Asia Society: Pakistani Flood Response Event
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan
Moderator: Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
Welcome to Asia Society. I’m Michael Roberts, Executive Director of Public Programs here in New York.
As you all know, we gather today at a time of unmitigated calamity for Pakistan. We’re honored to have with us today its Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Please join me in welcoming His Excellency and three representatives of the United States government -- the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke; the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Dr. Rajiv Shah; and the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Judith McHale.
Without further ado, I’d like to call first on a good friend and family member of the Asia Society, she is currently the Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and she was formerly head of the United Nations Population Fund. She also before that had a long and distinguished career as a physician and public administrator in Pakistan. Please welcome Asia Society’s Trustee Emerita, Dr. Nafis Sadik.
Dr. Sadik: Thank you very much. As you have heard, I am Nafis Sadik. Good morning, everyone. I am glad to see there are a lot of people who have turned up in the morning.
I have the honor of welcoming you to this event as the trustee of the Asia Society, who has served under Richard Holbrooke who is the most able Chairman of the Asia Society.
You know why we are here today. The needs of Pakistan are absolutely unbelievably large. The tragedy is a horrendous happening. And of course Pakistan has been a very important part of the Asia Society.
We’ve come here this morning to hear from the Foreign Minister and of course the Administrator, USAID and Mr. Holbrooke of the efforts that are being made to get assistance to the most important areas in Pakistan, and to respond to the humanitarian crisis.
We are also here, I hope, to get a response from you, the Diaspora. As I am also the Chair of the Board of the American-Pakistan Foundation (APF), I hope that you will respond generously in this holy month of Ramadan where in fact giving is part of the religious process, and we all give very generously, and the need here is the greatest.
I want to invite now Ambassador Holbrooke; Mr. Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the Foreign Minister; and Mr. Rajiv Shah, the USAID Administrator to take their seats here. Then Richard will conduct the rest of the proceedings.
So thank you very much. I hope that you will respond, again, which is the key message. Thank you.
Ambassador Holbrooke: Thank you, Nafis, and welcome to Asia Society. It’s a great personal honor for me to be back here, having served as Chairman of this great institution for six years. I’m sorry that President [Viskakha Desai ] is out of the city today, otherwise she would be here as well.
This is a very important occasion, and I’m not going to tell you what you already know or you wouldn’t be here, which is that Pakistan is facing an extraordinary crisis.
We have a very distinguished and honored speaker who I will introduce in a minute; and Raj Shah and I, Raj being the Administrator of AID, will make additional comments.
We’re being broadcast live in Pakistan. A lot of media here. A very tight schedule today. We’re going to call on selected members of the audience starting with George Soros and George Rupp, the head of IRC and Representatives from Oxfam and Save the Children, and Salman Ahmad and a few others. But before we do that I want to start by asking you to watch a video of the situation that was brought by Foreign Minister Qureshi. If we could have the lights and show the movie, please. This is three minutes.
I’d like to ask you all to take out your cell phones please and text S-W-A-T right now, and send that message to the number 50555, and you will be immediately making a $10 contribution to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) . Again, S-W-A-T, then send it to 50555. Show the world, show the people of Pakistan that we’re here in New York to help them.
This is the most extraordinary crisis imaginable. It started slowly in terms of international perceptions because a flood isn’t like an earthquake or a tsunami which hits immediately, then it ends and the press moves in with stories of miraculous rescues and desperate need. Floods are harder to cover. Floods in Asia are a story that people say yes, there are always floods in Asia. So it took a while for people to realize how extraordinarily different this catastrophe was. So please, SWAT, S-W-A-T, text it now, 50555, and let’s show the people of Pakistan that we care. The money is going directly to the UNHCR.
I’m now honored to introduce to you the Foreign Minister of Pakistan who will be meeting with Secretary Clinton as soon as this meeting is over. A beacon of hope in this troubled area. He will give you an immediate account. He arrived from Pakistan yesterday. Then we will hear from Administrator Raj Shah.
Mr. Minister, the podium is yours.
Foreign Minister Qureshi: Richard Holbrooke, Rajiv Shah, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here.
What you've just seen perhaps could be not very current as the situation evolves in Pakistan. These figures are tentative, and they will keep changing. As the floods recede and the damage assessment is done, then only will we know how serious the challenge is.
We’ve had floods in the past. This is not the first flood that we’re facing. But we’ve never seen something like this before.
1929, I’m told, was a mega-flood. This far exceeds that.
There has been criticism, people have complained that the response hasn’t been quick enough nationally and internationally. Frankly, nobody was expecting to have something like this at this scale, because three weeks before the floods came in there was a water scarcity and there was an inter-provincial dialogue on how to share scarce, limited water. From that situation the pendulum has swung and today one-fifth of Pakistan is inundated. Over 20 million people are affected.
