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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs > Releases > Public Statements on South and Central Asian Policy > 2002

Special Press Briefing on Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan

Andrew S. Natsios, Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development
Alan J. Kreczko, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration
Washington, DC
January 3, 2002

[audio]

MR. BOUCHER:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  If I can, I would like to introduce Mr. Andrew Natsios, who is the Administrator of the US Agency for International Development, and Mr. Alan Kreczko, who is the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.  They will be on the record today to brief you on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and what the United States is doing to help.

We'll start out with Mr. Natsios, and then I believe Mr. Kreczko will make a short statement as well. 

MR. NATSIOS:  Thank you very much.  It appears from the data we've collected and the reporting we're getting from the field that we have averted widespread famine in Afghanistan, and this is a major, I think, accomplishment.  The congratulations go to the international organizations such as the World Food Program that did the primary distribution into the country, and then to the NGOs that did the distribution from the interior warehouses to the remote villages and to the cities.

I would also add that if you look at the total tonnages, that 11,000 tons was moved in -- were moved in September, 27,000 tons in October, 55,000 in November, and 116,000 in December.  It basically doubled each month during a time when we were withdrawing the expatriate NGO and UN agency staff out of the country.  So we were doubling each month while we were withdrawing staff, so the people who should be congratulated are not just these organizations but the Afghan staff who remained in the country, stood at their posts at a very difficult time and carried out their work. 

And we think that is a very hopeful sign that the people who, in fact, saved Afghanistan, even though we provided the assistance, were the Afghan people themselves, the people who worked for the NGOs for the last 20 years; for example the International Rescue Committee has 1,400 Afghan staff who have worked for them, many of them for as many as 20 years.  The Afghan staff who ran WFP -- it was not expatriate staff who ran WFP.  It was Afghan staff.  We think that is a very good sign that a very dedicated group of people remain in Afghanistan to help now begin the reconstruction of the country, people who have a commitment to stay in the country because they stayed in the worst of it, during a war.

The total tonnage which was moved in the fiscal year beginning October 1st to the end of the year, three months, was over 200,000 tons.  And of that amount that was actually distributed, that 200,000 tons, 64 percent of it came from the United States.  So there was almost two-thirds of the food that went in came from America.

There are areas -- and I just want to warn this -- that are remote areas, probably in the Hazarajat up in the mountains and maybe in the Hindu Kush in some valleys where we haven't -- we don't know because no one has been there, but there could be pockets of need that remain.  And I want to say that clearly on the record, that we are not assured that every single person is being fed now.  We know every region is being fed and that we have met our goals.

Of the 209,000 metric tons that have gone in since the beginning of the war, since the attack on the United States, 79 percent -- 76 percent of that, excuse me, has actually been distributed at the village level and at the neighborhood level.  We know the distinction between moving the food across the border into warehouses, which is what WFP does, and then the NGOs take that food and they move it into the villages, and into the city neighborhoods and distribute it.  So of the larger amount of food, 76 percent has actually made it into the villages and the neighborhoods to be distributed into people's homes.  Which is, again, a very high percentage in the middle of a war.

This was the most extraordinary, complicated and dangerous aid effort, in terms of its size and volume and speed, that WFP has run in its 40 years of history.  They have never moved this much food in one month in any other emergency in the world.

The second thing that I would like to talk about today is an effort that we started some time ago.  We haven't announced it until now because it wasn't fully operational -- was a radio program.  And the radio program began broadcasting on December 7th, and we have distributed now 20,000 of 30,000 short-wave radios -- one of which is right here.  There are some photographs some of you may have seen of Afghans listening to radios.  There is a high likelihood it is one of these radios that they are listening to.

Afghanistan is a radio culture, which is to say well before the civil war began in '78-'79, the Afghans listened to radio in the village.  That was their primary form of entertainment.  One of the great things -- one of the things that the Taliban did that annoyed the Afghan people the most is that they banned music, and the Afghans loved to listen to music on radio and they were prohibited from doing that.  So now that they have been liberated from that constraint, radios will be out and about as a primary source of information.

