Anderson and Parmer briefing on Horn of Africa & Mozambique

from US Department of State
Published on 07 Mar 2000
U.S. Department of State
Brady Anderson, Administrator, USAID and Hugh Parmer, Assistant Administrator, Bureau of Humanitarian Response
Briefing on the Situation in the Horn of Africa and U.S. Assistance to Mozambique, Washington, DC
Mr. Foley: Good morning. Welcome to the State Department. We are very pleased to welcome here the Administrator of USAID, Mr. Brady Anderson, and Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of Humanitarian Response, Hugh Parmer. Mr. Anderson will have an opening statement on the situation in the Horn of Africa and on U.S. assistance to Mozambique, and then Mr. Parmer will remain to answer your questions on both of those subjects.

So without further ado, Brady Anderson.

Administrator Anderson: Thank you. Good morning. First I want to update all of you on the USAID's efforts in Mozambique. On February 7, in the wake of Cyclone Connie and shortly after our Ambassador in Mozambique declared a disaster, a USAID assessment team arrived in Mozambique. At that time, it seemed to the assessment team that the local teams would be able to handle the search and rescue effort. It was not until February 25, when a second surge of water caused the rivers and the dams to overflow, that the disaster became worse than anyone had anticipated.

So then when it was clear to our assessment team that further help was needed, USAID sent a 34-member Disaster Assistance Response Team to Mozambique. USAID-funded helicopters began flying March 2, and our search and rescue work began March 4.

In Mozambique, USAID has allocated $12.7 million for search and rescue efforts, also for emergency food aid and other humanitarian assistance. Our Disaster Assistance Response Team includes 14 members from Miami Metro Dade's Search and Rescue Squad, who specialize in water rescue.

Let me pause a moment and thank the United States Coast Guard, which has sent a 4-person team to Mozambique. They are involved in directing the waterborne effort to move people and materiel and food aid around Mozambique now. I also want to thank Secretary Slater for his leadership. It was with his help that we were able very quickly to form an alliance between USAID and the Dade County Search and Rescue Team and the Coast Guard, and we hope that we can -- that alliance we can use in the future when we face disasters like this one. We're using them for the first time.

Well, now we're moving past the search and rescue phase of the operations. Our team is still on the ground distributing emergency supplies. At USAID, we have been working with the people of Mozambique for 15 years. Last year, Mozambique had one of the highest economic growth rates in the world. While this tragedy is surely a huge setback for the people of Mozambique and their government, the United States is committed to doing everything we can to help them regain their footing.

Now I'd like to speak for a few moments about the situation in the Horn of Africa. Today, in the six countries in and around the Horn, about 15 million people are at risk of famine. Over 8 million people in Ethiopia alone, nearly 3 million people in Kenya, plus hundreds of thousands of others in Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. The main reason for this massive food shortage is drought. Unreliable rainfall over the past few years has led to complete crop failure in these countries and many of their animals, especially their cattle, have died. You may still remember the Ethiopia famine of 1984 in which 800,000 people died of starvation.

I would like to talk to you about what the US Agency for International Development is doing to prevent such a tragedy from recurring. Famine can be predicted, and one of the tools we use is the Famine Early Warning System, or we call it FEWS, which is funded by USAID. FEWS monitors rainfall, climate, and soil conditions in Africa and then alerts governments around the world so that we can act early and keep people from going hungry.

As a result, we at USAID knew that the Horn of Africa was facing dangerous conditions even before the United Nations and other international relief agencies began calling for food aid. To date, the United States--working through USAID--has committed to providing approximately one-half of the total food aid requested, or about 650,000 metric tons out of a total of about 1.3 million metric tons that have been requested.

And, in fact, USAID and other international donors have been able to prevent famines before. In the early '90s, southern Africa was hit by one of the century's worst droughts. Mozambique, ironically, which was already suffering from the effects of civil war, was particularly hard hit by that drought. The United States was the largest donor of emergency relief in Mozambique during the drought, and our efforts helped ensure that over 1 million people were fed in 1993, and well over half a million people in Mozambique were fed in 1994. Famine was avoided then, and I know it can be now.

This morning, I've asked Hugh Parmer, who runs USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Response, to travel to the Horn of Africa to make sure that the United States is doing everything that we can to help the people who face this potential famine. And now I would like to turn over the floor to Hugh Parmer, who can talk about his trip and answer questions you have about Mozambique or about the upcoming--and we hope not--famine in the Horn.