The last calamity that we dealt with on a major scale was 2005, the earthquake. Many of you contributed generously to that. But if you look at the scale, this flood is far bigger than what we faced in 2005. Just to draw a comparison -- 3.2 million were affected during the earthquake; over 20 million are affected today. 30,000 square kilometers was the area that was devastated; now people are talking of between 135,000 to 150,000 square kilometers. Nine districts were affected; and now 74 districts are affected.
Fortunately the casualty rate is much much lower, but the economic loss is huge. Major crops, crops that earn foreign exchange for Pakistan have been devastated. Livestock, livelihoods, displacement. We had a serious displacement situation when the law enforcement operation was undertaken in the Swat Valley. People had just returned to Swat and life was becoming normal and this calamity struck. It has struck very hard. And unfortunately, it has struck in areas in which we were sort of operating against extremists and terrorists up in the north; down in South Punjab; and they are the most affected areas.
So we have to move national resources, and we are. There has been skepticism, there has been criticism that the government did not respond in time. The challenge was too big. And initially there was shock, there was paralysis, but we are out of it now. We’re getting our act together. In the last few days you must have noticed that civil society has come forward. Youngsters are moving ahead. People who have nothing to do with politics simply taking up this humanitarian cause, are coming forward to help.
We will use all our resources. We will reprioritize our budget reallocations. We will revisit our budget because we have to focus on these people. We have to rehabilitate them. We have to reconstruct the flood affected areas, the infrastructure that we’ve lost over there, physical infrastructure.
But frankly, it is beyond just national resources. We do need international assistance and we need international assistance now.
Mr. Ban Ki-Moon was in Pakistan. He dashed to Pakistan. He was taken to the flood-affected areas. He visited a few relief camps. And his comments and his views are known to you. He was appealing from a relief camp in Muzaffargarh, which was one of the most devastated districts in Southern Punjab.
I am here to speak in the General Assembly later this afternoon and to tell the world what a serious challenge Pakistan is facing. At a time when Pakistan had succeeded, the democratically elected government in Pakistan had succeeded in building a consensus in Pakistan against extremism and terrorism. When many lives were laid for a cause to achieve stability and peace in Afghanistan. And this being the most critical year, we’ve been struck by this national calamity.
We will face it and we will muster all resources to get out of this. We have faced challenges in the past and we will face this challenge. But your help and your contributions will be very valuable. Pakistan needs your immediate help.
What the immediate emergency response is asking for is $460 million, and that will only cater to about six to eight million people for 90 days only. I am not even talking about early recovery. We can’t even give you the figures of what the cost of rehabilitation, reconstruction will be. It’s too early to talk about that. All I can share with you is that we have the determination and the political will to face the challenge. We need your support. Your presence today is a reflection that you care. Thank you.
Ambassador Holbrooke: Before I introduce the Administrator of AID I want to just observe that the amount of land now underwater is larger than the nation of Italy, and it could grow worse. Again, that’s why we’re here today.
It’s my great pleasure to introduce to you the Administrator of the Agency for International Development, Dr. Rajiv Shah, who will describe to you the American efforts. Then we’ll go to people in the audience. Raj?
Dr. Shah: Thank you. Thank you, Ambassador Holbrooke and Minister Qureshi for that wonderful statement of commitment and support as well as for bringing the video that I think fully captured the scale and intensity of what has happened.
The video noted that more than 20 million people have been affected by this tragedy, and that the immediate relief effort is focused very intensely on perhaps more than 6 million people that are really in an immediate need for food, clean water, safe shelter, access to sanitation, hygiene, and a range of other basic human needs that will, for them, be the difference between survival or not.
I’d like to take just a moment to describe the United States commitment which is both immediate and intense, and as we’ve noted previously, enduring through all the phases of this relief, recovery and reconstruction effort.
In immediate relief, our immediate priority is working with the government of Pakistan and the national disaster management authorities, are evacuation for those who can be saved through movement; the provision of food, water and shelter to those who can be protected through the provision of those basic needs; and an absolute focus on detecting and preventing waterborne illness which in a flood situation is obviously a critical risk, and the environment where this flooding has taken place is of an acute risk.
Today the international community together is meeting the needs of 700,000 to approximately 1.2 million of the disaffected population. That is a step forward and a significant step forward, but of course against the aggregate need that is simply not enough and we have to get more support, we have to have greater partnerships, and we have to expand our capabilities in that area.
The United States has worked with Pakistan to develop a disease early warning system that has worked in that it has detected some early cases of cholera and other forms of fatal diarrheal illness. We need to expand that effort and stay very vigilant to make sure that we do not see widespread outbreaks of contagious disease.
