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Transcript: U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator

The following is a transcribed excerpt of "FOX News Sunday," Sunday, January 2, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: One week after those devastating tsunamis hit 12 Asian nations, efforts to help the victims and rebuild whole provinces have barely begun. So what is the status of relief efforts? And one week in, can the world do more?

For answers we turn to Jan Egeland, the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, who joins us from the United Nations.

And, Mr. Egeland, thanks for talking with us today.

JAN EGELAND, U.N. EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR: Good morning, sir.

WALLACE: What are your latest figures for the number of people who have been killed in this terrible tragedy?

EGELAND: I think it will exceed 150,000. I think Indonesia, Northern Sumatra and Aceh are particularly hard-hit, and it will probably there exceed 100,000. These are unbelievable figures.

Many, many have been washed ashore. We will never ever know the complete picture.

We do know that about 5 million people need our assistance. And as we speak, hundreds of thousands or more are getting some sort of relief every day. It's the biggest relief operation ever that the United Nations is coordinating.

WALLACE: You say 5 million people need your assistance. How desperate is the need at this point, how are relief efforts going and what are the biggest problems you're facing?

EGELAND: Relief efforts have enormous challenges. I would say the logistical bottlenecks in Sumatra, in Indonesia and in Aceh are the worst ones.

We are getting very valuable assistance at the moment from many of our partners, especially those who can bring in military assets. The U.S. military assets are really worth weight in gold now because the helicopters and the airplanes and their capacity to make fresh water and so on really adds to the enormous efforts from all of the nongovernmental organizations, the U.N. agencies and so on.

We will be able to feed 700,000 people, which are, more or less, all of those in need of food aid in Sri Lanka already by — in, I think, 72 hours from now. We've already been able to reach out to a couple of hundred thousand in Indonesia. We may have to feed a million people there all together.

It could take virtually weeks until we've reached all of these isolated, small, devastated places. But you will see in the next day or two a very, very big and effective aid organization taking shape.

WALLACE: At this point, we're talking about, I gather, $2 billion that has been pledged in aid by the international community. But as we look further down the road, both the relief efforts and then, of course, long-term reconstruction, what are we talking about in terms of money and in terms of the length of the commitment?

EGELAND: Well, first and foremost, we're talking about tens of billions of dollars of devastation. And then there is the question how much should and can the international community come to the relief of these society, especially the most hard-hit and the poorest of these societies?

I have never ever, in my more than 20 years of international relief work, seen a compassion and generosity like the one we've seen in these last six days. $2 billion over Christmas is unprecedented. This does not include the private sector, which is giving with equal generosity. It does, however, include money from the World Bank and the ASEAN Bank, which will be more for the reconstruction and rehabilitation phase, which is equally important to our emergency relief phase.

WALLACE: Mr. Egeland, you talk about the level of commitment and the outpouring of support. Of course, you started quite a controversy this week, when you made some comments about the contributions of rich nations to poor nations in international assistance, not in this particular case, but in general.

Let's take a look at what you had to say, and then how President Bush responded. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EGELAND: Actually, the foreign assistance of many countries now is 0.1 or 0.2 percent of their gross national income. I think that is stingy really. I don't think that is very generous.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill-informed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Mr. Egeland, I'm sure you've seen those comments before. The president went on to say that last year the U.S. contributed $2.4 billion in assistance in emergency cases, 40 percent of the world's total.

Isn't it a mistake, at a time when the world is rallying to help, to get into this kind of a debate?

EGELAND: Well, I did not want this kind of a debate.

What I did one week ago, on a direct question, looking back on the year 2004, I was asked whether the rich countries have really come to the relief of the many, many devastated and poor and conflict- ridden societies, and I said, "No, we have not gotten enough money. I've seen too many poor and starving children that we cannot afford to feed, because we don't get enough money."

What President Bush was asked wrongly by a journalist was whether — what he thought of a U.N. official criticizing the U.S. for its relief to the tsunami victims. I have never, ever commented on that, of course.

I was confident, I was sure that the United States and the other of our partners would be very generous in the wake of such an enormous natural disaster. And, as we have seen, I was right in that.

But I will always be of the view that, as the rich world is getting richer — Europe, North America, Japan, Asia, the Gulf countries — it should be possible to feed all the world's children, and we are not at the moment.