Now, why is AID running -- we gave a grant to the International Organization for Migration to do this program.  It was our idea but we asked them to do it.  They have distributed these 20,000 radios.  Another 10,000 are now crossing the border and will be distributed village by village, neighborhood by neighborhood, organization by organization.

The purpose of this is primarily humanitarian in nature.  There are daily humanitarian bulletins that have now been going out for several weeks now in the two principal languages, Pashtu and Dari.  We have hired through the Voice of America 10 local Afghan staff who speak the languages who are now filing one story a day on humanitarian efforts in different parts of Afghanistan.  What are the purposes of this programming?

The first is that people need to know what they have a right to get in terms of humanitarian assistance.  If a food delivery has been made to Herat and everybody is supposed to get 10 kilograms of ration and they are getting 2 and they hear this report that they are supposed to be getting 10, there is going to be a little problem in the city because people are going to be very angry that the food has not been delivered to them as it is supposed to be.

So one of the purposes of this program is to enforce a -- sort of a democratized form of accountability on the system.  We have used this in other countries very successfully.  It was used in Kosovo to ensure that the food that was actually being distributed was the amount that we were sending in.  And one way of doing that is simply to tell the people what their rights are, what their ration is supposed to be, what the medical support is they are supposed to be getting.  If they are not getting it, they go to their leaders and say, wait a second, something is wrong here, we were supposed to get this ration and it is not being delivered; we want to know why.

And the Afghan people, we know, will be very aggressive about asking their leaders why what they are supposed to be getting is not arriving.  We have no reason to believe at this point that that is happening, but this is one way of saying to the people who run the system at the village level that they had better distribute according to the prescribed levels.

The second thing we want to do is to tell people what the conditions are back in their home villages if they are refugees or displaced, so that they can know what to expect.  If there is no food in a particular village and people are returning to it, they should know that before they leave.  Or if there is food and there is seed and tools being distributed and houses are being weatherized for the winter months, they need to know that too, because they need to make the decisions themselves, refugees and internally displaced people, whether or not to return to their home villages.  We do know a large number have returned and Alan will talk about that very shortly, but the second purpose of this is to give information so people can make decisions in terms of their own lives.

The third thing, the third purpose of this, is to describe security conditions.  If there is a particular area where there is a lot of thievery going on and people would not be secure going back, they will know that.  But it's also a way for the international community to put pressure on local bands of thugs that may be causing trouble.  All of them are connected to some tribe or some clan.  There is still a hierarchy of clan elders and tribal leaders who can say to a group of people, "You're out of control.  You're interfering with the relief and reconstruction in this area.  Stop doing it."

But the one way of making people accountable who are causing the insecurity is to publicize what they are doing on the radio.  We did this in a couple of other countries very successfully.

We are also, on these programs, distributing public health information.  For example, if there is a measles epidemic, if there is an immunization program going on, we announce that on the radio so that people know, for example, UNICEF and WHO and the NGOs are about to begin a 90-day effort to immunize 9 million Afghan children against measles.  Well, if we didn't announce it on the radio, they would never know that that was going to take place to get their children immunized.  Every village, if you have a radio, you hear this broadcasting going on, you'll know that the campaign and the coverage levels will go up, we have found in other emergencies, by publicizing this.

We have also given small grants to local independent Afghan media for technical training so that they can run their own radio stations in the country.  We find that public information is a way of stabilizing the country politically, of tying the country together, of allowing the new interim government to speak to the Afghan people about what they're doing, what they're not doing.

By the way, we organized this in late September.  We began the conceptualization of it.  We sent teams out in October and November to design the program and we began actually distributing the radios after it was secure to do that and we began the programming on December 7th. 

So we think things are going quite well at this point, and we look forward to the next phase, which we are already beginning, which is the reconstruction program. 

Alan.

MR. KRECZKO:  When we were looking at the humanitarian situation post-September 11th, we were really looking at two aspects of a potential humanitarian crisis:  one was the impending famine in Afghanistan, which Andrew has talked about in terms of the international and US response; and the other was the potential for large-scale refugee flows to the neighboring countries.

The President's $320 million of humanitarian assistance put us in a good position to address both contingencies, and we were able to provide substantial funding to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other organizations to prepare for refugee flows to Pakistan and Iran and other countries. 