But our commitment through the relief effort, while it will continue to intensify and include more of the Pakistani partners, the international partners, and the American institutions that implement these programs, will also transition into a recovery effort, and as the Foreign Minister noted, we need and are conducting a series of rapid assessments to identify the tremendous loss of infrastructure, bridges, roads, hospitals and clinics and schools that have been made unavailable or ineffective due to this tragedy, and are detailing the losses that you saw in the video. To lose 1.7 million acres of productive, planted cropland and all of its related livestock for a population, 60-plus percent of which depend on that sector for livelihood, is a tragic and immediate consequence that needs to be detailed and addressed, and the United States and our partners continue to stand with Pakistan through the Strategic Dialogue and working aggressively in those sectors to meet the needs of those millions of households.
Finally, we will continue to work to create an effective reconstruction. One of the hallmarks of the United States partnership with Pakistan has been the response to the 2005 earthquake, and it was defined by a single phrase articulated as a desire to build back better. Through that partnership we constructed 56 schools that serve 20,000 kids that have high quality instruction and high quality construction in that they are earthquake proof and meet basic seismic standards. In that same way, we can work in this area to build back using new technology, new insights and new capabilities to build a better and more resilient agricultural system, a more effective and more protected infrastructure base, and sector by sector can take a real focus on how we build back better.
And thanks to the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation that allows for a long term strategic partnership, and as Secretary Clinton noted on her recent trip, a renewed American focus on those sectors that have been prioritized by the Pakistani government and people in energy, agriculture, water, and a few other areas, we have the ability now to think in that long term way and to engage in that long term partnership.
I would simply conclude by highlighting the appeal, both by noting that your acting now, whether you are part of the Pakistan-American Diaspora, whether you are committed to humanitarian response from any walk of life, or whether you are in Pakistan and able to take action, that acting now does save lives. The resources spent on these programs and these efforts will have an immediate effect.
I would just add that we also ask that you stay with us committed to this partnership and to the resolution of this effort which will take a long time but which also affords an opportunity to build back in a better manner.
Ambassador Holbrooke: Thank you, Raj.
Before I introduce George Soros, let me just add a footnote. We have an informal motto, Raj and I and Hillary Clinton, about Pakistan because it’s such an important country to us in every way. The motto in regard to this crisis, this emergency, is very simple. We want to be the first with the most assistance. And once again, we have been.
But it is an international effort. It requires incredible amounts of resources, and the enormous amount of effort put into Swat after the refugee crisis last year is now all underwater.
So first with the most for the U.S. government and the American people.
The private sector has been very important here, and I asked my very good friend George Soros, and I asked him on his 80th birthday last week, I might add. I asked George if he would come here today to say a few words about his foundation and what they’re doing. And George, because of the lighting, why don’t you come up to the podium. Thank you for being here this morning. George Soros.
Mr. Soros: As you know, I’ve set up a network of foundations to promote open society throughout the world, and we have an office in Pakistan run entirely by people in Pakistan. Their mission is not a humanitarian mission, but to build an open society. But they appealed to me when this flood struck and said that you must help the people to help themselves. So I allocated an extra $5 million to the foundation to help civil society in their efforts to help the people around them.
I’d like to impress on you from what everything I’ve heard how serious this crisis is. It is in fact larger in a series of natural disasters than any of the others. We’ve had many more deaths in the other cases, but there are many more people affected here. The effect is going to be lasting. We may not have seen yet the culmination of the floods because the rains are still continuing.
There is a certain amount of fatigue in responding to these disasters because there are too many of them. I think that we have to come to terms with the fact that they are in fact connected. That there is climate change. It has a human cause. And I think we can’t remain blind to that.
So while I appeal to everyone to be generous in the case of Pakistan, because this is probably the biggest of all the disasters we have seen recently, I think we must also do something about the root causes. I think we cannot blind ourselves and refuse to deal with climate change and the emission of greenhouse gases which contributes to climate change.
Thank you very much.
Ambassador Holbrooke: Thank you, George.
As I said, this is also a huge international effort. The Asian Development Bank’s Resident Director for North America is here. I can’t quite see in the light. Is Christopher MacCormac here? Why don’t you come up Christopher? He has an important announcement to make on behalf of the ADB and representative of the central role the international financial institutions will have to play in this crisis.
Mr. MacCormac: Your Excellency Minister Qureshi, Ambassador Holbrooke, Mr. Shah, ladies and gentlemen.
On behalf of the Asian Development Bank I extend our deepest sympathies to all who have been affected by this terrible disaster.
The flooding in Pakistan is a catastrophe of epic proportions, but beyond the relief efforts now underway, Pakistan faces a long and hard road to recovery. Much of the economic and social infrastructure needs to be rebuilt and repaired. Two million hectares of crops are underwater, posing a major threat to food security in the country.
ADB and the World Bank have been asked to lead a flood damage and needs assessment in close cooperation with the government of Pakistan, the United Nations and other partners. ADB is now placing 100 staff in country to assist this effort. A high level team is already in Islamabad for initial consultations with the government.
