20 October 2005
Transcript of Press Conference by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at United Nations Headquarters, 19 October 2005
The Secretary-General: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
Let me start by paying tribute to the courage and determination of the people and Government of Pakistan, whose losses following the earthquake of 8 October are greater than we can fathom.
We have all seen the heart-rending images of the impact of the disaster, and we have all been shaken by the stories they tell.
What is impossible for any picture to convey is the sheer magnitude of this catastrophe. In the most affected area, which covers some 28,000 square kilometres of Pakistan, all essential infrastructure has been destroyed.
That means thousands of hospitals and schools; government buildings and water systems; major roads and transport.
In terms of logistics, the difficult terrain makes this one of the most challenging relief operations ever undertaken. Winter is approaching fast, and temperatures are dropping.
The latest death toll stands at 42,000 with at least 67,000 injured. But because we still have not accessed hundreds of thousands of people in remote areas, we fear that the actual figures are far higher.
And unlike some natural disasters, in which victims die immediately, the death toll in Pakistan is not over yet. An estimated 3 million men, women and children are homeless. Many of them have no blankets or tents to protect them against the merciless Himalayan winter.
That means a second, massive wave of death will happen if we do not step up our efforts now.
The people and Government of Pakistan are faced with an extraordinary challenge and we need to make an extraordinary effort to support them.
What is needed is an immediate and exceptional escalation of the global relief effort to support the work of the Government of Pakistan.
That will require more funds: so far, donors have made firm commitments for only 12 per cent, or $37 million, of our appeal for $312 million. If you add loose commitments, you get a total of $84 million, or 27 per cent. In comparison, the Tsunami Flash Appeal was more than 80 per cent funded within 10 days after the disaster.
It will require equipment: I call on key donors and organizations, such as NATO and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to mobilize the assets of its member States to meet the unprecedented logistical challenges. We need helicopters, trucks, and heavy lifting equipment.
It will require shelter and health care. We need up to [450,000] more winterized tents and temporary shelters. We need an estimated 2 million blankets and sleeping bags. We need tarpaulins, ground sheets and stoves. We need water and sanitation equipment. We need food supplies.
Ladies and gentlemen, next week, I will be attending the emergency donors' conference in Geneva convened by the United Nations. We expect results. I urge Governments and other organizations to attend at the highest level.
There are no excuses. If we are to show ourselves worthy of calling ourselves members of humankind, we must rise to this challenge. Our response will be no less than a measure of our humanity.
Thank you very much.
I will now take your questions.
Question: When the tsunami struck, in the aftermath of the tsunami, there were about 1,000 helicopters which were commissioned, and we were able to operate with those. In Pakistan, at this point in time, there are only 80 helicopters. Can there be any way for the United Nations to mobilize more helicopters? Because one of the reasons for more deaths of people is access to the areas, especially heavy equipment and so forth.
The Secretary-General: I agree with you, and we have approached Governments and organizations, like NATO, and other Governments; and I've made this appeal now for them to give us the logistical support we need. We need more helicopters; we need trucks; we need heavy lifting equipment. And without that logistical support and tactical air capacity, it's going to be very difficult to reach some people in remote areas whom we haven't been able to reach as of today.
Question: In the aftermath of the tsunami, again, as you said yourself, the response was overwhelming. And now, in this particular case, only the Arab countries -- so far only the Arab countries -- have come up with major donations, like Saudi Arabia 133, Kuwait 133 and so forth. But so far from the Western countries the response is lacking. Is there any particular reason for this shift? Or is it donor fatigue?
The Secretary-General: Well, I hope this picture will change next week when we do the conference in Geneva. Governments will have a chance to pledge -- and not only pledge, but make the cash available for us to move. And we will need not just cash, but, as I said, helicopters and other material to support the people in need.
Question: I wondered, I know it's early at the moment, but in terms of lessons learned from this, are you already looking at, should there be more supplies? There seems to be, for example, a complete shortage of tents worldwide. And should there be more funds available for emergencies like this? What kind of lessons are you drawing from the problems we're seeing in Pakistan?
