1:00 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Good afternoon and thank you for joining us at the Foreign Press Center. We have with us today Mark Ward, USAID’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance. Mr. Ward is here to talk about the U.S. Government’s humanitarian response to the conflict in Libya. He’s just returned from London with Secretary Clinton to engage in discussions on that.
So, Mr. Ward, thank you for joining us today. I want to remind you before we begin, please turn your cell phones to off or vibrate, and when asking your questions, please wait for the microphone and state your name and media organization.
With that, Mr. Ward.
MR. WARD: Hello, everybody. I’ll give you some brief remarks and then take some questions. Probably best to start with some remarks that Secretary Clinton made on Tuesday in London, when she said that beyond our military efforts all of us are called to continue to work together along three tracks: first, delivering desperately needed humanitarian assistance; second, pressuring and isolating the Qadhafi regime through robust sanctions and other measures; and third, supporting efforts by Libyans to achieve their aspirations through political change. I’m delighted that she started with the humanitarian needs. That’s what I was part of the delegation to address with some of our key partner countries in the effort in Libya.
The humanitarian assistance challenge is always formidable. It is particularly difficult in Libya because of the security situation. The assessment, however, is not one-size-fits-all for the country. It’s not a monolith. The humanitarian assistance – the humanitarian situation in the east is not bad. The Libyan people are coping very well given the situation that they face. Food – the food situation is good, the water situation is good, they do have access to medical care in those parts of the country that are not under siege.
Sadly, that is not the case in cities further to the west, where the pro-Qadhafi forces have cut off or are bombarding a city such as Misrata. We’re very concerned about the humanitarian condition in those cities in the west that are under siege, and we don’t have good visibility yet about what the situation is inside. We get anecdotal reporting from people that are coming out, but it is very hard to get anything in because of the security situation. And until these cities become more permissive, it will be impossible for us or for any other part of the international community to get in and assess the situation and provide assistance.
But let me tell you about what we are doing. So far, as you probably know, the United States has pledged almost $50 million in assistance. A large portion of that, $27 million of it, is for work staged along the two borders of – principal borders of Libya, with Egypt and with Tunisia, to cope with the migrants and the Libyans who are coming out of the country. And the bulk of the funding is going for evacuation flights so that people from third countries, most of them migrant workers, can go home. Also, some of the funding made available to take care of their living conditions near the borders until they can be evacuated out.
The balance of the funding is for the humanitarian needs inside the country, and this funding is coming from my agency, from USAID. There is money provided for the prepositioning of food should we need it that is being provided through the World Food Program. Some of that food has been prepositioned inside Libya, some of it is nearby in the region. Should we need it, as I said at the outset, in the east, those areas that we have access to, the food situation is all right and we don’t need to bring in any additional food. But we want to have it nearby in the event that we find there are needs for food as we get access to cities further towards the capital as – if we see a need for food in those areas.
Similarly, we are providing out of the USAID assistance for some medical support. The medical situation in the east, as I said, is all right. People have access to medical facilities. There are supplies in those medical facilities. We have seen a shortage of medical personnel because many of the doctors and nurses in the country were from other countries and have largely fled. So we are having, through NGOs and through other organizations, bring medical personnel in and train up Libyan medical personnel into functions that perhaps they haven’t performed before, such as trauma care. So we do have to plus up the medical personnel, but the supplies and the facilities are all right in the east.
We are prepositioning – just like we’re prepositioning food, we’re prepositioning medical supplies, again, so that when we get access to those cities that we do not have access to today further west, we won’t have to wait for medical supplies to arrive; we will have them there, they will be ready to go and move in quickly. And this is exactly what we did in Ajdabiya. As the situation there began to change in the right way, we were able to send in medical supplies through some NGOs that were positioned very near the city and were able to get in and respond to medical needs very quickly. And the medical situation in Ajdabiya right now is quite stable as a result, I think in large part, that the international community had prepositioned supplies there and medical personnel to go in and help.