ADB will lead the assessment in seven sectors: public administration, transport and communication; energy; irrigation; water and sanitation; health; and social protection. And ADB will also lead in designing the overall implementation arrangements for the reconstruction efforts.
This recovery will require a huge financial commitment from all the development partners. ADB’s support for reconstruction over the next two years will be at least $2 billion. We also plan to establish and administer a special trust fund to provide a vehicle for other development partners to channel their contributions for reconstruction support.
To meet the urgent needs, ADB has approved a grant of $3 million from the Asia Pacific Disaster Response Fund.
Ladies and gentlemen, the future of 20 million Pakistan people depends on our decisive, substantial, and effective assistance. ADB has significant and renowned experience and expertise in helping developing countries in Asia recover and rebuild following disasters, including the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the 2004 Asian tsunami.
The Asian Development Bank is staunchly committed to play our leadership role in the job that lies ahead in close cooperation with the government and other development partners. Asian Development Bank is a friend to Pakistan and we have responsibilities. We will honor those responsibilities and we will honor that friendship. Thank you.
Ambassador Holbrooke: One of the great institutions that’s worked in Pakistan and around the world, and I was honored to be a board member for many years, my wife still is on the board, is the International Rescue Committee. Its President, George Rupp, also a former President of Columbia University, is here with us today. George, a few quick remarks.
I would ask everyone to bear in mind that we’re under a very tight time limit and we want to get to the audience.
Mr. Rupp: Thanks, Richard. I will honor your request and make three very brief points.
First I would like to say thank you. Thank you to the U.S. government. A number of you have conceded that there was a slow start but there is now a substantial response and we are extremely grateful for that.
Thank you also to the American people who have contributed. George Soros is a wonderful exemplar of that. The Gates Foundation has been very generous. The Pakistani-American community is now mobilizing as well. So thank you to all those in this country who have risen to be generous in this crisis.
A second point is the International Rescue Committee looks forward very much to working with our partners in Pakistan and with the international community. We have been in Pakistan for over 30 years. We are used to working with the Pakistan government and Pakistan non-government organizations. Virtually all of our staff are Pakistani and they are mobilized in a way that those images that we saw would mobilize anyone who cares about his country or any of us who care about the world. So we’re looking forward very much to a collaborative effort that I think will need to have all of our contributions in order to be effective.
The third point is the one that Raj Shah stressed in his remarks. It is absolutely crucial that we take the urgency of this immediate response very seriously, but it is just as important that we think in the long term from emergency response through to the post-emergency recovery and then reconstruction of the country. We need to build back better.
In many ways the response to the earthquake in Pakistan is a model for what we need to do in this instance as well, only it is a much more massive, long term response that’s required, and we’ll need to have the cooperation of all actors -- the international community, Pakistan government, Pakistan civil society, international NGOs -- all working together within a framework that the government of Pakistan will have to establish for us.
We look forward very much to that long term reconstruction so that we can, as Raj said in quoting former President Clinton, will build back better.
Thank you very much.
Ambassador Holbrooke: George and Raj both mentioned the Pakistani-American community. I’d like to ask two people to come to the stage together, in the sake of time, and as they do I will mention them. Awaiz Kahn and Mahnaz Fancy, if they could both come to the stage together.
Awaiz Kahn is the President of the newly established American-Pakistan Foundation. This was an idea suggested first by Foreign Minister Qureshi to Secretary Clinton. She has deep ties in the Pakistani-American community, and with the Foreign Minister’s inspiration this foundation was set up and Hillary spoke at the opening session.
Mahnaz Fancy was at that time the organizer. She is still deeply involved and is also co-director of Pakistani Peacebuilders.
So very briefly, if you could both just say a few words.
Mr. Kahn: First of all, thank you so much for coming together at this special moment to show solidarity and support for the Pakistani people at this event.
I would like to point out at APF we are actually focused on a three-point drive. One is that we have raised our community profile with three partners -- IRC, Relief International, and Save the Children. A hundred percent of the funds that are raised are actually going to these foundations.
We are also talking to corporations and we’re looking for support at this time. And we are, to your point, looking at launching several livelihood programs in a few weeks from now.
Finally I’d like to say we are suspending our normal activities to focus on disaster relief for the next few months so that we can show support for the Pakistani people. Thank you.
Ms. Fancy: Thank you all.
I speak here as a Pakistani-American primarily. Pakistani Peacebuilders was born out of the post-Times Square incident and with the help of Ambassador Haroon we began this work of shifting the perspective on Pakistan. That remains crucial at this point.
In the wake of the flood, those very first moments, we like you all received thousands of phone calls and messages by email from people who wanted to know how to give and where to give.
