On Monday, May 12, USAID Administrator Henrietta H. Fore accompanied the first airlift of USAID supplies to Burma. On May 9, Administrator Fore spoke with Department Spokesman Sean McCormack for the Department's policy podcast. The following is an excerpt of their conversation:
MR. MCCORMACK: I want to talk about something that is on everybody’s radar screen right now and that is the humanitarian disaster in Burma. And you are at the forefront of the United States’ response to that disaster.
I’d like to, first of all, get your assessment of what’s the situation here. Can you give us a reference point for this, say, versus several years ago, the tsunami or other humanitarian disasters that AID has dealt with?
MS. FORE: Well, it is certainly on everyone’s mind right now, Sean. It’s a tragedy of enormous proportions. It’s on an individual level, on a national level, and on an international level. I think we are all very concerned because time is starting to run out. It is now five days since the cyclone hit and there are people who have been without water, without food, medical kits are not available, so that there are people in great need throughout Burma.
So, our hope is to be able to get our DART teams, which are teams that are professionals who work in the world of international relief -- they’re currently prepositioned in Bangkok ready to go in – and to get more of our aid supplies. We’ve got blankets and plastic sheeting. We’ve got Jerricans for water, health kits, all of which is just very important right now for the people of Burma.
MR. MCCORMACK: And what has been the reaction thus far of the Burmese Government to these offers, not only of assistance from us, but from the rest of the world?
MS. FORE: Well, I think all of us are hoping that the Burmese regime will issue visas and let our international relief workers in to try to help the Burmese people. A few shipments have gone in, so food is beginning to trickle in, food and water and medical supplies. But we need a river of international relief going in. There isn’t enough capacity for distributing the food, so boats and helicopters will be very important and we just need more of that. So, we’re hoping that some of our specialists who know food, sanitation, water can go in and try to help the people.
So, we’re poised, we are ready to be part of a very large international coordinated effort and the American people really want to respond. The President said it very well yesterday and Secretary Rice, and they were saying that the American people want to help now and they want to help the Burmese people. So, that’s what we’re looking forward to.
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me touch a little bit on the diplomacy. What are we doing to try to convince the Burmese Government to allow in this international assistance?
MS. FORE: Well, we’re working on all fronts, diplomatically with a number of countries, but also with the UN and multilateral organizations. It’s a very difficult problem, but it is one that, when you compare it against the tsunami that you mentioned earlier, many countries had not wanted a large international relief effort to come in. It disrupts, it changes life, but they have found that it was enormously useful. This is difficult for any country to deal with alone, but with an international relief effort, you have much more chance to reduce the death toll, to reduce the amount of sickness and disease that will no doubt come.
We’re also very concerned because the rains are due to start again. This Irrawaddy River delta is inundated with water and it looks like we may have lost much of the rice crop. And this is very important for feeding the people in Burma. Rice prices will rise, the water prices are rising, fuel is low, so at this moment in time, every diplomatic effort needs to be made from all countries to try to get relief supplies into Burma.