Hugh Parmer.

Mr. Parmer: We can do this one of two ways: I can either run you through a brief chronology of the United States response in Mozambique, or I can entertain questions from you. Why don't I run you through a brief chronology? I have a very sophisticated chart of US operations there which I was thinking about handing out, but my colleagues in the State Department didn't think it was formal enough for this setting. So let's just go through a quick chronology because I know that the question that has come up a number of times in the last few days relates to the promptness of United States Government response to that huge crisis in Mozambique.

Some of this you'll already know, but if you'll bear with me we'll run through it quickly. Cyclone Connie struck Mozambique over the weekend of the 5th and the 6th of February. On the 7th, the United States Ambassador there declared an emergency, which is the cause precedent for the involvement of the Humanitarian Response Bureau of the USAID. On the 12th, a two-person--BHR--Bureau of Humanitarian Response Assessment Team arrived in Mozambique. That was the day after South African helicopter rescue operations began. They were there for several days and reported to us on a daily basis. Their reports consistently indicated that, although the flooding was of a serious nature and there were people at risk, the Mozambican and South African and regional resources available for search and rescue operations were adequate for the conditions that existed there at that period of time.

On the 18th of February, a United States Department of Defense Humanitarian Assessment Team arrived in Mozambique and confirmed, through their observations and reports, back to the Pentagon the same thing that our team was reporting, which was there are many people--it's a big flood. There are people in difficult and dangerous circumstances, but the rescue operations that are in effect are adequate to deal with it. And secondly, that the flood waters had peaked and were, in fact, beginning to recede.

On the weekend of the 19th and the 20th, Cyclone Leon-Ilene struck central Mozambique to the north of the area--if I could had a pointer--to the north of the area where the original cyclone had impacted. That cyclone, to our people on the ground, passed quickly and did not drop a tremendous amount of rain on Mozambique, moved over into Zimbabwe. So our reports continued to be, well, we dodged another bullet, if you like. However, we hadn't dodged the bullet because Leon-Ilene dropped a tremendous amount of water at its termination over Zimbabwe. That water, on already saturated ground, flowed down the river basins into Mozambique and, over the weekend, by the weekend of the 26th , created the kinds of conditions that we've all been seeing from Mozambique since then.

It was at that point that we knew that the local resources available were not adequate to deal with the rescue efforts that were needed and the United States Government proceeded to move ahead with rescue to try and supplement that rescue operation.

USAID's Humanitarian Response Bureau on the 29th of February leased four fixed-wing aircraft and two helicopters in the region from an organization called Air Search. And on the 1st, which is last Wednesday, those assets went into operation over Mozambique in conjunction with the South African, and I believe at that point there were a couple of Malawi helicopters that had arrived on the scene as well.

So United States-funded helicopters and United States-funded search and rescue aircraft have been operational in Mozambique since the middle of last week. I've made that point particularly, I'm sure you know, because I read a lot about the fact that US helicopters are not operational in Mozambique and, in fact, USAID helicopters acquired in the region have been operational there for a week now.

We also at that time called up and dispatched our 14-member search and rescue team from the Miami-Dade Fire Department. Many of you know them because they are one of the two urban search and rescue teams that we use in earthquake circumstances. They arrived in Mozambique on this past Friday and were conducting their first assessment missions last Saturday.

So I think we would argue--by the way, we've continued to add to those air assets, those civilian air assets provided by USAID, so that now there are in action in Mozambique four helicopters and nine fixed-wing aircraft provided by the United States Government through its USAID Humanitarian Response Bureau.

It was pretty clear to us, however, that the capacities of our civilian response would not be adequate to meet the scope of the disaster and we called upon, as we always do--Hurricane Mitch, wherever it might be when a massive disaster occurs -- our friends in the Pentagon to provide additional assistance. I think I'm not the proper person to go through and detail that to you. I think they do that over at the Pentagon on a daily basis.

That's essentially a chronology of the events and the decision points that we dealt with as we went along. Now, you know, Monday morning quarterbacking, were I to look back, had I had an ability to know and to see forward and to see that that second wave of water was going to come out of Zimbabwe, do I wish I had committed some United States resources, put those search and rescue boat teams in the week before? Yes, I do. People would have been helped who weren't. Do you, in this humanitarian response business, do you deal on the basis of the reports that you get from the field rather than on some kind of gut instinct? Yes, you do. The reports we got from the field from two independent United States Government sources were the same, and I think I saw in the paper yesterday, in The Washington Post yesterday, not to give anybody an individual commercial here, but a quote from the President of Mozambique who said that the international community was overwhelmed by the second unexpected wave of water which came out of Mozambique last weekend, the weekend of the 26th and 27th.