We, Pakistani Peacebuilders, myself and my partner Zeyba Rahman, decided to form a partnership with Social Vision and create an on-line platform where very Pakistani-American, every global citizen could participate in some way in getting information which as we all know with the unfolding situation changes every two seconds. And direct money at the same time to Mercy Corps’ emergency relief efforts.
This is a way for each one of us to do something, and I ask you all to share in a similar way with your friends and neighbors and colleagues at work the importance of participating in this.
I’m really pleased to announce that Hollywood actor Faran Tahir has decided to join us in our campaign relief for Pakistan and will be speaking in a larger platform while we at Relief for Pakistan continue to do a kind of people-to-people campaign. Thank you.
Ambassador Holbrooke: I’d like to ask two other leaders of major NGO organizations to come up together. Raymond Offenheiser, the President of OxFam America; and Gorel Bogarde who is the UN Representative for Save the Children. Save the Children is the largest NGO currently on the ground in Pakistan, and they will talk briefly.
Mr. Offenheiser: First I’d again like to thank the Asia Society, the State Department and Foreign Minister Qureshi, Ambassador Holbrooke and Administrator Shah for pulling this all together today. This is an incredibly important moment and an incredibly important week to mobilize support for the people of Pakistan. This kind of event and others hopefully like it around the country will contribute to invigorating the American public to give more and to support the relief efforts.
A couple of quick comments. OxFam has been on the ground in Pakistan since 1973. We’ve been supporting the creation of literally dozens and dozens of civil society organizations in Pakistan that do development work on an ongoing basis but that are actively involved in the relief process currently.
We are on the ground currently doing literally rescue work and evacuation work for citizens affected by the floods. We have a target of reaching one million Pakistani citizens through our work on the ground. We’re currently probably supporting directly something like 200,000, basically trying to do the fundamental things of delivering water and sanitation services to people, as well as food.
One of the great problems we’re facing on the ground right now is access to these populations. They’re hard to get to. And it’s hard to deliver these services. Specifically I think it’s really important to pick up on one of the points that Raj emphasized about water and sanitation and the dangers to children and families of the larger water crisis. The water systems have been destroyed, medical clinics and public health facilities have been destroyed. There’s a real urgent need to reconstruct that public health infrastructure even if it’s on an improvised basis in the short term. We’ve got to get busy on that and work hard on it because we may see a spike in disease.
Also getting food to people is critically important. We’re seeing growing malnutrition, particularly in children. And this is a critically important area we’ve got to work very very hard on.
This is an incredibly important week here in New York and I think, again I want to emphasize the urgency of the response and the urgency of mobilizing the American public to respond even more generously than they have up to this point to this emergency.
The funding I think has been good over the last three days, both internationally and nationally, but I think one of the important things we’re learning from these emergencies, it’s one thing to pledge the money; it’s another thing to commit it and deliver it. And we’ve seen that problem in Haiti and we’ve seen it in other parts of the world. I think we’ve got to keep the pressure on to not only make promises for Pakistan, but actually deliver real goods and deliver it to organizations on the ground that are delivering real value to the Pakistani people in the face of this important emergency. I’ll leave it there. Thank you very much.
Ms. Bogarde: I’m Gorel Bogarde , UN Representative for Save the Children, and I want to say thank you. We are absolutely so happy that we are getting together. It’s about getting together and it’s about getting together now and it’s about acting now.
We are on the ground. Our development efforts have been turned into rescue efforts, but we are also thinking in terms of next steps, and that has to do with listening to children.
We know from disasters that you need to listen to the children and what they need are of course food, health care, shelter. The next thing they ask for is something that surprises all grownups and still surprise them, and that is we want to go back to school.
We’re talking about the next phase. So looking from a perspective of a child you need to get the food there, you need to get them their health care they need, that means also vaccinations. We don’t want to interrupt everything. And we need everybody to step up to the plate to do something.
We’re very encouraged. We see things happening. I think this is part of making things happening. But it needs to happen now and you will be part of this magic of preventing losses of life. How often can we do that?
This is an evolving disaster, it’s a different disaster, but it also means that we know what’s ahead and we can stop it from happening when it comes to waterborne diseases.
So I’d like to make this a real plea to all of you and to remember also for all the ones here who are administrators and bureaucrats, we need to plan now for the education, the infrastructure, and the livelihoods of the parents for the sake of the children. Thank you.
Ambassador Holbrooke: Our next speaker is our close colleague and friend the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Judith McHale, the former CEO of Discovery Channel. Judith is the senior public affairs information officer in the United States government, and since she took this job last year she has made Pakistan a special focus of her attention.
Under Secretary McHale: Thank you, Richard.
Richard mentioned that before I came into government I was the CEO of a large media company. I want to sort of appeal to my colleagues in the media, and to the critical role that you will play in keeping people’s focus and attention on this tragic story.
