Washington -- The United States has been "actively engaged in rescue and relief operations" in Mozambique, says State Department Deputy Spokesman James Foley, who also stressed March 6 that the United States has responded adequately and in a timely fashion to the crisis.
He also told reporters at the department's news briefing that "the focus of relief activity is going to be shifting now in coming days to providing food and medicine to people who are displaced by the floods."
Meanwhile, Foley announced that a special briefing would be held March 7 "on the situation in the Horn of Africa; what USAID is doing to assess the potential famine and drought in the region, how the United States will respond, if that occurs. It will be led by USAID Administrator Brady Anderson and Assistant Administrator Hugh Parmer."
Asked if he believed the United States had responded to the humanitarian crisis in Mozambique in a timely fashion, Foley said, "Yes, I do."
A USAID assessment team arrived in Mozambique "shortly after our ambassador there declared a disaster on February 7," Foley recalled. "Initial assessments showed that regional search and rescue teams could handle the search and rescue needs.
"It was not until February 25 that a second surge of water caused rivers to overflow and caused a much greater disaster than had been initially anticipated," he said. "At that point, USAID activated its 24-hour operations center and began mobilizing the disaster assistance response team. USAID contracted locally and quickly to hire three local helicopters and six fixed-wing airplanes, which began flying on March 2 and were engaged in the efforts that you saw in the last days to rescue people from the rising waters."
Foley said that some 12,000 people were rescued from roofs and trees and utility poles by a number of nations last week, but that about 600 people remain marooned. He especially commended the helicopter rescue efforts of South African defense forces.
"The focus of relief activity is going to be shifting now in coming days to providing food and medicine to people who are displaced by the floods," he said.
The United States, Foley said, has now contracted 11 civilian helicopters and small aircraft to support rescue and delivery efforts. It also has deployed a 14-member boat rescue operation from metropolitan Dade County, Florida, which "began rescue and delivery operations today." A five-member Coast Guard team of water rescue specialists "will arrive shortly to help coordinate overall boat rescue and delivery efforts," he said.
Foley pointed out that President Clinton on March 1 authorized the Department of Defense to deploy a joint task force and search and rescue assets to support "the flood response in southern Africa." Clinton next authorized a drawdown of $37.6 million in defense articles and services "to support military humanitarian assistance efforts in the region," he said. To date, he added, USAID assistance has totaled about $12.6 million, including $1 million worth of food aid for victims of flooding in Mozambique announced on March 5. This $1 million was in addition to $7 million in food aid that was announced earlier in the week.
Regarding Department of Defense (DOD) assistance, Foley said that it includes an estimated six heavy-lift helicopters and small boats for search and rescue missions, six C-130 aircraft to deliver relief supplies, and command and control elements.
DOD, he said, will operate out of Hoedspruit, South Africa, and at various sites in Mozambique. Several helicopters were to arrive March 7 "and begin operations as soon as possible," he said.
"Also, one military aircraft arrived in Mozambique on March 1, delivering plastic sheeting to shelter 10,000 families, 6,000 five-gallon water containers, 6,000 blankets, 30,000 pounds of high-energy biscuits," he said. "A second aircraft delivered 140 large tents and about 4,600 blankets to South Africa on March 3."
Pressed again about the U.S. response, Foley stressed that the United States "deployed civilian and military personnel to Mozambique and South Africa when the flooding began, and we provided funding, through the World Food Program, for regional air operations to support assessments and delivery of relief supplies. So some of what you saw on TV in the last week was funded by the United States.
"But again," he explained, "during the week of February 22, the flood's needs appeared to be subsiding, and several donors began redeploying assets elsewhere, though our experts did remain in the region. You had a cyclone that suddenly passed through the region the weekend of February 27, and as neighboring countries released their dams, water poured into Mozambique, causing major flooding and leaving tens of thousands of people in need of rescue.
"As the extent of the new needs emerged, we quickly deployed additional funding to those in the region who were best placed locally to respond quickly, and then at that time were developing our robust package of military assistance that the president approved on March the first.
"But it is a fact that we're very far from the region, and to get our assets from our bases in Europe to southern Africa is a major undertaking, and we've deployed them as quickly as possible," he said.
"But in the meantime, we were providing a lot of funding so that people who were more easily on the scene were able to engage in relief activities very quickly."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: usinfo.state.gov)