In the end, as you all know, only about 150,000 refugees moved.  That's not an insignificant number, but it is far less than the million and a half that were being projected post-September 11th by the United Nations system.  With the flow out of Afghanistan basically stopping or coming to a very, very small flow now, the focus has been on preparing for the return of refugees.  And while we do not expect large-scale returns to happen until spring, we are already beginning to see some returns.  The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that in the last two months there have been between 60,000 and 80,0000 refugees that have returned.  They would estimate that slightly more than half of those have been from Iran, with the remainder from Pakistan.  They are largely spontaneous, unassisted returns.  Anecdotally, we understand that they are mostly of men, which we assumes means they are of the head of the household or the male of the household going back to assess the security situation, maybe to take a look at any property that was left behind and then to be able to make a judgment about returning the family to Afghanistan in the spring.

We do expect to provide substantial assistance for refugee return.  We will be funding the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and, in addition, looking to fund programs in areas of refugee return so that the refugees can be integrated back into their society.  And in that vein, we would be looking to fund things like water and sanitation system rehabilitation and repair, basic health care including reproductive health care and maternal child health care, shelter rehabilitation and repair, supplemental feeding and nutritional programs, primary education and mine education and awareness.  This effort to enable the refugees to return and be reintegrated, of course, needs to be looked at in terms of the overall effort to support the recovery and reconstruction of Afghanistan, so it should be integrated into that effort as well.

Beyond refugee returns, we have seen some returns of internally displaced persons as well, with again the UN estimating that there have been about 30,000 returnees to Kabul alone.  In terms of the obstacles to return right now, of course, we still have the weather, with a lot of speculation that the refugees actually will not decide to make their decisions about return until the spring.  There is the issue of mines and unexploded ordnance and there is also the basic issue of absorptive capacity with inside Afghanistan and the international community getting up and running the programs that will be needed in order to enable people to reintegrate.

So as I say in short, there are some refugees returning to Afghanistan already.  I think that is an indicator of both the improved security situation inside Afghanistan and the success that there has been in delivering assistance inside Afghanistan.  But in terms of substantial, substantial refugee flows, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is not encouraging it right now and I think we would not expect to see it in very substantial numbers until spring.

QUESTION:  Sir, could I ask you for two clarifications, please?

I must have heard you wrong -- you said 67 -- 76 -- 76 percent has been delivered?

MR. NATSIOS:  Seventy-six percent --

QUESTION:  Gets to the homes of the people?

MR. NATSIOS:  Of the homes of the people.

QUESTION:  What about the remainder, the 24 percent?

MR. NATSIOS:  That's in warehouses within Afghanistan.

QUESTION:  But is it accessible?

MR. NATSIOS:  Oh, the food is accessible.  But the areas that -- it has simply not been moved from those warehouses yet by the NGOs to those villages.

QUESTION:  It isn't like there are displaced people who could walk in to food depots.  You didn't mean that?

MR. NATSIOS:  No, no, no, no.

QUESTION:  You don't mean that?

MR. NATSIOS:  No.

QUESTION:  You want to get it to the homes?

MR. NATSIOS:  Right.  We have to get it to the homes.  It is not over -- and the other thing is, there is always a time lag between the time you move the food across the border, it's in the warehouses.  There is always going to be food in the warehouses that hasn't been distributed yet.  But a 76 percent distribution rate in the villages is very high under these circumstances.

QUESTION:  I don't want to get the wrong impression.  So it's perhaps a sticky question, but the radio band is a normal band?

MR. NATSIOS:  Yes, it's --

QUESTION:  I mean, you don't have to listen to just government broadcasts?

MR. NATSIOS:  No, it's a commercial radio that we bought.

QUESTION:  You could actually get BBC?

MR. NATSIOS:  You get BBC, you get Voice of America, you can get commercial radio.

QUESTION:  So it's not a propaganda tool; it's a real radio.

MR. NATSIOS:  Oh, no, no, no.  And the people designing this are not -- we're not ordering them what to design.

The Afghan staff that is distributing it have been told to avoid getting involved in local politics.  We are involved in reporting the things that I just mentioned to you.