I think we all saw the power of the video which probably told us more than anything any of us could have said today in terms of this. So I really encourage all of my former colleagues in media to help us keep that attention and to tell that story.
We at the State Department will be working with our missions around the world to reach out to people around the world, but to media organizations as well, to provide them with the information that they need to continue to sort of generate the support that’s going to be necessary for a very long period of time.
Information is absolutely critical, and one of the things that we have learned from these tragedies and from these events is the importance of providing people with the information that they need. So we will be working with the government of Pakistan to provide people throughout the country with the information they need to find the resources that they are going to need to help them rebuild their country. And we look forward to working with all of you to provide that critical information on the ground to people so they know where to go to get the assistance that they need most immediately. That is a critical dimension that we have to do as we go forward. Again, that’s a need which is going to be growing.
I also want to quickly say that we at the State Department have put up on our web site, state.gov/PakistanFlooding, a list of all the organizations which will be accepting donations, and we will be pushing people to that web site to get them the information. So again, I reach out to all of you. If you’d like us to list your organizations, please let us do that.
Richard also mentioned since I have been at the State Department for the past year I have spent a lot of time working with people from across Pakistan and I have to say I have always been incredibly impressed with the strength, the resilience and the creativity of the people of Pakistan. They can and they will, I am sure, recover and Pakistan will be better than ever, but they need our help. I look forward with all of you to helping them get that. Thank you.
Ambassador Holbrooke: Thank you, Judith.
The last of the people I’m going to call on, after which we’ll go to the audience and then ask Raj and Foreign Minister to wrap up, is the very famous Pakistani musician, Salman Ahmad. Salman, do you want to come up here very quickly? I think all Pakistanis watching in Pakistan and here in this country by our streaming web site at Asia Society know Salman. Americans may not know him as well. But welcome, thank you for being here. A few remarks, please.
Mr. Ahmad: Thank you, Ambassador. Foreign Minister Qureshi, ladies and gentlemen.
I guess the one thing that’s not been said about the disaster is that this is a defining moment for Pakistan. There are cultural grinding tectonic plates. One pushing it back, one pushing it forward. And this flood has set back Pakistan in a huge huge way.
I was speaking to my mother yesterday. My mother was four years old when Pakistan gained independence. She said she has seen wars, earthquakes, famine -- nothing the scale of what’s happening right now.
The other thing I want to tell you about Pakistan is that out of the 175 million people, 100 million of them are under the age of 25 -- a huge youth bulge. Those young people are skeptical. They feel abandoned by the world. That’s a feeling that I’ve been getting through Twitter, through email, and right now the terrorists are counting on the fact that there will be a sluggish response from the international community. Because if there is a sluggish response, the terrorists win. The extremists win. They thrive in anarchy, they thrive in chaos. And what can we do as part of the global community? My wife and I, we have a non-profit called Salman and Samina Global Wellness Initiative, SSGWI. We are reaching out to international artists. Peter Gabriel has responded positively; Sting; the Skoll Foundation has responded; John Legend; and other international artists. We are wanting to win hearts and minds. The international community has to win hearts and minds in Pakistan. This is the most important, the reconstruction will continue in the future, but right now, this moment is urgent because we have to win the hearts and minds of those 100 million young people in Pakistan.
So I would urge you, last year Ambassador Haroon, Ambassador Holbrooke, Under Secretary Judith McHale, supported us in putting together a concert for Pakistan at the UN General Assembly Hall. And what it did do for the IDPs, the internally displaced people last year who were running away from the fighting, the political violence up north, was that it showed that the international community cares about Pakistan.
All you need to do right now is to give hope to those young people, those young people in Pakistan who have two possible futures. One, of following their dreams; the other, of being sucked into extremism. I know that the international community is going to be looking at this very urgently and will be supporting this. Thank you.
Ambassador Holbrooke: Now you see why some people say Salman is the Pakistani Bono, but I think Bono is the Irish Salman. [Laughter].
We have time for about two or three questions, very brief from the floor, then I’m going to ask Raj and Foreign Minister Qureshi to end with comments.
Question: My name is Nul Kahn and I’m a Board member of the PAK-PAC [Pakistani American Public Affairs Committee]. My question to all of you, particularly Minister Qureshi, that Meteorological Society of Pakistan had really given the warning two weeks in advance. No anticipatory preparations were made.
My second question to you is the Clean Commission which had been the product of meetings between Nawaz Sharif and our Prime Minister, what is going to happen to it because we see no action. The lack of response within Pakistan is dismal. How are you going to deal with that?
Ambassador Holbrooke: Let’s hold the questions and get two or three more.
We have one from the streaming website on Asia Society that I would like to add, Minister Qureshi, for you to answer at the end.
