Natsios: U.S. prepared to deliver humanitarian relief to Iraq in event of war

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew Natsios and his senior aides briefed the media in Washington February 25 on how the U.S. government is planning to provide humanitarian assistance to Iraqis in the event of war with Iraq.
Following is the transcript of their briefing:

(begin transcript)

Office of the Spokesman
February 25, 2003


U.S. Humanitarian Planning and Relief Efforts by U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew S. Natios; Bernd McConnell, Director, Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance; Michael Marx; Disaster Assistance Response Team Leader; Lauren Landis, Director, Office of Food for Peace; and Dr. Skip Burkle, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Global Health

February 25, 2003
Washington, D.C.

(2:30 p.m. EST)

MR. REEKER: Why don't we start and welcome everybody here. We wanted to put together this briefing today with our USAID team to follow up yesterday's White House briefing that was interagency, but this gives you a chance to follow up on some of those issues and get some more detail on, I think, some very important things in terms of the planning, contingency planning for humanitarian assistance and relief efforts in Iraq.

So, as advertised, we have the Administrator of USAID, our friend, Andrew Natsios. He is joined by Bernd McConnell of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, the Director of that Office; Michael Marx, Disaster Assistance Response Team Leader; Lauren Landis, the Director of the Office of Food for Peace; and Dr. Skip Burkle, who is the Deputy Assistant Administrator of AID's Bureau for Global Health. And they are on the record. We can remind you of each of their names.

And we will just turn it over. I think we will let Andrew start with some opening remarks and then we can go to questions across the spectrum on this whole topic. So thanks for being here and thanks to all of you.

MR. NATSIOS: Thank you very much. I am Andrew Natsios, the Administrator of AID. What we are going to do today is have the technical people who'll actually be running operations in the field talk to you about how things will be run in a very tangible operational sense, but let me just put this in larger context.

The DART team is the projection of American humanitarian power into the field in a major emergency. We don't do this in every case. There are about 60 emergencies a year. We do not send DART teams to each one of them, only to the big ones where there is a major event that is extremely complicated and very complex which needs our people on the ground in an organized structure in order to extend American influence over the relief operations.

It has basically four or five functions. The first is to assemble and train the staff who will be on the team, and Bear McConnell from OFDA will talk about that.

The team has already, and the office, have prepositioned supplies and the supplies will be controlled by the team in the field. They don't have to come to Washington to use those commodities. They will do it themselves.

Third, they coordinate with other international humanitarian organizations, NGOs, international organizations, UN agencies, the ICRC, and also communicate with them in a regular sense. And there is established doctrine on how these things, this communication goes on and how this coordination goes on, an established doctrine that's in a book that you'll see in a couple of minutes.

They also have the authority to spend money in the field, which is very important, without coming back to Washington. That means the DART team can move very rapidly to get its work done.

These offices are in what we call the humanitarian bureau. It's called DCHA, Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, and they are the bureau that is headed by Roger Winter. He would be here himself, who is the Assistant Administrator, runs the bureau, but Roger is in Sudan or Ethiopia or the Horn of Africa. Just returned. Well, he's just returning.

So I would like to turn it over to the people who are sitting here who can tell you in more detail what we plan on doing and how it will be done.

MR. McCONNELL: I am Bear McConnell from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. It's always a pleasure to follow my boss there. I never know what he's going to say before he says it, but it sort of guides me in what I'm supposed to say afterwards.

This DART, this Disaster Assistance Response Team business, just as a sort of a context for how unusual what we are up to is, a normal DART is five people, eight people, ten people, and would travel for four weeks, six weeks, something like that. This DART is, at the moment, 62 people. Every time I talk to Michael, it grows. It is going to be a functional or a core DART in the event that we deploy the DART. And we always need to remind ourselves that there have been no decisions on whether there is going to be a war, but there has certainly been a decision within AID that if there is going to be one, we're going to be ready.

So these 62 people will be grouped, essentially, with a core in Kuwait City and three field offices; one DART for this thing if we do it, and three mobile field offices that will report to the DART leader, which, again, is Michael Marx here. We'll come back to that.