QUESTION:  Now, when you were here last, about a month ago, you had a barometer, infant mortality.  You said you'd watch that and that would tell you quite a bit as to whether, you know, famine has been averted.

MR. NATSIOS:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Do you happen to know how that worked out?

MR. NATSIOS:  We have asked UNICEF and the NGO community to set up an elaborate system of tracking of that data.  We do not have a nationwide system right now to tell us that.  We have anecdotal information that the rates are stable in the cities and in the towns where there is a presence of NGOs, but there are some remote villages that we have not got to; no NGO has been there, we don't know what the conditions are.  In many cases we have sent the food in but we are not certain the food was distributed properly and that the rates were kept down.

QUESTION:  When you say famine has been largely -- large-scale famine --

MR. NATSIOS:  Yes, that's what I said.

QUESTION:  You were careful.  You said large-scale famine has been averted.

MR. NATSIOS:  That's correct.

QUESTION:  You don't really know, or do you, whether disease or polluted water, all sorts of other problems, may have taken their toll, even with the food sitting on the table?

MR. NATSIOS:  That's correct.  The child mortality rate prior to September 11th was 25 percent, which 25 percent of the kids died before they were five years old.  So far as we know, that data has not changed, hasn't dropped below 25 percent.  What I was afraid of -

QUESTION:  You were afraid it would go up.

MR. NATSIOS:  -- that it would go up dramatically.  We'd lose half the kids.  There are areas of Eastern Zaire, for example, Eastern Congo, where there was a 75 percent mortality rate in the last two years.  So you can have rates where 75 percent of the kids literally die.  And they are the first ones that die in a famine.

QUESTION:  Yes, that's why I asked.

MR. NATSIOS:  Right.  Yes, sir.

QUESTION:  Just to clarify on this radio thing, two questions.  First, what exactly is the difference between the broadcasts you're doing and Voice of America broadcasts, or are they the same thing? 

MR. NATSIOS:  Okay.  Voice of America and BBC and the Afghan radio stations in Peshawar that are commercial radio stations are simply broadcasting what we are releasing to them.  So it's sort of like a public service announcement and it's a daily bulletin that goes up, and the reporters in from the field will say, "In Herat today there was a distribution of 500 tons of food.  It was wheat and some vegetable oil and it was distributed to this population in these amounts."

QUESTION:  But it's being broadcast on existing VOA frequencies?

MR. NATSIOS:  That's correct.

QUESTION:  You didn't set up a new radio frequency?

MR. NATSIOS:  Oh, no, no.

QUESTION:  So people don't have to learn a new radio --

MR. NATSIOS:  No, no.  It's the same programming all of them are used to listening to, because VOA has had a program -- I think they have expanded the number of hours.  The two principal languages that we're broadcasting in are Pashtu and Dari, the two major languages.

QUESTION:  The second question, I think you mentioned you distributed 20,000 of the radios --

MR. NATSIOS:  Right, and 10,000 more are on the way across the border.

QUESTION:  As impressive as those numbers are, it is still kind of a drop in the bucket.

MR. NATSIOS:  No, it actually isn't because they don't listen to them in their individual homes.  They listen to them as a community at night, for example.  They will all get together in someone's home or in the village or in a tea house.

QUESTION:  So do you have an estimate of what proportion of the population you think you're reaching now? 

MR. NATSIOS:  We don't have -- there is something in your packages on this in more detail, but I don't know.  We don't have a percentage yet.  I don't think we have done any surveys so it would be speculation on our part.  There is a sample bulletin in your package, and I think there is also an announcement in more detail than I gave on what we're doing.  But it is a substantial portion.

And you have to also remember that a lot of the Afghans already had radios.  They are just taking them out of hiding now, because if you were caught with one when Taliban was around, you got arrested and maybe wouldn't be seen again or you would get beaten or the stuff confiscated.  But many Afghan villages already had this.  We just wanted to ensure every village had at least one radio.  That is the purpose of this.

QUESTION:  And that is enough radios to be sure of that?

MR. NATSIOS:  Yes, that the word is out.  And the other thing is people will talk to each other.  You know, I heard this last night, and even if you didn't hear it.  People talk.