Are there any updates regarding the Sikh Shrine in Dera Alayar that has been submerged? Is the government providing any assistance? Can we send volunteers to this specific area?
Question: Rana Kara, affiliated with a few different organizations. American-Pakistan Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies. Two quick questions.
One is the UN $459.7 million estimate, from what I understand, is for relief needs only. What’s the estimate for reconciliation and rehabilitation?
A second question is, what is being done to rally other foundations to contribute other than George Soros’? Thank you.
Ambassador Holbrooke: Excellent questions. One more from the floor?
Question: My name is Majid Barba. I’m from Radio Mashaal, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty.
I just came from a live show. I got so many calls from [inaudible] and the tribal areas of Pakistan, that is because the international organizations, especially the Americans and others, they are reluctant to come there because of the fear that’s their security situation. What’s your comment on that?
Ambassador Holbrooke: Another question from the web site, and then we’ll go to Dr. Shah and ask the Foreign Minister to close it.
Should volunteers notify the U.S. government before leaving to volunteer in the flood affected regions? If so, who should they inform?
It’s a very complicated question and we’ll try to address it briefly.
One more from the floor and then we’ll go to our closing speakers.
Question: I’m from Sustainable Development Media. I would like to follow up on what Dr. George Soros said. The importance of looking at climate change as a reason for what has happened.
My question is really to Pakistan. Within the reconstruction program, even now I understand it’s a bit early, but how do you think you can pick this subject up? The real reasons why this monstrosity has happened?
Ambassador Holbrooke: Thank you.
Let’s start with Raj. I want to make just two quick comments.
First of all on the volunteers question. First of all, I don’t recommend people just get on a plane and go out there to help because while their intentions are good the net effect would be not so good. I think the best way to go out is through these organizations that you’ve heard today. The other ones on the AID hotline, the Asia Society hotline. CNN has put up a hotline. Don’t just go out there to help unless, of course, if you have relatives there and you’re going and integrating into an existing structure in your hometown, that’s a different matter.
A second thing, Raj, I’d like to start with the last question because it’s been so much commented on. I know we don’t have a definitive answer, but to what extent is there some connection between the floods, the Russia fires, global warming, the Himalayan runoff, what is the preliminary best sense of that?
Dr. Shah: That is a tough question to answer, Ambassador, in a short period of time, but I think we all can recognize and be confident in the fact that the data is very clear that we should expect to have more large-scale, erratic weather events as we see a systematic warming of our weather and of the planet. That has been a consistent finding. We’ve seen that across the board and it’s been articulated quite clearly.
So while it’s very hard to attribute any single, specific event to what we’re doing through our global environment, it is very clear that that trend is leading to a greater number of large-scale hurricanes, a greater number of floods, hotter and dryer growing conditions in places that are dependent on weather and rainfall for agriculture, and it’s making it very hard for the least resilient, the most lower income communities in the world to survive.
Ambassador Holbrooke: I’ll return to that with the Foreign Minister in a moment. But would you like to comment on everything you’ve heard and the questions from the floor? Then we’ll ask the Foreign Minister to close.
Dr. Shah: Sure. I perhaps won’t try to answer each question, but I will just say that I think the comment that this is a defining moment and an opportunity to save lives and to improve the human condition in a serious, results-oriented way is something we should all reflect on. Because the partners we rely on and work through in the government of Pakistan, in the natural disaster management authority, in some of the NGOs and international partners like IRC that spoke today, and in the Pakistani NGOs and civil society that we know are capable, are capable, well-run implementing partners that are able to reach millions of people with basic services and with an effort to do the kind of planning that will be required for a longer term, more effective reconstruction.
I would just like to highlight that this effort, whatever you think of its performance to date is getting significantly better every day. Every day we have more helicopter and airframe support for transport and reaching disaffected populations. We have a greater number of commodities, whether it’s water purification units, actual food that’s coming into the country, or a range of other things like hygiene kits and communications equipment. And we have an expanded number of partnerships and commitments with foundations and with the private sector that allow us to do unique things in reading people who are in need.
So I would encourage the community here to continue to give and to continue to offer and lend your expertise, and would just highlight that the effort has to stay focused on immediate relief for the next several weeks, and on meeting the basic needs. But this is a community that knows how to do that. The very act of doing that at scale of reaching 6, 8, 10, 15 million people, will actually build the network that we will need to then do the large-scale planning, recovery, and reconstruction, and that we remain committed to every phase of that.
Ambassador Holbrooke: Before I ask the Foreign Minister to close let me add three points.
First, I want to go back to the issue that Salman alluded to that was a central point of the New York Times article today. We are not oblivious to the strategic and political implications of this situation. We’re well aware of them. We’ve read the articles, we’re trying to find out more. And Pakistan is, even if Pakistan was located anywhere in the world we would be responding this way. But Pakistan is uniquely important to our own interests. That’s not why we’re here today, however. We’re here for a relief effort of, as everyone has said, epic proportions.