This is also a bit unusual in terms of the amount of different agencies and offices within AID that are represented. Lauren Landis is the Director of Food for Peace for, you know, the whole world. She has five people on this DART. The State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration has five people on this DART. Dr. Skip Burkle is representing our Global Health Bureau. He will have a health component that includes CDC on this DART. We have a serving military officer on this DART.

What I am trying to say is this is unique in our history. An organization of this size trained as extensively as this DART has been is unique. In terms of gross numbers, there has never been one this size other than when we deploy Fairfax County in an urban search-and-rescue or Miami-Dade or something like that.

The priorities are pretty simple. Remember, we're talking about the relief effort, the emergency response effort. That's what a DART is. It responds to the emergency. It has nothing to do with the long term. Obviously, there are functions in what we are going to be up to that will carry over, and maybe Skip can talk about that in a little while here.

But we are interested in water and sanitation, we are interested in basic health care, we are interested in shelter and we are interested in the distribution of food. Those are our priorities as a DART. But, again, it's very basic. We're the band-aid guys. When we talk about shelter, we're talking about plastic sheeting; we're not talking about rebuilding buildings, that sort of thing.

Training. We, I hate to say take advantage of this situation, but I guess that's what we did. We took advantage of what may happen in order to very well prepare ourselves, and extensive training, training in a CBRN environment, training in a defensive driving environment, training in a personal security environment, extensive training in the assessment mission. So we think we're pretty ready in the event we are called upon to respond to a humanitarian emergency of enormous scope.

I want to get to what questions are on your mind, but I do want to emphasize interagency, interdisciplinary. We will have some capability to do things directly, but our secret weapons are access to commodity, access to funds, and working with our implementing partners, NGOs or UN agencies.

Another difference, if you will, here is the close cooperation we intend with the coalition forces. If you recall in Afghanistan, or well, I recall in Afghanistan, we were quite limited in where we could go and how we could get there, just access, security, the secure environment. This time, we're going to work on that particular problem a bit differently. In the event there is a military action, we are going to be considered -- here's a neat term for you -- embedded in the military force, embedded in the sense of we will rely on the military for protection and for access. They will rely on us, conversely, for the actual humanitarian work that we can do, which I think they will admit they cannot.

Those are sort of the points I wanted to make here. Being in the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance is neat in a bunch of ways and it's easy to remember the mission: save lives, reduce suffering, mitigate the effects of a disaster. It's something we believe in pretty thoroughly and can remember.

What I think I should do is just ask what questions you might have. Again, Michael Marx is going to lead this motley crew but he will be leading a lot of people from a lot of different agencies. Lauren's folks will play a huge role. Skip's will as well.


QUESTION: You say that if, in the event you're needed, you're going to go in and prepare it with a band-aid, the first response. But how much of a band-aid? I mean, what are you preparing for -- 10,000 refugees, 100,000, a million? I mean, you must be -- you have some numbers, you're taking so many band-aids. How many?

MR. McCONNELL: Numbers are horrifying, you know, because everybody's got one. I would tell you that in the warehouses that we have around the world, we are putting in commodities for up to a million newly in need. And when I talk about commodities, I'm talking about blankets, plastic sheets, water purification, water bottles, that sort of things, and the WHO medical kits. And we're prepared to deal with a million.

MR. NATSIOS: Let me just add, though, when these statistics come up, people say, well, that's not enough. And that's what's happened with some of the NGOs. We are not the only responders. The International Committee of the Red Cross always responds in all conflicts. That is their mandate under the Geneva Convention. They have huge warehouses. They have a $900 million budget. The UN specialized agencies have their own warehouses with their own commodities, and so do the NGOs. So this is part of a larger response with other resources that are already positioned in many cases in place in the region with structures and people. This is not the whole response.

MR. McCONNELL: And that's something that we're very much committed to.

QUESTION: And where are these supplies positioned, roughly speaking? Italy?

MR. McCONNELL: Well, they're around the world, but the ones that are close, we have rented warehouses in Kuwait, in Amman.

Michael, where are you? Do you want to answer that?

MR. MARX: Right. We've got existing warehouses that OFDA already had prior to the contingency planning in Maryland, Miami, Guam, Honduras, in order to move commodities quickly into disasters into the region. We've also opened up some warehousing options in Amman/Oman and in Dubai and in Kuwait in order to move as quickly as possible within the region.