That's the chronology. I'll answer any questions about that. Before I do, let me just say briefly that Brady has asked me to go to the Horn of Africa and to look at our preparations for dealing with what could potentially be a famine on the 1984-1985 scale.

Three successive harvests have been damaged severely by drought and failure of the expected rains. There's a rainy season that should have occurred by now. It hasn't started yet. Things are getting worse. Eight million people, principally to the south, although some here in the highlands, but principally in these pastoral areas of Ethiopia, are exposed or threatened by famine. There are additional people in Kenya and this area of Somalia that are threatened by famine. A few pieces of relatively positive news are the harvests in Sudan, in the southern part of Sudan where the United States Government has been providing significant amounts of famine relief, seem to be better than normal. That's about the only place that that is the case. So I'm going to go to Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and possibly parts of Somalia to take a look at how bad the situation looks on the ground, but specifically to look at the infrastructure that's available for us to get the food to the people that need it.

As you know, the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia--any time there is a conflict of that type it makes the logistics of moving non-military commodities more complex. And so we're looking principally at the Port of Djibouti. That port has a theoretical capacity, if you just believe the numbers, that would suggest that it can handle the 100 to 120,000 metric tons of food that we estimate will be required to take care of this famine-threatened population. The problem is the road structure from there to the famine area is very questionable. Again, the number of trucks that are available commercially in the region are theoretically adequate. We're trying to--but it's right at capacity, both the truck system and the port capacity, and you don't want to count anything in this humanitarian response business working at 100 percent.

So we're trying to look at alternatives. There is a port called Berbera in Somalia--and if I could walk over there--I'm a bit nearsighted--I could show you that port. Do you see it? Show me which way to go and I'll show everybody.

Right in here. We've had someone in that port. We've had a consultant visit that port. That port seems to have the capacity to carry maybe as much as 20,000 metric tons, which would be a 20 percent safety factor over and above what we can get into Djibouti. Again, the road system is very, very difficult from there to the area where primarily where we're going to have to be delivering the famine-relief supplies.

Also, the availability of trucks there is involved in commercial issues between Somalian truckers and Ethiopian truckers. I'm going out there to try and see that those issues are resolved and that we have unquestionably the capacity to move the amount of supplies we need to prevent the kind of famine situation that occurred in 1984.

So there's Mozambique and my proposed trip up to the Horn. I'll be glad to try to answer any questions you might have.

Question: What type of food are you going to be delivering to that region?

Mr. Parmer: We're going to be delivering--I think the largest bulk of commodity will be wheat and wheat flour. And I say "we." I want to make clear that the vast majority of these commodities will come from our colleagues at the United States Department of Agriculture and, in particular, through their 416(b) emergency program that you probably saw utilized last year in a number of the crises around the world.

Question: What was the food delivery back in '84 when there was a tremendous response, as I recall, on the part of
AID as well?

Mr. Parmer: That's a long time before my time, and so I'm not sure I can answer that question. I think there were additional ports available; for example, the Port of Aseb in Eritrea was a major port that was available. Again, from what I'm told--that was long before my time--from what I'm told, we got food there, that was extremely difficult logistically, and we're trying to be sure within the present framework--I don't think there's anybody with me that was here in 1984.

Anybody from USAID here that was physically on board in '84? I'm sorry, we don't have the answer to that question. I
can get it for you.

Question: I would like you to comment some on the longer-term situation of the region. People at NOAA suggest that--the weather people suggest that this flooding may be part of a longer-term pattern that will continue maybe through April related to La Nina. And, secondly, governments in Zimbabwe, South Africa, also have talked about their losses due to flooding, particularly Zimbabwe. So are we looking at something special as opposed to routine assistance that's going to go on for a long time?

Mr. Parmer: We, of course, have regular USAID missions, development-oriented missions in all of those countries that you mentioned, but Humanitarian Response Bureau responds to exceptional circumstances like this. We have had disaster declarations in South Africa and Zimbabwe, in Botswana--and anybody got an another one? Okay, I think that covers the disaster declarations.

