research scholars and others from around the world, and so we are very pleased to have you with us today from Pakistan, from Japan, Uzbekistan, China, South Korea, I believe, and also from the United States. I hope I haven't left anybody out. But we are very pleased to have you join us.
Also today, I think many of you are aware that we are celebrating World Food Day and it seems very appropriate that we are able to announce today a major part of the President's initiative earlier regarding the $320 million that we have committed to helping the Afghan people. And so, to discuss that, we've brought over our friend the Administrator of the US Agency for International Development. And I would like to go ahead and turn it over to Andrew Natsios, to run through that with you. He has a short time frame, so we can take a couple of questions after that and then continue with the regular issues of the day.
So let me introduce Andrew Natsios.
MR. NATSIOS: It is World Food Day today and we would like to announce a contribution of $38.5 million to purchase additional wheat, lentils, vegetable oil, corn-soy blend and yellow peas for Afghan relief, and for Afghan refugees. This is part of the President's humanitarian assistance program--the $320 million program that was just announced a couple of weeks ago.
The President's program for Afghanistan is a follow-on to the program we ran last year, which was a $172 million program prior to September 11th. The President's program nearly doubles that amount. The total tonnage for these commodities is 73,000 tons of food; 55,000 tons of wheat that will be made into flour and then almost 18,000 tons of other commodities that I mentioned earlier.
The President's plan also includes money for emergency shelter for displaced persons, immunization for children, maternal care for women, seed for farmers and programs for clean water. And we are now making grants to international organizations and NGOs to carry out the President's plan.
If there are any questions, I would be glad to answer them.
QUESTION: Could you kindly describe how typically food would get to an impoverished person on some hillside hideaway in Afghanistan?
MR. NATSIOS: The food is ordered on the Midwest grain markets. And sometimes it's up in the northwestern part of the country. It is put on American ships and shipped across the Pacific Ocean to either an Iranian port or a Pakistani port. WFP trucks take the food into the different border areas of Afghanistan. The food is then given to 10 international NGOs that are experienced in food aid. They have lists in each village, each neighborhood, internally displaced camps and refugee camps of people who are eligible because of destitution, widows, orphaned kids who are living at home that don't have parents there, amputees because of the number of landmines. We have them on the list; people who have absolutely no other coping mechanisms and no source of employment. They are on the lists, and food is then distributed to people on those lists. Usually in the villages, it's about a month's worth of food.
QUESTION: Could you respond to criticisms from the United Nations that the food drops right now in Afghanistan are possibly feeding the Taliban, not getting to the right people, and particularly for Mary Robinson, that there should be at least two weeks of a bombing-free time to get that food out to the people?
MR. NATSIOS: Well, one, there was only one day that we were not running convoys -- when I say "we," the international community -- and that was a week ago yesterday, one day. And that, frankly, was normal. There are days we simply don't run things.
In the last four days, during the bombing, we have moved 14,000 tons of food into Afghanistan. In fact, the volume of food going to Afghanistan has substantially increased in the last month over what it was the previous month.
So in spite of what is going on militarily, the volume of food on the ground going into the country has increased significantly.
QUESTION: But there's a criticism that we may be getting the food in, but the right people aren't getting it.
MR. NATSIOS: Well, the other comment that apparently was made has to do with the air drops. The air drops are being done in those areas of the country where there is very little Taliban control, number one; two, in areas of high nutritional stress, in very remote locations that are very difficult to reach on the ground. Is it possible someone in Taliban got one of those yellow parcels? It is possible. Given what has been happening in the last week, I think it's very unlikely.
I also make the comment that the people who know most about this are the operational NGOs and UN agencies on the ground, who know what's happening.
QUESTION: I have a couple of questions. Firstly, on behalf of my commodity reporter colleagues, can you give us any details of the -- when you're going to buy and when you're going to ship the 55,000 metric tons of wheat?
And secondly, I think we'd be remiss if we didn't ask you on this occasion what your comment is on the bombing of the ICRC warehouse, which destroyed a large amount of food today?
MR. NATSIOS: We do not have confirmation of the details of that. I did hear the media report, and we are looking into it now. But I can't make comments, because I don't know the details any more than you do.
What was the first question?
QUESTION: The shipping details.
MR. NATSIOS: Oh, the shipping details. We time all this, because we want about 50,000 tons of food going into the region, into the country a month. Sixty-five thousand tons are arriving at the end of this month; another 100,000 tons will arrive at the end of November, for November and December.
It usually takes about three months for food -- three, four months -- three months for food to be -- the orders to go in, the paperwork to be done, for the food to be purchased, put on the ships and then shipped. So this food is probably more for January, I think it's fair to say.
QUESTION: Are you taking extraordinary measures to ensure that the food gets in, especially as winter sets into the areas and the roads will start shutting down or getting iced over? What other options do you have other than these convoys for getting the food to the --
MR. NATSIOS: There are a number of options that are being looked at now, including civilian airlift into areas that will be otherwise impassable. We have not made a definitive decision on whether or not to do that, nor have the other aid agencies. But we are looking at the prices now and the availability of civilian aircraft, which is typically what we do in these circumstances. We have been doing airlifts into southern Sudan, for example, for 12 years. And we have also got it down to a science now, where we can fit a lot on these planes and move it off very rapidly in a high turnaround time. It is not the optimum way of doing this, because it's very expensive. However, in areas where it's inaccessible otherwise, we will use that.
The second method I mentioned earlier, although it has become a source of some amusement, UNICEF did hire 4,000 donkeys to go into the northern area from Tajikistan. We undoubtedly will use donkeys and we could find mules, which are even better, we would use them. But I'm not sure how many mules are in the region. Mules are an American invention, I think, or a European invention. And I won't make any more comments about the mules.
QUESTION: The donkeys were successful?
MR. NATSIOS: The donkeys were successful, yes. But they were not moving in food; they were moving in medical supplies and blankets and that sort of thing.
Thank you all very much.