QUESTION: This is Michael Jinksly from Nightline. So do you folks see moving the gear from Miami, Guam, and Honduras to locations in the Middle East prior to it going to people in Iraq? I'm just trying to understand the system. Do you sort of see it moving to the region, and then moving into Iraq?

MR. MARX: What we're trying to do is preposition as much of the commodity stock as we can, and as the stocks start running down in the forward warehouses, we'll move our stockage from Maryland, Miami, Honduras, and Guam forward.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: You said you weren't doing long-term relief, you were just doing emergency response. How long are you planning on being there, and what's your budget?

MR. McCONNELL: Budget. That's a hard one. Nobody budgeted for an event in Iraq. We don't have a budget for it. What we are doing is spending money in order to be ready. We're using, we're advancing ourselves some of our own money, and we're trying -- the money we actually spend, we're trying to ensure that as much of it as possible is not consumables. Things that, if you don't use a water bottle in the Middle East, you can use a water bottle somewhere else.

So we have spent somewhere around $26 million in getting ready for this. I really don't -- I'm not smart enough to project what the relief effort is going to cost, because one of the first things we'll need to do is get in and assess what the needs are. We do have funds available. We are also well aware that there's a rest of the world out there. So we're certainly interested in whether supplemental funds are made available later on, and we're certainly anxious that that do occur in order to reimburse us for monies that we're expending.

MR. NATSIOS: I would just add that the funding decisions have not been made by the President yet, beyond the contingency planning funds that we already had available to us. But he will be briefed later this week and he will make the decisions that will supplement what we're already spending.

There's another $52 million in addition to the 26 -- I'm sorry, $56 million. Bear has already spent $26.5 million on purchase of commodity, forward funding, equipment, that sort of thing. There's another $56 million which is now being purchased that's in process from existing funding sources within AID. And then beyond that, the President will make the decisions later this week, and you will see when he makes the decisions because they will be announced publicly.

QUESTION: And the length of time that you're projecting that you're going to have to be there in this first stage?

MR. NATSIOS: Generally, emergency responses are months, not years.

MR. McCONNELL: Certainly. And remember, a DART is sort of the in and out and the long term, the long-term response will be handled not by the DART. And all of the people on the DART have day jobs. They have other jobs. These are volunteers. It's not like we're going to say, in my former employment, you can tell people to go somewhere and tell them when they could come back. That's not the case in this. Definitely months. And definitely not --

MR. NATSIOS: There is a reconstruction plan that's separate from this that we haven't talked about.

QUESTION: Just to clarify on the amount of money that's being spent, the $56 million that he spoke of, is that currently being spent to supply the warehouses?

MR. NATSIOS: Not just the warehouses, other things.


QUESTION: And this is another money-related question, but how does this play with Congress? I mean, do you have pots of money for things like this --

MR. NATSIOS: That's correct.

QUESTION: --that you don't have to go back to them to say, this is what we're doing with it?

MR. NATSIOS: The only office in AID that does not have to send detailed Congressional approvals before they can spend it is the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance because of the nature of the work it does. It has to do things immediately.

MR. McCONNELL: At least half of our annual budged in OFDA is what is laughingly referred to as the Director's fund. People seem to think I have some say over how that is spent, but in fact that is used for unforeseen emergencies.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Are there actually people on the ground in the area already? Besides building up your supplies, is there anyone -- do you send anyone into Iraq, for example, or is that just out of the question at this point?

MR. MCCONNELL: That is absolutely out of the question at this point. We are -- by the middle of next week, we'll have sort of advanced parties in Kuwait, Amman, Ankara, and then Doha. But those are people that are working on the coordination, because coordination is so important in here. UNOCHA, which I think everybody knows is the coordinator for all that we're -- we're basically talking about what we're up to. But we're anxious for the day that UNOCHA is fully engaged in coordinating the humanitarian efforts of everybody, and we're anxious enough to help fund them to do that.

QUESTION: Is there any coordination now? You spoke of different NGOs and other groups that are preparing the same way you are. Is there any coordination between these groups besides what the UN offers?

