This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Dec. 29, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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CHRIS WALLACE, GUEST HOST: President Bush said today the U.S. is only beginning to help the Asian nations ravaged by Sunday’s earth earthquakes and tsunamis, and that difficult weeks and months lie ahead.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (search), a federal agency tied to the State Department, will be in the forefront of American aid efforts.
And the administrator there, Andrew Natsios join me now.
Welcome, thanks for talking with us this.
ANDREW NATSIOS, USAID: Nice to see you.
WALLACE: Let’s start with the initial U.S. response to this disaster, this initial pledge of $35 million in aid. The president made it clear today that there’s going to be much more money coming down the pipeline. But is this first pledge of 35 million holding up anything. If you had 50 million in your pocket right now or 100 million, could you do anymore?
NATSIOS: Well, the fact is we always do assessments first, rapid assessments. It takes a few days to make sure what we are seeing in the media reports is in fact what’s happening on the ground. We need to see with our disaster assistance response team; there are 44 people that are going out to the field. Twenty of them are already in the disaster sites doing the assessments now in four areas to determine what the requirements are: in shelter, in food, water and sanitation and then health and medicine.
Those are the four areas we focus on. And that’s just — those are what the teams are focusing on now. That’s the emergency phase, the first few weeks of the response. They will tell us what they need, and then they tell us from the field how much more money they need in each of the countries.
WALLACE: So you will begin to bump up against this $35 million you have so far how far, how far down the line?
NATSIOS: Well, it depends on what they come back and tell us. They have it available and we are already beginning to spend it. Sunday we gave $4 million to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (search) Societies in Geneva, Switzerland. Monday morning, first thing, we gave $100,000 to each of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the four countries that were affected, and we’ve transferred tons of rice to the World Food Program to begin food distributions.
We are now looking at the NGOs, the international nongovernmental organizations that we work with around the world. They will be working with us in these assessments, along with the federation. And that will help us form the response.
And then we are also working with the U.S. military. President Bush dispatched 16 ships. We’ve put AID staff on the Pacific Command staff, and they put their military officers on our dart team to make sure we are latched up and integrated, so this is all done correctly.
WALLACE: Mr. Natsios, the talk today is about the disaster after the disaster, the specter of disease. From some reading I have done today, I understand that at least in the shot term, this threat is a little overblown. How immediate is the threat? What needs to be done first?
NATSIOS: Well, one thing that people are doing that is not part of the response is, because they don’t quite understand this, is they are burying the bodies because they feel somehow that’s going to cause disease. Dead bodies normally do not carry diseases unless the people were suffering from some epidemic, which was not going on when the disaster took place.
The bodies are a terrible reminder of the death and destruction. They are very depressing. The odor when they are decomposing is terrible. But they are not really a health risk.
The health risk is that the water supply is now commingled with the sewage system. And people are basically drinking filthy water from sewage. And that could certainly increase diarrheal disease, which could kill a lot of children under five. And we could have cholera outbreaks in a warm climate. But if we get this thing under control and people get fresh water, the risk of disease outbreak will decline.
WALLACE: There’s also a political controversy now with the remarks of the U.N. official that — and he clarified to say he was talking about nations, wealthy nations being stingy. Not in this specific instance, but in general in the kind of aid they provide to the poorer nations. I would like you to take a look, if you can, at this that we have prepared.
On the list of 30 wealthy nations, the U.S. is last, giving 0.14 percent of its Gross National Product (search) in developmental aid, while Norway gives 0.92 percent of its Gross National Product in developmental aid. Do you think that’s a fair comparison?
NATSIOS: It isn’t. And we’ve never accepted the notion as a percentage of our GNP. Our GNP dwarves all other countries. Our economy grows much faster. Japan’s economy has basically been not growing much over the last decade. And the Europeans have not grown that much, certainly in comparison to the United States. So what some people have done is to use the one indicator that makes us look bad to argue this. And I have to say it is ridiculous.
Let me just give you the statistics, which are from internationally accepted sources. We’re comparing apples to apples. In the last fiscal year that we have complete records for, fiscal ‘04 and then fiscal ‘03, the United States for humanitarian relief in emergencies: famines, civil wars, natural disasters like this or like earthquakes. The United States provided 40 percent of all funding of all countries from governments.
That doesn’t include the huge amount of money that’s raised that dwarves public expenditures by private Americans. The Americans are much more generous here than in other countries.
WALLACE: Let me just make sure I have this straight. You’re saying 40 percent of all of the international aid for disasters in the last fiscal year came from the U.S.
NATSIOS: That’s correct.
WALLACE: So if we are stingy what does that make everybody else?
NATSIOS: Well, that’s the whole point. And I have to say we do that based on what the needs are.
The president has been very generous. Whenever I’ve told him we that have a disaster — for example, a famine was developing in Afghanistan, even before the 9/11 attacks on the United States. The president said what do you want? I said $200 million. I had $200 million in 24 hours. We didn’t have to debate about it. I didn’t have to go through a lot of bureaucracy. The president has a big heart. He cares about this stuff. And he’s actually increased our budget very substantially.
WALLACE: Mr. Natsios, I want to thank you so much for giving us a perspective, a little bit of a reality check on all of this.
Andrew Natsios is head of U.S. aid. Thanks an awful lot.
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