Lastly, let me just say that part of my reason for being in London also was to sit down face-to-face with some of the other countries that are providing a lot of assistance there; namely, the UK, obviously, the United Nations, Turkey is also playing a big role in terms of medical response, and other countries as well. And we look forward to the United Nations taking over the coordination function for the international humanitarian relief inside Libya going forward.
I’ll stop there and take your questions.
MODERATOR: Okay. Just a reminder, please wait for the microphone before asking your questions.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Fengfeng Wang from China’s Xinhua News Agency. I’m just wondering, sir, you mentioned that you have prepositioned some provisions inside Libya and you are looking at sending them over to the places where they are urgently needed. And I’m just wondering, are you in coordination with the rebel forces or are you in contact with them? How are you going to get those things to, say, Misrata? Are you going to sky-drop them or are you going to send them through roads or anything?
MR. WARD: I doubt very much we will sky-drop them. That’s always a very, very last resort. We basically have three options: send them in by land, send them in through the ports of Misrata, or fly them in through the airport. But right now, none of those options is available to us.
Are we in touch with the opposition in the east? Yes. I hope that very soon my office, the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, will actually have a DART, a Disaster Assistance Response Team, in Benghazi. Plans are underway for that to happen soon. And they certainly, their first priority will be to make contact with the Libyan National Council, the opposition, to establish a relationship with them, number one, to find out what humanitarian needs they are aware of; but number two, to establish a relationship so that if we find that the humanitarian situation is such that we need to be there for a while, we need to know who these people are, we need to work with them very closely going forward.
Obviously, the local forces, the local opposition, is going to know a lot about access through ports. They’re going to know a lot about what we can bring in by air. And they’re going to know a lot about which roads are open, which ones are safe for the delivery of humanitarian commodities. So that relationship will be very important to us. It’s difficult to establish when we’re not inside. When we get inside soon, that will be priority number one.
QUESTION: Brendan McGarry, Bloomberg News. You mentioned more than half of the $50 million in assistance provided went to flying out migrants out of the country. Can you talk a little bit more about that? How many flights were conducted and how many flights there were?
MR. WARD: It was about – I think it was $27 million and these were contributions from the PRM Bureau at the State Department to UNHCR and to the International Organization for Migration. We have seen now, I believe it’s over 400,000 people cross the borders out of Libya, all told, and the number continues to rise.
At the beginning, when the numbers first started – particularly on the Tunisian side, so flowing out of western Libya – there were thousands and thousands of guest workers from countries in South Asia, from Egypt, and from countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The U.S. military did a terrific job. They flew out, just the U.S. military, over 1,100 Egyptians back to Egypt. IOM has led the effort on flights to other destinations, principally to South Asia and to Sub-Saharan Africa.
The – as the outflows continue, IOM is staying on top of that, and we have not seen any dire needs on that border. There is always a transit time for people to wait until we – they can be moved out, and that is also being funded out of those contributions that I talked about. So I don’t have specific numbers for you – perhaps you can get them from PRM – about which nationality – how many of this nationality or that and exactly how many have been flown out to date. But I can tell you that, all told, we have seen over 400,000 people leaving.
Now, obviously, Egyptians leaving on the Egypt border aren’t going to need a flight. They’re home and could get home without that kind of support.
MODERATOR: In the back?
QUESTION: Hi, Yushin Sugita from Kyodo News, a Japanese news agency. You said the situation in Misrata is – you described it very concerned. Can you elaborate that? What’s the situation in Misrata? And can I understand that there’s no humanitarian assistance yet to the Misrata area? And if so, what makes the go-sign for the USAID to go into the – that city? Thank you.
MR. WARD: I wish I knew more about what the situation was inside Misrata. As I said, we’re relying on people who are getting out to talk to journalists and to talk to NGOs who are nearby, ready to go in and help when the situation allows. What we understand is that because of the siege that they are under involving artillery, involving Libyan army forces, there are casualties. People have been forced out of neighborhoods and are living in makeshift camps. And we anticipate, given the nature of the assault on the city by the Libyan Government forces, that there will be mass casualties to deal with. We can’t deal with them now. We have had a little bit of success through some very brave and innovative NGOs of getting medical supplies into the city. But it’s nothing sustainable and it’s nothing I don't think to the scale that we’re really going to need.