MR. McCONNELL: A happy day, not too long ago, a number of the major U.S. NGOs came to us with a proposal to do just that, a proposal to develop what was originally called a consortium, but I think that had interesting overtones. And they have, in fact, formed a consortium. It's housed in Amman. These are the major U.S. NGOs, but they emphasize the fact that they are available to any and all other NGOs in order to do exactly what you're talking about: exchange information amongst themselves. NGOs are not good at that. But these guys are working on it, and we think it's important enough to fund it.

QUESTION: I see, so you are, so the U.S. is funding that?



MR. NATSIOS: And we meet with them every week for the last, what, three months?

MR. McCONNELL: Four months.

QUESTION: What's it called?


MR. MARX: In Jordan, it's JNEPI. The meetings here in Washington are with InterAction.

MR. McCONNELL: Two separate things. Two separate things.

MR. NATSIOS: InterAction is a trade association of all the NGOs in the United States, 150 --


MR. McCONNELL: But two different things here. We're talking about -- you asked about coordination in the field, and that's going on in this group I described in Jordan. Interaction is always here, and it's 160 or -70 NGOs. We meet with the Iraq working group of that organization every Wednesday.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Who makes the decision about when your first phase is over, and on what basis do you make it? What are the benchmarks you look for? When -- how do you decide that your emergency band-aid aid has been accomplished and you can turn it over to whoever's going to do it more long-term?

MR. McCONNELL: Those other folks are going to be out there, too. I mean, there will be -- there's a representative of the development agency on the DART as well, to make sure that we're tied very much together. I don't think we're ever going to get to a day and we're going to say, okay, relief is now over, it's time for reconstruction. I think there's going to be a lot of overlap, a lot of consultation, a lot of coordination. Again, though, OFDA operates or DARTs operate under the concept of first response, set the stage for the longer term. We're not constructed to build buildings. We'd like to repair a water line rather than replace it.

QUESTION: But how do you decide, and is it you who does make the decision that you're pulling this largest group that you've ever had into a place out, or you're trickling it out?

MR. McCONNELL: My liege lord would, of course, be a leader of that process, but we will do it in consultation.

MR. NATSIOS: In terms of the ground, and moving it out from one area to another, that is done on the ground and we don't -- I'm not -- we don't direct that. Launching is based on their assessment of conditions in the field. We don't direct their physical movement each day. That's something we decentralize to the field, which is the only way it really works well.

But the decision that we will now begin the health care system reconstruction will be made after consultation with the State Department. I report to Secretary Powell. But I have to tell you in this particular instance, the reconstruction is going to begin almost simultaneously with the DART team, and the only difference is, if you look at precisely what each unit does in the health care area, or in the water and sanitation area, you can see very clearly the nature of one being more temporary and focused on people who are internally displaced or who are refugee populations, versus people who are in their villages who are -- the school might have sustained some damage, or a road or something that needs to be repaired in the longer term.

MR. McCONNELL: I think you're talking about the bridge. How do you get from the immediate to the next, and maybe Dr. Burkle can help us with that.

DR. BURKLE: Yes, glad to. The examples were brought up about health and water and sanitation and we already know in Iraq that the health issues are inextricably tied to the water and sanitation issues.

It varies from the north to central, Baghdad and south, and they vary tremendously. But we know through the DART that we will be providing emergency relief in terms of some medicines or clean water or whatever. At the same time -- and actually, my position is to bridge both relief and reconstruction -- but at the same time, while we're providing the clean water or the medicines, be sure that the health facilities are functioning

We're already working to rehabilitate and then maybe the best term is then is to restore or reconstruct at the same time, and they'll vary depending on what we find in terms of the assessments.

Frankly speaking, we have a fair amount of knowledge right now about the health and the water and sanitation. Barring any further damage, we'll probably stick with those assessments. And as Bear was saying, the term we would like to use is, the DART is really a bridge. We're not an international organization. We're not an NGO. But we will bridge, make the bridging in health and water sanitation and other sectors, to be sure that we mitigate any of the consequences or possible adverse consequences until the UN agencies, the NGOs, the IOs can come back.