QUESTION:  First question.  How many times a day will these broadcasts be made?

MR. NATSIOS:  I don't know.  Does it say it in the package?  I think it's once a day that they actually broadcast, but they may do it several times.  There is one sort of program.  It's called the Humanitarian Bulletin that comes out.  But I think in some cases they broadcast it more than once. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  And --

MR. NATSIOS:  Do you know, Kate?

(Inaudible.)

QUESTION:  And secondly, you spoke to the food situation, but what about the housing situation?  So many things have been destroyed.

MR. NATSIOS:  Well, that's part of this, too. 

QUESTION:  So in terms of rebuilding and the reconstruction of Afghanistan, how do things look? 

MR. NATSIOS:  Well, there is a program by -- when I went up to Afghanistan, if you recall, when I came back from Central Asia I had a little, I think a press conference, and talked.  And I didn't talk in depth about the housing reconstruction program.  But ACTED, which is a French-based NGO that is in this particular area in northern Afghanistan, is rebuilding 70,000 houses for about 400,000 people, and they are in progress.  Actually, they were finished last week in this project.  That sort of thing is being announced on this in this subregion of this province in this -- they're called districts.  There are provinces and then there are districts that make up provinces.  In these districts, 70,000 houses have been reconstructed in this area and, you know, so people will know where it is being done and where it is not being done.  And that is the idea.

QUESTION:  Just how bad is the situation in terms of the reconstruction?  As you know, there is supposed to be this aid --

MR. NATSIOS:  Twenty-two years of civil war has destroyed 50 percent of the irrigation system of the country, most of the public buildings in the country.

One of the problems we had in the war is there was not a lot to -- left to shoot at because it had been destroyed during the civil war.  The destruction of 22 years was enormous; it was enormous.  And it wasn't just the Russian.  It was 10 years of Russian civil war and then there was a civil war among the Afghans themselves once the Russians withdrew in the 1990s before Taliban took over, and then the Taliban civil war took over.

QUESTION:  Three really quick questions.  Can you give us an update on the Friendship Bridge and how much aid is coming through that?  When do you expect --

MR. NATSIOS:  Why don't you go through one at a time so I don't forget what they are.

Five- to 6,000 tons have crossed the Friendship Bridge so some food has gone across, but it is not what we had expected.  There are still technical issues, apparently.

QUESTION:  Is it open regularly?

MR. NATSIOS:  It is open sometimes.  It is not open all the time, because there are problems with the railroad bridge on the Afghan side.  Intermittently, that's the proper term.  It's open intermittently.

QUESTION:  When do you expect the foreign aid workers to return?

MR. NATSIOS:  Oh, they have already returned.

QUESTION:  Oh, they're already there?

MR. NATSIOS:  In huge numbers.  But I must tell you, I was told this morning by a person who just came back from -- had toured all the northern provinces and gave me a report.  And he said, I have to tell you, Andrew, that somehow the media beat the NGOs there, because there are more reporters than there are NGO workers.  And I said, does that mean there are no NGOs?  And he said, no, it means there is a huge number of reporters.  So you guys beat us there.

QUESTION:  And I just had one more.  Could you just update us on the status of normalizing the food markets in these areas?  What's gone on with that?

MR. NATSIOS:  Well, we've noticed -- I have to tell you, I can't quite tell you why but in the four major cities, Herat, Mazar-e Sharif, Kabul and Jalalabad -- Kandahar is still in insecure circumstances -- those four major cities, a lot of people live in them, the food prices in the last three weeks have dropped substantially, which is very good news.  We just don't quite know why.  We think it may be a function of the dollar -- the value of local currency versus the dollar or the notion that the amount of wheat coming in is dropping prices.

Because people will take their wheat and they will take some of the wheat and they will go to the market and say, I want some lentils and some oil, you know, I've got all this wheat, will you trade with me.  And people trade that stuff.  So that may be dropping the price.  Whatever it is, it's dropping, which is good news.

QUESTION:  A couple questions.  Has -- what percentage of the wheat has come through Iran?  I was just curious -- as opposed to Pakistan or through Central Asia?

