USAID Conference Call on Earthquake Relief Efforts
By Tahir Ali*

Boston: The US Agency for International Development (USAID) hosted a telephone briefing on December 15. The purpose of the conference call was to brief participants – comprising largely of Pakistani-American leaders across the States – on the US Government’s role in helping the people of Pakistan recover from the October 8 earthquake.
The agenda included to feature a welcome by Under Secretary of State Karen Hughes, and an overview of the ongoing relief efforts by USAID Deputy Assistant Administrators’ William Garvelink and Mark Ward.
Mark Ward, offered Hughes regrets for not being able to attend, especially since it was she who came up with the conference idea. Ward thanked the participants and the Pakistani-American community, and in praise added, “You all are showing a tremendous face of US to Pakistan.”
On October 27, 2005, five distinguished private-sector chairman and CEOs, supported by President Bush, agreed to lead a nationwide effort to raise awareness and resources to help survivors of the South Asia earthquake rebuild their lives and communities. These included: Jeffrey R. Immelt, of GE, James P. Kelley, former CEO of UPS, Henry A. McKinnell, of Pfizer, Anne M. Mulcahy, of Xerox, and Sanford I. Weill, of Citigroup.
On Wednesday, November 9, 2005, the business leaders met with President George W. Bush at the White House to announce the launch of the South Asia Earthquake Relief Fund, and on November 13, the CEOs, Karen Hughes, Mark Ward and others traveled to Pakistan to witness first-hand the devastation caused by the October 8 earthquake.
"We all were struck by the relief efforts that were already in progress. The Pakistan army was putting together teams of 5 soldiers each to hike into territories where helicopters weren't able to go" Ward recalled. However, the delegation was surprised to learn that the NGOs were already there helping. The NGOs and the Army had a meaningful meeting, "But two comments blew me away: You never hear NGOs applauding the Army, and the Pakistan Army reasserting the need of the NGOs." Ward told us of that meeting.
William Garvelink noted that after the earthquake had occurred it triggered a whole bunch of activities: US helicopters arrived, $100,000. in cash was dispatched immediately to the US embassy in Pakistan to buy medicine etc., a plane was chartered to Dubai to fly emergency supplies to Pakistan, that included "water, high energy biscuits, concrete cutting saws, and all of these things that I mentioned occurred within the first 36 hours of the earthquake."
Garvelink said, "We helped NGOs, provided tents and shelter alternates, fixing public buildings, set in place a voucher system, we started a 'cash for work' program, to revitalize the economy and loss of jobs.
"USAID has obligated $65 million so far" in humanitarian assistance. According to Ward and Garvelink, overall US commitment to Pakistan for relief and reconstruction is $510 million. [$300 million in economic assistance from US Government, $110 million in US military in-kind support for relief work, and an estimated $100 million contributions from US private sectors].
Mark Ward speaking on the reconstruction efforts affirmed as such, "We start planning the reconstruction phase from day one." Ward, however, indicated that the "bulk of heavy reconstruction will have to wait after spring." He told us that it was a little too soon to say what components of reconstruction will look like, but "we expect to be engaged in rebuilding houses, schools, hospitals and clinics." Mark Ward stressed the "Build Back Better" concept, rebuilding earthquake-resistant buildings.
William Garvelink shared some of his concerns. He mentioned the affect of the harsh winter ahead on the people living at high altitudes. Garvelink revealed that of the 500 thousand tents, only 30 % were winterized, the rest needed to be winterized, a task undertaken by USAID and its Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART).
In answering some questions and on their closing remarks both Mark Ward and William Garvelink were upfront and clear on their mission. In response to a question on how the US Government and Pakistan Government were cooperating with each other, Ward responded, "I will say brilliantly," adding, "although we do not hand over the funds to Pakistan they are still our partners in deciding how to spend it."
To a question as to how the Pakistani-Americans can help, he observed: "What you all can do besides the obvious[money] is to provide the technical know-how pro-bono - I don't want to sound like the Grinch during Christmas, but cash is much better than in-kind donations. Of course, if someone has 100 winterized tents this is a useful in-kind contribution."
Mark Ward who was getting ready to embark on his fourth visit to Pakistan spoke of his recent meeting with President George Bush and conveyed the President's comment that “he knew how important Pakistan is to USA.”. Ward shared an important piece of news before it even hit the wire that Senior George Bush had agreed to be the secretary general (UN Envoy) of the USAID.
The conference call that lasted over an hour reaffirmed USAID position in the minds of the listeners; at the outset it may even appear as an infomercial, nevertheless, one cannot look a gift horse in the mouth.
The hosts parted with a promise to meet face to face next time around.
*Tahir Ali is the author of book:Muslim Vote Counts and Recounts published in 2004 by Wyndham Hal


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.