As you know, WHO, UNICEF, ICRC have all done wonderful work this past decade. Even though they might be gone for a period of time, ICRC will keep a hardcore group in during any potential event. But when it is secure enough for them to come back, and as soon as they can, they will come back, and it is our aim to facilitate and fund whatever it takes for them to do their job and to continue to do it, and to restore both the health and the water sanitation infrastructure.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you could elaborate on the relationship with the military that DART would have, and also if everyone that you've spoken to in terms of UN agencies and NGOs are comfortable with DART as their central point of contact in this case.

MR. McCONNELL: Second one first. There are those in the world that look at the DART as being tainted by the military anyway. And that's probably because we have no compunction about working with the military.

We understand the sensitivities of the NGOs and we respect that sensitivity. But in actual fact, a secure environment is necessary for the NGOs and for the DART to do what it needs to do.

To repeat myself, in Afghanistan we were quite frustrated by our inability to get out and do the assessments that is key to what we're up to and, oh, by the way, to be able to account for the money we spent.

This time, we're going to make no bones about it. We're relying on the military for that security that is necessary for us to do our jobs. What we tell the NGOs is, if you uncomfortable with dealing directly with the military, well, that's a role that we can fulfill. Because we are that kindly civilian face that could be between the military and -- why are you smiling?

MR. NATSIOS: Let me just, let me just add something so it's very clear. The DART team reports to USAID. It does not report to the military. The generals cannot tell the DART what to do or not to do. They provide the security umbrella, we talk to them, particularly as Civil Affairs Units, about how we do our work and where we do it.

So we cooperate in a way, but they do not have any managerial authority over the DART team. That is done by us in AID. Our funding is separate. Our staff is separate. And our line of authority is separate. That's very clear to everybody in the interagency process. It is not just AID's opinion. This has been cleared through the whole process and generally agreed to.

That is one reason why many NGOs that may have some doctrinal or philosophic problem in dealing with the military can deal with us. And they are all used to doing that because these DART teams have been deployed for 14 years, 12 years now, all over the world. If you say a "DART team" to any NGO worker, they'll say, I know what the DART team is, we deal with them all the time, we work with them in an intimate way in doing planning jointly.

QUESTION: Can you clarify for me, at least, I'm confused about how soon you're going in? I mean, are you going in with the military's first wave when there's just smoke? Four days later? I mean, when some military person says, okay, if they have to come it's okay to come now? I mean, how do you know when to go?

MR. McCONNELL: The teensy exception to what my boss just said about taking the direction of the military is we're going to pay attention to what those boys have to say in a security sense. We are not going to be on the lead camel. We're not going to be in the maneuver elements. We're not going to be putting DART members in harm's way here.

We are relying on the military to provide us a secure environment and to help us figure out when that environment is secure. And when I say "embedded with," that taken literally means we're going to have them in sight when we're out and about much of the time.

So we're not going to go in with the first bullet and we're, frankly, going to be perched around the area, and in close consultation with the military, figure out when it is time for us to do our work, as would be the case with the UN, as would be the case with the NGOs. This is why this -- the term of "HOC" which maybe some of you have heard, the Humanitarian Operations Center which has now been established in Kuwait, is so important. And CMOCs is a term that probably you're also familiar with.

What these things are places for the exchange of civil military information. They are not where NGOs or UN agencies go to get their orders. They are where they go to get critical information to allow them to do their work. We're no different than an NGO or a UN agency in that sense. We want to exchange information that will help us ascertain where we can operate safely.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: I'm wondering if you are going coordinate all work with other teams like DART from other countries? If yes, who are they?

MR. McCONNELL: At the moment, we're not aware of another country having such an organization.

QUESTION: The British will be sending units in.

MR. McCONNELL: We have, in fact, invited both the British -- the closest other countries that have organizations similar to our own would be, probably, Britain and Australia. And we have invited them to join us in the DART. In our DART. Our interagency DART.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I have a medical related question. What happens if and when Iraq were to use a chemical or biological agent and how does that impact your work? And what are you ready for? What are you not ready for?

DR. BURKLE: Right. Well, the DART team is obviously not there to engage in treatment, but everyone on the DART has been educated and trained to successfully evacuate themselves from the scene. So, do we have masks? Yes. Do we have suits? Yes. D