MR. NATSIOS:  I'm trying to remember how much.  We sent 65,000 tons through Iran and I think that was the only shipment that went into the country.

QUESTION:  Since September 11th?

MR. NATSIOS:  Since September 11th.  But I'm not certain.  There may be some other countries that sent in some food through that area.

I know about 30,000 tons was purchased locally by us either through NGOs or through the World Food Program.  But that came through Central Asia, not through Iran.

QUESTION:  Do you suspect to sustain this incredibly high level?

MR. NATSIOS:  No, no, no.

QUESTION:  Or would you suspect that it is going to trail off --

MR. NATSIOS:  It is going to drop off.  It will go back to about 40,000 or 50,000 tons a month.

The reason for the enormously high movement of food in December, 116,000 tons -- and they're still counting; they think it actually may get higher than that.  But the figure that we can confirm as of today is 116,000 tons.  The reason we did that is because the winter is coming, and we wanted to have supplies for January and February sufficient in the mountainous areas that are snow-bound for the remainder of the winter.  And we have done that.

QUESTION:  And finally, is this going to put a burden on food distribution in other parts of the world?

MR. NATSIOS:  No.

QUESTION:  Africa, Asia -- that also --

MR. NATSIOS:  One of the concerns the NGOs do have, and they said this to me, is are you moving food or resources from other areas.  The President's $320 million that Alan's budget got and my budget got purchased the food that we sent in, the additional food, and provided the cash grants for PRM to give assistance through and that OFDA gave to NGOs and UN agencies to do immunizations, to do housing reconstruction, do irrigation system reconstruction.  That meant that none of the existing resources of AID were used.

The only money we used from OFDA's budget was the exact amount that we used in the last fiscal year, fiscal '01, for Afghanistan.  That was the agreement I made with OMB.  They said you have to keep up your existing level of contribution in addition to the 320 we're giving you.  So we did that, and that was about $12 million.

So no money was diverted from any other programs anywhere else in the world for cash grant assistance or for food aid.  All of it is new.

QUESTION:  You gave credit to the Afghan nationals and to the World Food Program, but --

MR. NATSIOS:  And the NGOs.

QUESTION:  And the NGOs, but what about the military operation?  How much of this --

MR. NATSIOS:  That's about a quarter -- and this is not a criticism, just to tell you that there was a symbolic importance to those food drops.  It was a quarter of one percent.  I would guess maybe -- you have to do the calculation.  I did it in Germany on the way over.  It was, I think, about 1,200 tons out of 200,000.  So what's that?  You can do the percentages.  I don't calculate well in my --

QUESTION:  Okay, that's not my question.

MR. NATSIOS:  Oh, I'm sorry.

QUESTION:  About the military operation on the ground, clearing the way.  Do you think --

MR. NATSIOS:  They did --

QUESTION:  I'll just finish.

MR. NATSIOS:  Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION:  How much of that was responsible for being able to get the foreign workers back in, the distribution system back up with people coming back?  How much credit would you give the military operations and the clearing away of the Taliban?  And is there --

MR. NATSIOS:  Oh, yes, okay.  I understand the question now. 

QUESTION:  Right.  No, not that the military was distributing, but the military made it possible for operations to get back up and the success, the rapid success.  And also, how much -- is there any integration or coordination now going on with the US military forces still there to protect some of the distribution lines and the convoys or anything like that? 

MR. NATSIOS:  There is no -- the US military is not protecting any distribution lines, so there was no security offered by any military forces to the relief effort up until now.

QUESTION:  And none needed?

MR. NATSIOS:  Well, you could argue whether it was needed or not, but the fact is we succeeded without it.  And in Bosnia, I have to tell you, we did studies after the civil war was over.  The convoys that had no military protection had a higher delivery rate than those with military protection, because they become targets.  And so I told the military -- I know there were some NGOs demanding that we send the military in, and I told them the statistics.  I said, "Based on our experience, we should not be doing this.  And I am not going to recommend, regardless of what you're telling me, that we send in security.  I won't ask the Defense -- and if they ask me if we want it, I will tell them we don't want it."