The worst hit of those, in terms of a combination of how badly were you damaged and what is your capacity to respond--South Africa, of course, has the most internal capacity to respond. The worst hit other than Mozambique is Zimbabwe, and we are currently working up an emergency food package for the region, but a significant amount of which will be in the Zimbabwe area.

I have not had an assessment team in Zimbabwe, but I did have an officer from one of my offices--I run Food for Peace, the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Office of Transitions Initiatives, or OTI. I had an OTI officer, who was physically in this area of Zimbabwe, so we did get a from-the-ground report from him. He said there was serious flooding but that the immediate rescue situation was not like what he was hearing about and what we were seeing in Mozambique. We'll be doing food assistance over there and we'll be doing assessments as to whether there are health-related needs. That's our biggest concern as we move into phase two in Mozambique. We're pretty well getting past--unless something bad happens again--I'm not going to, once again, try to predict what's going to happen in Mozambique.

Question: I mean, there seems to be an awful lot of agencies involved here, from NOAA to the Department of Defense, to USAID, to I don't know. Who coordinates all of this?

Mr. Parmer: Coordination occurs really in two ways. One is that my boss, who was here just a few minutes ago, is the President's International Disaster Coordinator by Executive Order. But at the working level, the response to this disaster has been coordinated by an interagency working group that meets on a daily basis in which there are now representatives of USAID, State, Defense, the Joint Chiefs on the military side of the defense effort, Treasury and the Coast Guard because of their deployment. I think that's all. And Central Intelligence occasionally participates.

Question: I don't mean to be overly critical or overly--appearing to be overly critical and being a Monday morning quarterback, but once it became clear that the second cyclone was dumping a lot of rain on Zimbabwe, wouldn't it have been logical to assume that seeing as how these rivers flow from the north to the southeast, like most rivers in the world flow north to south, that that water was going to have go somewhere and that it was going to end up in Mozambique?

Mr. Parmer: It happened in about 48 hours from the time the rains began to fall heavily in Zimbabwe to the time that the
water level began rising in Mozambique occurred within about a 48-hour period.

Sure. I mean one of our problems was we didn't have any assessment personnel on the ground in Zimbabwe because this is where we believe the disaster, we believed and were correct, that the disaster was occurring. And our reporting system, there just wasn't much coming in in the way of reports. Almost the first that we knew was as the water stopped receding and began rising down the Limpopo and the Save rivers here.

Should we have posted someone upstream in Zimbabwe to watch the rainfall? Maybe so.

Question: I'm not suggesting--I don't want to imply that anything was done wrong or incorrectly, but it just seems from the timeline that you gave us that the second cyclone hit on the 19th and 20th, and then you said it was not--it was 6 days later that the huge problems in Mozambique occurred.

Mr. Parmer: Well, it moved across on the 19th, 20th and 21st--moved across Mozambique. And I'm not a weather person, but I'm going to give it to you as best it was reported to us, and then it moved into this watershed area, and that would have been on the 21st and 22nd. We began to be a little bit concerned on the 23rd, even though our people were still reporting that the water was receding down here. We were getting some preliminary reports that suggested to us there was some water buildup. We had no idea that it was going to be as serious as it was, but we put our operations center up on the 23rd on a 7-day-a-week 24-hour-a-day basis just in case.

The huge flooding then occurred 48 hours later on the 25th, 26th. By the 26th and 27th, we knew it had--Texas term--we
knew it had sort of "hit the fan" over there. We were responding as rapidly as we were able.

Question: When does the food need to start arriving? And what effect does the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea have on--does it complicate in any way the delivery process?

Mr. Parmer: The food is beginning to arrive now. There are 130,000 metric tons of food in the hands of WFP--either at or around 130,000 metric tons. It's a little over a month's worth. Well, it's actually at this point in time more like a month-and-a-half worth of food that are either at Djibouti or en route to Djibouti, in the vicinity of Djibouti. So it is arriving now, as we speak, the first tranches of it.

I think the second question, any time that there is a military conflict in a region where there is concurrently a natural disaster, it complicates things.

Question: On the same area, I'm just wondering, there are some pretty horrible forest fires going on in Ethiopia as well. Is that making the drought worse or making the food supply worse?

Mr. Parmer: I don't think it's making the food supply worse, I think it's a fairly major ecological and environmental disaster. But, again, let me defer because I really don't know the answer to that question.