The Secretary-General: In fact, one of the lessons which we have drawn already from other experiences -- and this reaffirms it -- is that we should have a higher Central Revolving Fund, which will allow us to initiate operations very quickly. We have asked for a Revolving Fund of between $500 million and $1 billion. If we had those funds, and we require only 312, we could have moved very quickly and then replenish the Central Fund when contributions come in. Now, we cannot do it. We have to wait until there is response. You know, I have often had to refer to the peacekeeping operation, the way we run it. That is, it looks like telling the New York City Fire Department that, we know you need fire houses, you need equipment and all that, but we will give it to you when the fire breaks out. So you have no insurance; it's when the fire has broken out that you run around trying to get the equipment. And that's the way we are running these operations.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, how concerned are you about the stability of the Government of Pakistan as a result of the earthquake? And how concerned are you about the Government of Bashar al-Assad now, in the run-up to the Mehlis report?
The Secretary-General: Let's focus on Pakistan first, and then we will come to the other questions if we have time. But let me take the Pakistani issue up.
I think the Pakistani Government is faced with a major challenge. This is a huge, huge disaster and, as I said, it's perhaps the biggest ever that we have seen, affecting 4 million people, 28,000 square miles, and with huge demands in impossible terrain, and at the time of the cold season -- and looking for materials which basically do not exist and will have to be manufactured as quickly as possible. When you talk of winterized tents, I'm not sure there's enough winterized tents in the world to meet the needs we have today. So, it is a race against time to save the lives of these people. And I would hope that the international community will respond and those with capacity will do everything possible to work with us and work with the Pakistani Government in saving as many lives as possible. Otherwise, we are going to be faced, as I said, with a second wave of deaths.
I will come back to your second question later.
So, it is a real challenge. It's not the inability of the Government to do it: it's really, really a serious and a major challenge. Perhaps coordination could be better, but that is also a challenge in these situations.
Question: I wonder if you could get a little more specific on the countries that you think could help, given so many deaths and so many lives at stake. You mentioned NATO potentially for helicopters. But can you be specific? What countries are you talking to, and who can really cough up the help that's needed rather than just major donors, and...
The Secretary-General: I'm writing to a whole set -- letters are going out to a whole set of countries, and I'll give you the list and the letter this afternoon, okay?
Question: My question is going to be Lebanon-Syria-related.
The Secretary-General: I don't want to deal with that now; later.
Question (interpretation from French): Mr. Secretary-General, we would like to know what is needed to deal with this disaster. Would it be possible for you to, in French, explain to us again what you need in terms of emergency needs so that the Pakistani population can be able to overcome this crisis?
The Secretary-General (interpretation from French): We need money, we need helicopters and we need blankets. It is winter; people will be cold. If we are not able to help them, they will die. They will die and, therefore, we need to respond quickly to save them.
Question: This may be too early to say, but do you see any change in the region, especially the relationship with India?
The Secretary-General: I think the two countries have cooperated on this disaster, and in fact I was very encouraged to see that they may allow free crossing of the Line of Control. Already there is a thaw, and the two Governments have improved their relations; and I hope there will be further confidence-building measures that will propel their efforts forward. We saw that in Indonesia, in Aceh. They worked together in Aceh, they built confidence, and it did accelerate the peace process. And now they have signed an agreement and they are implementing it. And so I think there are positive messages and positive possibilities in the collaboration.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, you have partially answered my question. You spoke about humanity and about human spirit. Do you see in the example of Pakistan and India the kind of spirit of cooperation that is taking place despite the regional political conflict -- as a great example for other countries to follow?
The Secretary-General: Absolutely. I think that, when it comes to saving lives, we should not let politics and other disagreements get in the way. And I think the reactions of both leaders and the two Governments have been exemplary, and I hope other Governments around the world will follow that example when they find themselves in a similar situation.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, can you deal with my other question?
The Secretary-General: I will take your question. You raised a question of the fragility of Lebanon, was that it?
Voice: The regime in Syria, Damascus.
The Secretary-General: The fragility of the regime in Syria. Well, I really don't know how to answer that question. Syria has an established Government. I know that there are lots of developments in the region. I know a lot has been read into the report of Mehlis, which I am going to receive this week. I haven't seen the report myself and so I have refused to speculate without seeing the report. Syria, like other Governments, has difficulties, but I do not want at this stage to give you an assessment as to how fragile it is. I don't want to go beyond that.