WALLACE: Mr. Egeland, as a matter of fact, though, aren't you misstating, aren't you wrong about the level of U.S. international assistance?

Take a look at these numbers, if you will, sir. According to the federal agency USAID, U.S. assistance to developing countries in 2000 — and this is the last year they have numbers for — was $56 billion. But only 40 percent was government assistance; 60 percent, or $33 billion, came from the private sector.

So aren't you failing, sir, to account for most of the American assistance to the world?

EGELAND: Well, I have never commented on any country. I said, "The rich world is not able to give enough assistance to those most in need." And, as Fox News itself has shown, in many situations — in Africa, in the Sudan, in the Congo, in Somalia, where I just was, in Uganda — we have refugee camps where we have to cut rations because we do not get enough funding from either the governmental sector or the private sector or the NGOs and so on.

It is very true that the private sector is as generous as the public sector. It is very true that the American sector, if I am to speak about that in particular, is very generous. But we have to do better. We have to be able to reach all those in need.

This has been — this is a values question. We are in a position to help, and we should help.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about that some more, if I may follow, because I agree with you, sir, it is a values question, but it is also a matter of accuracy and setting the record straight. I want to play another clip from your news conference on Monday, in which you explain why you felt that Western governments were not giving more in international assistance.

Let's listen to you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EGELAND: Politicians and pundits believe that they are really burdening the taxpayers too much, and the taxpayers want to give less. It's not true. They want to give more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Mr. Egeland, can you give me a list of those nations where taxpayers want to actually pay more in taxes?

EGELAND: In the Scandinavian countries, which give now by far the most per capita — on average 10 times more than the other industrialized countries — public opinion surveys consistently show that, asked, "Are you willing to give more to those who are in desperate need in the world, in Africa and elsewhere?" 80 percent, for example, say that they are willing to give the same or higher levels.

EGELAND: The world is trying now to achieve some millennium goals, which is to say no child should starve by year 2015, all children should have basic schooling, all should have minimum health care, and we should be able to fight the AIDS pandemic.

WALLACE: But, Mr. Egeland...

EGELAND: We are failing to reach those goals.

WALLACE: ... let me ask you about that, because there are also studies that show that the average American private contribution is seven or eight times what the average contribution is among British — or rather German citizens or French citizens. So if people decide as a values issue that they would rather give money privately, and in fact there are some indications that it's more efficient to give it privately, what's the difference?

EGELAND: It's the very same thing to give privately or to give through the governments. I have most of my life been in private organizations and administering private charity. I've seen in the Red Cross how effective that is.

However, it's very important also to have the public, especially, the public sector contributing, especially for the neglected and forgotten emergencies that never get attention. In eastern Congo, 1,000 people die every day because of us not having enough resources to feed, to reach the populations. The Congo doesn't get attention. We therefore also need the public sector, of course.

WALLACE: Mr. Egeland, can you understand — one last area I want to get into with you — can you understand why the U.N. does not have a lot of credibility at this point among some people for dealing with humanitarian relief?

I'm talking specifically about the fact that the U.N. was charged with overseeing the oil-for-food program, which was supposedly a humanitarian program to provide food and medicine to needy people in Iraq, and under U.N. supervision Saddam Hussein was able to skim more than $20 billion off the top of that program.

Can you understand why some people may feel that they don't want lectures from the U.N. right now about how humanitarian aid should be distributed?

EGELAND: I'm not lecturing anybody. I'm stating what all aid organizations, private and public, have been saying for many, many years.

What I would only say, having joined the U.N. after the oil-for- food program was ended, I'll say that I have been impressed by seeing how effective the United Nations is, how UNICEF can immunize a child for less than $1 a child, how the World Food Programme can feed children for less than $1 a day, how the UNHCR, the High Commissioner for Refugees, can help refugees in the most desperate situations.

EGELAND: I think the United Nations have never, ever been a better tool for its members, that the United States or any other member, but please help us to improve this organization. It can become much better, and we will see a very, very thorough review of oil-for-food. It will be the biggest evaluation of any program happening anywhere, and there will be no stone unturned.

WALLACE: Mr. Egeland, I want to thank you so much for joining us today and answering all of our questions. And best of luck in a very tough job. Thank you, sir.

EGELAND: Thank you for having me.