I'm sorry, that's what we did, and it appeared to have worked and I think it was the right decision.  Now, there is going to be a security force apparently in Kabul under the agreement.  That is a different matter.  It seems to me that was not designed primarily for humanitarian relief purposes but to provide political stability in the capital of the country.  That's a different question you'll have to ask the diplomats about.

QUESTION:  How about the question about removing the Taliban? 

MR. NATSIOS:  Removing the Taliban had an enormous effect.  And the fact that we won the war -- I mean, the perception is the United States was the powerful force that came in to help the Northern Alliance win the war, and they have authority now, I think, in a moral sense to say, look guys, if there is insecurity in a particular area that appears to be organized in nature, cut it out.  Insecurity.  And that has worked.  There has been efforts by the US military to say in certain areas where there appeared to have been attacks on relief convoys that were organized and systematic to stop doing it, and it was stopped.  So I have to give the military credit in terms of using their diplomatic powers successfully. 

QUESTION:  Even though the Taliban, as you have explained to us before, was not involved in the food distribution, if you bypass them --

MR. NATSIOS:  No, but they were impeding it in many areas.

QUESTION:  Right.  So I'm sure you didn't even know how much they were impeding it until they weren't there anymore. 

MR. NATSIOS:  Well, we knew that literally 300 trucks and cars were confiscated or stolen by the Taliban during the four-month period -- the three-month period until they were defeated.  They took that many trucks and cars.  That had a huge effect on the relief effort.  And the expatriates left basically because Taliban was going after them, even before September 11.

So the fact the Taliban is gone has made this much easier for us to accomplish and resulted in a successful relief effort. 

MR. KRECZKO:  If I might just add.

MR. NATSIOS:  Go ahead, Alan. 

MR. KRECZKO:  The removal of the Taliban would obviously --

QUESTION:  Could you come to the mike, please?  Thank you. 

MR. KRECZKO:  The removal of the Taliban would obviously be a major factor for refugee return issues.  And generally the most important component in a refugee's decision on whether to return is whether it is secure, and the removal of the Taliban has improved that situation, so I think there you see a major contribution. 

QUESTION:  At the beginning of this crisis you said a million Afghans were at risk for starvation in an upcoming famine.  What would be the figure today? 

MR. NATSIOS:  I said a million and a half were?  I think -- I don't know what the number is now, but the million and a half people who were at risk have received assistance.  And the statistic that I was -- actually, I didn't give this statistic out.  Seventy-nine percent of the targeted distributions have been made as of this date.  So if you want to extrapolate, I'll let you do that.  I'm not going to do that precisely.  But 79 percent of what was needed to avert the famine has been actually gotten into people's hands of the million and a half people who were most at risk.

QUESTION:  I'm not very good at extrapolations.  So you're saying that the one and a half million who were at risk, 79 percent of them have received --

MR. NATSIOS:  No, 79 percent of the food that was going to get to those people has, in fact, gotten to them. 

QUESTION:  But you're not saying that one and a half million people that were at risk have now been fed? 

MR. NATSIOS:  Oh, they have been.  Yes, they have gotten --

QUESTION:  So those one and a half million have been fed? 

MR. NATSIOS:  Well, six -- actually, seven million people have been fed.  That's how many people this ration level is supposed to feed and is feeding. 

QUESTION:  So I am just trying, for the reader who has been hopefully watching this, they say, okay, one and a half million were at risk.  Widespread has been -- no longer fears of widespread.  That means several thousand are at risk? 

MR. NATSIOS:  I don't know a number, and one of the things we are going to try to set up -- we've discussed it this morning at great -- in great depth at our senior staff meeting -- is setting up a monitoring system to make sure that in some remote valley somewhere, that if there is need we can meet it immediately and not wait. 

But UNICEF did, as of two weeks ago -- I talked with Carol Bellamy and she -- and I talked to her I think yesterday morning with Paula Dobriansky, and she said they are in the process of setting up this tracking system to make sure that the data from the villages across the country is being collected and analyzed to make sure we're not missing any areas.

QUESTION:  In the (inaudible) is there large-scale complaints about influential people taking the bulk of the food aid? 

MR. NATSIOS:  We have not had that complaint.

