USAID Urges More Relief For Flood-Hit Pakistan

NPR's Michele Norris talks to Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, about American aid for the victims of the floods in Pakistan. Shah says aid has been delayed in part by the difficulty of getting around the flood-ravaged areas. He also says the magnitude of the flood damage has become clear only gradually, as the crest of the Indus River has moved downstream and more and more people have been affected.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

To talk about the U.S. government response to the crisis in Pakistan, we're joined by Rajiv Shah. He's the head of the Agency for International Development. He joins us here in our studio. Welcome to the program.

Dr. RAJIV SHAH (Administrator, Agency for International Development): Thank you.

NORRIS: There's great worry that the international community has not really stepped up and stepped out in force to provide aid. Why has relief been so slow in coming?

Dr. SHAH: Well, let me first describe what the United States is doing because the president and the secretary of state have asked us to mount an aggressive response and to do everything we can as quickly as possible to meet urgent human needs. We have non-government organizations, NGOs, that are partners. And we've activated those NGOs and those partners to reach hundreds of thousands of people. We've spent approximately $76 million so far.

We have met the food needs for about 740,000 people through the World Food Program. We're meeting shelter needs for about 120,000 people by providing plastic sheeting and tenting materials and we're working aggressively to protect people from the risk of water-borne illness, which in a flood is a tremendous risk.

But, you know, the scale of this disaster is tremendous and it will take weeks to mount an effective both civilian and military, shared response that is up to the task.

NORRIS: So the money has been spent? You're actually...

Dr. SHAH: Absolutely. The money is moving. This number changes every day.

NORRIS: Acquiring (unintelligible) and then moving them (unintelligible).

Dr. SHAH: We check on it every day and it changes every day. But the - you know, the issue and I think the thing we should all think about is the whole point of the flood is that it has made passage and transport incredibly difficult. And so reaching those people who are most vulnerable, most at risk is very, very challenging. That's why we're working in partnership with the military. They already have 11 helicopters out there evacuating people.

Just yesterday they evacuated 460 people. So the rate of our evacuations is going up. And getting these commodities to people to meet basic needs is also the priority and we're working with the military to do that.

NORRIS: But I just want to follow up on this notion that the international community has been slow in providing enough aid. The Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made a desperate appeal to the international community to provide more money, more resources to really place a greater focus on Pakistan. Deputy Prime Minister in Britain, Nick Clegg, said that the response from some of the members of the international community has been lamentable. What is he talking about? What has not happened and why has the international community been apparently so slow?

Dr. SHAH: Well, I think that's a great question and I would add to that, President Sarkozy I think also has highlighted that more needs to be done.

You know, I contrast this with the Haitian earthquake, which happened in a split second. And within minutes, you had the amount of devastation that was there and that was visible was just tremendous. In contract, flood, even one that reaches and disrupts the lives and livelihoods of 17 million people, accumulates more slowly over time. And I think it didn't have that immediate shock value.

But the United States has been there and has therefore been able to be responsive as a first responder. This will require a long-term coordinated international partnership and so that is why the secretary of state and I are both going to be at the U.N. meeting later this week to ask our partners to engage in a deeper and more fundamental way.

And it's why we've all tried to make comments to indicate that now is the time to do more.

NORRIS: Whats your long-term worry right now? I mean, how great is the risk that instability in that country could create a security problem, particularly because weve seen that insurgents and terrorist organizations have often used periods of instability to make inroads in a civilian population.

Dr. SHAH: Well, I think that heightens the need to be very aggressive in our response and it lends credibility to the idea that we should be doing everything we possibly can.

NORRIS: Rajiv Shah, thank you very much.

Dr. SHAH: Thank you.

NORRIS: Rajiv Shah is the head of the Agency for International Development.

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