Accessibility links

US Agency Sprang into Action for Relief Effort

The United States Government has pledged 350 million dollars of its money to help Asian Earthquake and tsunami victims. VOA's Chris Simkins takes a look the government's coordinated emergency relief operation, and one person's mission to help get aid to the people in Asia who need it the most.

Just hours after the Earthquake and Tsunami struck parts of south Asia, this disaster response center at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington opened. This is where the U.S. Government coordinates just about all of its relief operations. From this room packed with maps, computers and telephones, people work around the clock to coordinate logistics and make calls releasing money pledged by the United States to the affected countries. The staff also coordinates purchasing relief supplies and getting them airlifted to Asia.

James Flemming, is a seven-year veteran of USAID's response management team. After the Asian disaster Mr. Flemming quickly helped get the disaster response center up and running. Within hours, his staff began directing initial shipments of relief supplies. "We very quickly mobilized commodities to the region. These are things like plastic sheeting, water jugs, blankets things that are needed in a disaster response. Then also we sent technical personnel, disaster response specialists to the field to conduct assessments and decide what types of assistance were needed in the countries that were affected," said Mr. Flemming,

This center is one of three operated by the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. Staff from government agencies work out of this command post. So far they have spent more than 66 million dollars to get disaster relief operations up and running in places like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.

Even though the center in Washington is half a world away from the disaster zone, there is a sense of urgency here. On this day some staff members are working to put together mental-health programs to help tsunami victims overcome stress and trauma.

Mr. Flemming says the response center has also gotten much needed assistance from volunteers wanting to help disaster victims. "We got messages from people all across the world saying ‘I am on vacation here but I can help out in Sri Lanka.’ Another person said ‘I am here in Washington on holiday and I speak a language in Indonesia and I would be happy to come in.’ So we have had a huge outpouring of offers of assistance with USAID personnel and the American people in general."

James Flemming says despite long hours and some problems in coordinating relief efforts he is proud of how quickly the disaster center has been able to get relief to millions of people who have nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

"This is a nice opportunity to feel like you are making a difference in peoples lives despite the tragedy it is gratifying to be able to do this,” he said. “It all feels worthwhile in the end if just a few people are helped with the assistance we provide.”

In the coming weeks this emergence disaster response center will shut down but another special task force will be launched. Its mission will be to set up long-term reconstruction and development plans in the countries devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.