QUESTION:  You have overcome that problem?  And what is the level of your satisfaction about the distribution?  Is it going to the needy or not?

MR. NATSIOS:  We have a very high level of confidence in almost all areas.  There are a couple of areas where we have had some problems with local commanders.  It is mostly the militias that have caused problems in a couple of areas. 

But the biggest problem right now in terms of distribution is in the greater Kandahar area.  That remains highly insecure.  But if you look at the maps that I showed months ago, the VAM maps, the Vulnerability Assessment Maps, that area down there is not -- was not a high-risk area because they had not experienced drought in the same way other areas of the country.  So it was not an area of the country under high nutritional stress prior to September 11, but it is very insecure and there are displaced people, markets are disrupted, and that is going to be a problem for some time. 

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) tons a month in the months to come.

MR. NATSIOS:  Right.

QUESTION:  What specific plans are now in the works for two and three and four months out, and how does that also fit into Tokyo?

MR. NATSIOS:  Well, there is a very important economic and agricultural principle we have to keep in mind here.  The winter wheat crop is being planted now, depending on the area.  They started planting in October.  They'll be planting until March.  And the crop is then -- the seed germinates and then the snows come, they sort of put it into suspended animation, and then when the snows melt the water from the melted snow grows its winter wheat.  We have the same thing in the United States. 

Now, if that winter wheat crop is really good -- and there are some reports that it's not going to be -- it's going to be another drought year, but we don't know for sure right now.  If that's a good crop, then we're going to cut down the distribution substantially because we don't want low -- we don't want to depress the agricultural market so much that there is no incentive for farmers to continue to produce food locally.  The faster we can get people off of food aid to produce their own food and eat their own food, the better off the country will be.

So our policy is not to have any food aid eventually, but that will take several years.  There are destitute people who have widows, there are orphan kids, there are women who are elderly who are incapable of supporting themselves.  We will continue to have to feed them for some time.  But we want to reduce the volume of this and it will be contingent on how the crop looks.  If the crop looks good, we're going to dramatically drop our food distributions.  If it looks like it's another drought year, we may have to go back up again and continue to distribute at high levels.

QUESTION:  When you say "we" --

MR. NATSIOS:  The international community.  When I say AID and the US Government, USDA and the State Department play a major role.  And I'm not exaggerating here.  I gave you actual data from the field -- 64 percent of the food that went in in the last three months came from the United States.  We are a major force, humanitarian force in the world.  The President has given us instructions we will continue to be a major force, not just in Afghanistan and other countries, but so it is the United States that is paying for a lot of it, that's doing a lot of the staff work.  However, we could not do this without the World Food Program and without the NGOs and without the Afghan staff who were working on it.  I want to make sure that everybody is included.  And there are other donors that are providing cash where they can't provide food.

Warren, do you have a question? 

QUESTION:  Yes.  We've been so focused on Afghanistan, I'm just curious, what in your mind is the next -- the most dire humanitarian emergency in the world today outside of Afghanistan?  And even though you say the 320 million wasn't taken from other programs, if there is a much -- if the crisis in Congo gets much worse or North Korea or Sudan, can you go back to the pot for more money, or is it just not there? 

MR. NATSIOS:  Well, if it's a substantial emergency, Congress usually has a supplemental appropriation.  At this point, we don't need one for other emergencies. 

The other two emergencies that are dire that don't get in the press all the time are Sudan and the Eastern Congo.  They are serious, but they are nowhere near what Afghanistan was, I have to tell you.  There were very high death rates in the Congo over several years, but they appear to have diminished substantially more recently.  And we did ratchet up food distribution and particularly medical assistance in the Eastern Congo during the summertime, and we think those emergencies are under control. 

Roger Winter and Jeff Millington from the State Department and the President's Special Political Envoy negotiated an agreement that should get food into the one most severely affected area in Sudan, which is the Nuba Mountains, which I think you went into, as I recall.  And that agreement, in fact, has already resulted, I think, in a couple of thousand tons of food going into the Nuba Mountains for the first time.

So things are going well in the other emergencies in terms of the relief effort.  This was the one that worried us the most. 

3:22 p.m. EST



Released on January 3, 2002

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