The question is: Are the forest fires in any way compounding or making the famine situation worse?

Staff Member: (Inaudible) drain of more personnel and taking some of the focus off what should be right now the drought.

Question: Another thing is, I mean, if you use this Somali port, what's the--you know, there's not much of a security situation in Somalia right now. How confident are you--

Mr. Parmer: I'll let you know when I get back in a couple of weeks.

Question: How confident are you that that food is going--you know, you're talking about, what, 20,000 tons of wheat going through there. How do you know it's not going to get ripped off?

Mr. Parmer: Well, the EU has made--our friends, the Europeans, have made a test usage of the port and they've been able to move some commodities successfully through there into the drought area just to test out the logistics. It's in the part of Somalia that is sometimes referred to as Somaliland, and our information is that that is a relatively stable area in which there has been a reestablishment of a recognized local governance. So all the reports we're getting at this point indicate that that is a viable option except for the physical condition of the roads.

Question: Can you put sort of a finer point on the famine that you're predicting for this area? Is it ongoing now, or are the deliveries that you're sending there sort of preemptive? And, I mean, what is the timing and when does it become a full-scale famine and when is it sort of a minor problem?

Mr. Parmer: Sure. This whole area when you're dealing--and this area up in the--this is more of an agricultural area in the highlands, and these people tend to be herders and pastoralists. This whole area here is always--there is always a chronic malnutrition that exists among those people and in that region. And, you know, when is there a famine is sort of a definitional question of what the triggering rate of deaths per 10,000 population is. But specifically we don't--there is not a famine now.

And we anticipate, however, that a famine would occur probably in the middle to latter part of the summer if it were not for the ongoing intervention of the US and the international community in providing food. So what we're looking at is July, August. If this effort were not successful, you'd be looking at pictures of people that were starving to death.

Question: If I may follow up.

Mr. Parmer: Sure.

Question: What is it--what sort of problems are you running into now, and what's sort of--as you plan ahead--I mean, you have this sense in the latter part of the summer you'll have a famine. What sort of obstacles are in your way that you need to counter challenges?

Mr. Parmer: Well, the obstacles are pretty well the ones that I outlined. The port capacity. Although the Port of Djibouti has theoretically sufficient capacity to carry a maximum monthly load of humanitarian commodities, other things also arrive at that port. We're going to have to have some resolution of the issue of, do you stop all the fertilizer from coming in so you can bring in emergency food? You can see, obviously, how that could be counterproductive in the long run. So port capacity, availability of transport--right now on paper it looks good just like the port does. There are enough trucks. And thirdly, the actual infrastructure of the roads themselves. Right now you can move commodities from Djibouti into the area we're talking about. It's slow, it's difficult, but the roads are there, and the same from Berbera.

Question: Berbera?

Mr. Parmer: Berbera, that's right. The problem here, though, is that the road system is very, very poor and there's a fear that the usage at that level by humanitarian convoys will render the road unusable before the crisis is over.

Question: Just to recap, so you're trip actually is going to be two-fold, one, to go to Mozambique to assess the

Mr. Parmer: I'm not going to Mozambique because Roy Williams, the head of our Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, is in Mozambique now.

Question: You're just going to the Horn?

Mr. Parmer: That's right.

Question: Are you taking any other team members with you, or do you anticipate--

Mr. Parmer: I'm taking the head of the Response Division of OFDA, of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, Elizabeth Kvitashvili. I will be joined there by people from our regional office in Nairobi. We have a regional BHR office in Nairobi. So one of the people joining me there will be our food officer from the region, and I will be accompanied as well by the people from our USAID missions in both Ethiopia and Eritrea, as well as those folks from the regional office. So it will be--the last count I think there were about seven of us that were going to be on the trip.

Question: How many countries you're going to--you said Djibouti you're traveling to--

Mr. Parmer: You're going to go Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and possibly Sudan. It depends on the security situation when we get there. I'm sorry, I said Sudan. I meant Somalia. I misspoke myself.

Question: And Kenya.

Mr. Parmer: And Kenya.

Question: So Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and one more?

Mr. Parmer: Somalia, as I said, depending upon the situation on the day we get there.

Question: When is it?

Mr. Parmer: We're leaving on Friday, and the trip will take a total--we'd be in the Horn for a total of approximately two weeks.

Question: The situation in Mozambique