Question: I would like a follow-up to this question, but first, have you in fact discussed with Secretary Condi Rice, yesterday at breakfast, not only both reports expected -- the Mehlis and the Terje Roed-Larsen reports -- but also two resolutions? And I'd like a follow-up.
The Secretary-General: I did discuss -- we discussed issues of mutual interest, from Iraq to Sudan to the nuclear issue of Iran, Lebanon and Syria.
Question: [inaudible] my question, Sir, because it has been reported today, sourced in The Washington Post, that in fact you discussed with Condi Rice two resolutions, and specifically because the story is a published story already --
The Secretary-General: You should ask those who stated that to confirm it.
Question: Is that correct? That you have?
The Secretary-General: I did not discuss two resolutions. We had a discussion and I have given you what we discussed. Don't ask me to get into all sorts of details. I have given you an idea of the topics we discussed.
Question: [inaudible] why do you keep saying you are concerned about what would happen in light of the Mehlis report? You have been urging, through your Spokesman, for restraint. What is worrying you? Why are you calling for restraint? What are you afraid of?
The Secretary-General: I haven't said I'm afraid or I'm worried. So relax. I haven't said I'm afraid or I'm worried.
Question: [inaudible] that you called for restraint, Sir, today, so that I'm following up.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, why did you ask that Terje Roed-Larsen postpone his briefing to the Council from this week to next week? Is it too many blows for one country in one week?
The Secretary-General: No. The Council has lots of work and its agenda has to be managed. And my own time also has to be managed, and we need to decide what I am going to take up first, and when, and what other issues are on my agenda. And Mehlis was coming in to see me this week, and I intend to release his report as quickly as I can. Then I will turn my attention to the report on 1559 and also deliver it to the Council. So, it doesn't -- What is important is the Council gets both reports this month. It doesn't matter which goes first, and I don't think we are trying to delay to "ease the blow" for one country or the other.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, you said earlier in the week that you wanted to try and avoid politicization of the Mehlis report. In a region like the Middle East, how, realistically, is that possible? And are there any suggestions or is there any advice you would have on how this could be done?
The Secretary-General: Yesterday, I indicated that this is a technical exercise, a juridical exercise, and we need to keep it pure. And I was going to keep it that way. There may be politicization of the issue by others in the region or elsewhere, but I don't think it should be my business as Secretary-General to be engaged or encourage politicization. So I would give a technical and judicial report -- a prosecutorial report -- done by Mehlis to the Council. And, of course, Mehlis' report is the beginning, not the end, because the magistrates and others will have to follow through on that report and decide whom to charge and whom to bring to the dock. But you are right that you can't prevent people from politicizing it and implying all sorts of -- I've read things in the papers, in the press, which has really surprised me, and some of it is pure fiction, honestly.
Question (interpretation from French): In this room we have Mr. Otunnu, your former representative --
Voice: Any other questions?
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, about the trial of Saddam Hussein: Do you see the trial in any way as a landmark in justice in Iraq and internationally?
The Secretary-General: Obviously, the trial opened today and, I understand, has been postponed. People who have committed crimes against humanity will have to be brought to justice, but the proceedings and the work of the court must conform to international standards. If it fails that, then questions are obviously going to be raised. And this has been our position: that, whatever court is set up, it must meet international standards.
Question (interpretation from French): Your former representative on children's issues stated yesterday on behalf of Uganda that all the conditions exist to talk about genocide. He asked you to become directly involved to ensure that that conflict finally comes to an end. What have you done in the past with respect to that conflict, and what do you intend to do in the days to come so that children who have been kidnapped in that part of Africa can finally find peace?
The Secretary-General (interpretation from French): We have had frequent contacts with President Museveni and Kony, the leader of the rebels -- not me directly, but there is a group working for a peace process. Clearly, it has not yet succeeded, and now it is being taken up by the International Criminal Court. So the situation is becoming a bit more complicated, but we must not drop our efforts for peace in the region. We are going to pursue them, but I cannot say that there has been genocide there, because we need to study the situation, as we did in Darfur. Therefore, I will not come out right now and say that there has been genocide here or there.
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