What are we waiting for? Basically, access that is safe enough for NGOs, humanitarian workers, who are among the bravest people I have ever worked with, to get inside and, number one, assess the situation, and then number two, go into those prepositioned supplies that we’ve made available and fill them. When that will come – I hope tomorrow, but we just don’t know at this point.
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MODERATOR: Wait for the microphone, please.
QUESTION: May I follow up? Is that the kind of priority number one with your organization?
MR. WARD: You mean --
QUESTION: Misrata --
MR. WARD: Yes. I mean, that is the city that we are most concerned about in terms of a population in need of humanitarian assistance. We are aware of or we are hearing that other cities to the west are also facing shortages. We hear this, for example, about Tripoli. But Tripoli is not under siege. Misrata is, and so the casualties there are a more urgent need for us right now. But I can assure you that the international community, the United States, Turkey, Great Britain, the United Nations – we are all as close as we can safely be right now and ready to help when the situation stabilizes from a security point of view.
MODERATOR: Any further questions?
QUESTION: Does USAID anticipate sending any workers into Misrata or other cities, and is anyone on the ground currently?
MR. WARD: I referred to what we call a disaster assistance response team. Those of you who have heard me talk about other disasters, whether in Pakistan or Haiti, this is the way the Office of Foreign Disaster Assitance at USAID responds physically to a disaster, whether a manmade one or a natural disaster. And that DART is near Libya. It is on the borders and it is preparing – I’m not going to give you the details, but it is preparing to go inside. And that’s going to be a big step forward, because then, as I said, we will have the opportunity to establish that very important relationship with the opposition and to get our own eyes on assessment of the needs.
QUESTION: How big is that team?
MR. WARD: Big enough at this point.
QUESTION: You can’t mention a rough approximation of the personnel?
MR. WARD: We will start small until we assess the security situation. If the security situation for a DART is permissive, it will grow. And then it will grow in direct proportion to the humanitarian need. We have DARTs deployed around the world, anywhere from a couple of people to a couple of dozen people. The DART at its highest in Japan after the earthquake with the search-and-rescue personnel was well over a hundred. So it’s quite flexible. It responds to the need on the ground.
MODERATOR: Any final questions? Well, one more.
QUESTION: Sir –
MODERATOR: Wait for the microphone, please.
QUESTION: Sir, you mentioned that you were going to establish the contacts for the opposition. We’ve heard that the U.S. – the NATO commanders talking about there’s flicker of al-Qaida within the opposition. So do you have any concerns that there might be something to it?
MR. WARD: I mean, that’s speculative at this point. We need to get on the ground. We need to find those people within the opposition who have the pulse of the humanitarian situation, who understand the logistics of getting supplies into the east and across to the west. And my – our expectation is is that these are going to be people who have been in positions in the Libyan Government in the past, in the port authority, in the airports authority, in the transport authority who can talk to us in detail about the logistics associated with those transport routes. So I’m not anticipating those kinds of problems, but we are a flexible organization, and we will respond to the situation that we find.
MODERATOR: And one last one.
QUESTION: Thank you. Sorry. Just going back to the DART, you said that you anticipate sending that in – team in soon. Can you specify a window when they might go in? And will they also be accompanied by any military or security personnel?
MR. WARD: I think you’re well aware of the language in Security Council Resolution 1973, no boots on the ground. So let me repeat, no boots on the ground, even with our DART. My DART wears shoes; they don’t wear boots. So no military presence with the DART, but in terms of when they will go in, I’m not going to get into details other than to, again, say soon. I was ready – we were ready to send them in before, and then the security situation in Benghazi deteriorated some. That situation, as you know, thanks to the NATO operations, has improved. And so we’re now in a position to get ready again, and I’ll just say that the planning is well advanced for them moving inside. Thanks, everybody.
MODERATOR: Mr. Ward, thank you for joining us, and thank you all for coming.
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