By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The United States will help Venezuela recover from the deadliest mudslides in its history by providing aid "on many fronts," including medical, search-and-rescue, and humanitarian assistance, says Charlotte Roe, alternate U.S. Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS).
In a solemn special meeting of the OAS Permanent Council December 23, Roe said the United States sees its role in the disaster, which according to Venezuelan officials killed as many as 20,000-30,000 people and left another 250,000 people homeless along its central Caribbean coast, as "part of a broad mosaic of international relief efforts." The special session was called to let OAS member states discuss their response to the disaster.
Roe said that U.S. efforts to help Venezuela include providing to date $3.2 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, sending two additional U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopters to join eight other such helicopters already in Venezuela participating in search-and-rescue missions, and "doing everything it can" to assist in providing critically needed pure water and medicine. In addition, USAID is transporting hygiene kits, wool blankets, medical supply kits, 5-gallon water containers and plastic sheeting for temporary shelters, she said. USAID will fund the Pan American Health Organization at a level of $200,000 in the recovery of the Venezuelan health sector.
USAID also performed a "preliminary needs assessment" December 21 and will make additional recommendations in the coming week of what is needed by Venezuela, Roe said.
Roe said the voluntary response to Venezuela's situation by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individual citizens in the United States has been "quite extraordinary. Living in this [Washington] area, and here I'm speaking not only of U.S. citizens but international citizens because in many respects Washington is an international city," there has been a heightened awareness of the tragedy that has struck Venezuela, with people stopping by U.S. relief agencies to donate supplies to the South American nation.
U.S. efforts, including both direct government support and U.S. NGO operations, will continue until Venezuela is "able to rebuild from the devastation" it has suffered, Roe said.
The United States, Roe said, "appreciates greatly the opportunity from this OAS council meeting to learn first-hand about the tragic situation" in Venezuela and "to hear the responses and reflections of our other OAS member countries."
Roe said she wished to echo the sympathy expressed by President Clinton and others in the U.S. government, as well as those sentiments expressed by the OAS states gathered for the special session, "over the tremendous loss of life and property experienced this past week by the Venezuelan people. Our hearts and prayers go out to them."
Roe told the Venezuelan representatives at the OAS meeting that the United States hopes more survivors "are brought to safety in the days ahead. While we know that nothing can ease the sense of loss that you must share with your fellow citizens, especially in this special season of Christmas, we hope that we can continue to help in whatever way [possible] to ease the pain and discomfort for those who have survived."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)