I’ve been asked constantly by reporters in recent days, are we concerned about the strategic implications? Are we concerned that that Taliban is going to take advantage of it? Obviously we’re aware of these issues, but we are focused solely, as you will see when the Secretary of State announces an increase in our assistance at the UN General Assembly Special Session this afternoon. We are focused on helping people in the most extreme situation. We will sort out all the other implications later. We’re not doing it because of Pakistan’s neighbors, we’re doing it because Pakistan matters. And that’s what we’re here for.
The first outside aid to Pakistan after this started was helicopters coming directly from the United States command, General Petraeus in Afghanistan. They were not easy to spare, but they were there immediately upon the Pakistan government’s request and statement that they would have American helicopters in their country which is not easy for Pakistan to do.
Then we sent an American transport ship, the USS Peleliu, to Karachi. And more helicopters have gotten in. And we’re going to send more. And I’m pleased to see that Japan is now also going to send important helicopter support. Helicopters, as the Foreign Minister told me in our many phone conversations, is the single most urgent need immediately. So that’s what we’re focused on.
Again, our goal as Americans, our government, and I hope our citizenry is to be first with the most help, but it’s an international effort. Again, get out your cell phones. SWAT, text it to 50555 and you can do something right here out of this room.
Now I’m going to ask Shah Mehmood Qureshi to close up with any observations, comments, and answers to questions. And you might want to add to what Raj said about climate change. Is there an additional runoff from the Himalayan glaciers which is accentuating this? That might be a good way to start, and then any other comments.
Foreign Minister Qureshi: Thank you.
In the Copenhagen climate conference one of the points Pakistan raised was that climate change is going to have a serious impact on our agriculture, on food security in Pakistan. The glacier melt will have an impact.
What we had in Pakistan just before the flood were a number of sort of developments emerging. Exceptionally high rainfall up in the north, and in Afghanistan which is not the rainy season, converting with the monsoons and the glacier melt. So everything combined.
One of the questions was that the Meteorological Department had issued an advance warning. What the Meteorological Department had said two weeks in advance was that we will have above normal monsoon. Even the Meteorological Department could not predict this kind of a situation.
Speaking from what Ambassador Holbrooke concluded with, this is about humanitarian assistance. We do understand the political and the strategic considerations and we are sort of, we have a shared objective on those as well. But this is in line with the concept that we have developed in our Strategic Dialogue, that we are talking about people. We are talking about Pakistanis. We’re not just talking about terrorism and militancy. We’re talking about how to help and how to improve education in Pakistan, health in Pakistan, agriculture, how to sort of meet the energy deficit in Pakistan. And this is what has made the Strategic Dialogue under this administration in Pakistan so meaningful.
In the last meeting that we had in July in Islamabad with the Secretary of State being there was very significant. Pakistan not just listened, we produced a document of what our vision was on all these issues and where we can help each other.
Moving to another question that was raised by the audience was the Special Commission that the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition had discussed. Because you see, the initial response was slow and the media was saying that one of the reasons is the trust gap.
Now what we said was we are willing to put into place mechanisms that are transparent and are comfortable so the people of Pakistan and international contributors have the confidence that their money they’re contributing will be well spent. We will do whatever is required to fill that gap.
The third question was perhaps the Sikh Shrine of Pakistan. The record speaks for itself. We’ve been protecting scores of Sikh Shrines. We’ve been welcoming Sikhs into Pakistan. There is a large number of Sikhs that come to Pakistan every year, and we will do everything that is required to protect the Sikh Shrine.
Then the question of the security situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Yes, as Ambassador Holbrooke said, there are areas in which there is a fight going on. There’s an insurgency that we are fighting and successfully pushing back and defeating. We have to be careful, but we can always have local partnerships, and there are local partnerships, there are very credible local NGOs and civil society organizations in Pakistan that you can partner with and they live in that area. And they are willing to face the challenge and the security hazards.
On the question of volunteers, Ambassador Holbrooke has responded. All I can say is that we will facilitate those humanitarian activists who are willing to come to Pakistan vis-à-vis visas and we’ll facilitate their stay in Pakistan in whatever way we can.
I’ve talked about the climate change.
The last thing I want to say, because we’re running out of time, in conclusion is, thank you America. You have taken the lead. This administration and the people and institutions in America have set the tone. You have made everybody conscious of the challenge and I think there’s recognition. There is recognition in Pakistan of what the U.S. government has done, what Secretary Clinton is doing, what Ambassador Holbrooke has done. Let’s not forget every individual who has contributed to Pakistan’s effort. You, your visit to Pakistan next week is going to be very important. Every one of you have contributed significantly. You have shown the world that you are a caring nation, and I’m here to thank you.
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