Hugh Q. Parmer, USAID Assistant Administrator for Humanitarian Relief, and Roy Williams, Director, USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, USAID Briefing on Kosovo Humanitarian Relief Situation, Press conference, Pristina, Serbia and Montenegro, October 28, 1998


(Unofficial transcript)

MR. PARMER: Good afternoon. I'm just going to have a brief prepared
statement, and then I'd like to share with you a little bit of what I
experienced yesterday out in the Malishevo area, and then I'll answer
any questions that you might have. Before I give my statement, for
those of you who don't know me, I'm Hugh Parmer, the Assistant
Administrator for USAID for Humanitarian Relief.

For months we have feared that a humanitarian disaster loomed here in
Kosovo when winter arrived. Based on my revisit to Malishevo,
Dragobilje, and the Pagarusha areas, plus conversations with NGOs,
international organizations, and our own Disaster Assistance Relief
Team (DART), I believe we can say that the humanitarian disaster we all
feared has been averted.

This conclusion is based however on several assumptions:

First, the current level of security on the ground must be maintained
and improved. This will permit the continued return of displaced
persons to their homes. Yesterday we saw a constant stream of people
returning to their villages in the area surrounding Pagarusha. Reports
from KDOM, NGOs and journalists confirmed that these returns are
widespread.

Second, the level of response from donor organizations must be
maintained. This is no time to declare a humanitarian victory and go
home. The coming weeks and months will be difficult, but if efforts are
maintained and access provided, there will be no disaster.

The fact that we have moved from looming disaster to a manageable
humanitarian problem is the result of the hard work and sacrifice of
the people who have formed the front lines of the humanitarian effort,
often at risk to themselves. But as we all know, their efforts would
have failed had it not been for the resolve of NATO that a humanitarian
disaster would not be allowed to occur.

The contrast between what I have seen during the last 2 days and what I
saw the first week of September is dramatic. More impressive than the
vastly reduced military presence and the absence of violence are the
looks of hope that have replaced those of fear and despair in the eyes
of the people. We must keep it so.

Now, let me just share with you: I went out into the area around
Malishevo. I'm sure you all know by now that there are no check-points
between here and there now, where, I understand, the major check-point
has been for years. We did see some military presence in Malishevo
itself when we went through. Beyond that point, however, we saw no
military presence. We stopped and visited with large numbers of
displaced persons, with their belongings piled on their wagons pulled
by their tractors, who said that they were going home, with great joy,
but perhaps a little trepidation, as well, in their voices. Just
outside of Pagarusha is an area that Roy Williams visited a couple of
days ago. At one time it was estimated that almost 30,000 people were
living there virtually without shelter. We were in that area yesterday.
It was empty. The people had left. In one area we went to, which Roy
visited two weeks ago, there had been 60 people. There were about 12
people left -- one man, a group of children, two women. They were there
when we came through and we visited with them. Everyone else, they
said, had gone home, but they were waiting for transport. By the time
we came back a couple of hours later, they, too, had gone home. I was
here about 8 weeks ago, in the first part of September, and I feared
for the worst. None of us can guarantee that the best will arrive.
Times will be hard. But I think if the security situation remains
constant or, hopefully, improves and if the donor organizations
continue to provide the assistance that they currently have planned, we
will escape the disaster of which we were all so fearful.

I'll be glad to answer any questions which you might have, and any that
I cannot answer, I'm sure Roy Williams, the head of our Disaster
Assistance office will be willing to help me with. Questions?

QUESTION:   Do we have an estimate of how many internally displaced
persons there still are in the area?

MR. PARMER: Well, those estimates vary widely. it's my understanding,
however, that UNHCR is presently working with all of the humanitarian
groups in an effort to conduct a more accurate census now that the
security situation has stabilized. What I can tell you is that the
estimates of the number of people who are actually without shelter have
gone down considerably. I have seen estimates as low as 10,000, and I
suspect that number is shrinking as well. that's quite a different
story than was the case here 8 weeks ago, when people were talking in
terms of 50,000 or more people living in the hills.

QUESTION:   Now you say that disaster is averted but it is still a
difficult humanitarian situation. What does that mean? What are the
problems?

MR. PARMER: What that means is that we were anticipating the
possibility of potentially thousands of deaths from exposure, hunger,
and illness when the snows came. I think as long as those two
conditions which I described are met, that will no longer be the case.
You cannot minimize the damage that people have sustained. People have
seen their homes destroyed and everything that they own lost. A man
said to me yesterday, as he showed me his house that he was visiting
for the first time, to see if he'll be able to bring his family back --
the house has been trashed inside, all his belongings broken, and he
said, "What did the house do to them?" That kind of loss can never be
underestimated, but I don't believe you'll see the kinds of deaths that
we had feared earlier in the year.

QUESTION:   Deaths or just illness?

MR. PARMER: You know, I don't think you're going to see deaths as a
result of isolation and a lack of food, certainly. You can never
predict, absolutely. People die in the winter in normal times. But I
don't think we are facing that kind of a disaster we were all afraid
of.

QUESTION:   What happened with the 200,000 people. You said 2-3 weeks
ago, that there were 200,000 people, maybe more. Where are they now?

MR. PARMER: I never heard an estimate of 200,000 people being without
shelter. What I heard were estimates of 200,000 people being displaced,
meaning that many of them had had to move in with the host families,
were crowded into conditions like some I saw 2 months ago, where you
have 20 or 30 people living in the same room in a mostly destroyed
building. I think we need to distinguish, when we talk about displaced
persons, whether we are talking about those who are living in the open.
I don't think anybody perceived that there were 250,000 people living
in the open. I can assure you that, with all the information that we
have received -- of over 200,000 displaced persons, persons driven from
their homes by the conflict, that is a conservative estimate.

QUESTION:   Can you tell us any numbers, what are current USAID
projects in Kosovo? Could you give us any amounts, any numbers, any
statistics?

MR. PARMER: I'm going to let Roy answer some of that, but let me tell
you that according to the last number I was given, USAID and other
agencies in the U.S. government had provided somewhere in the range of
$49 million. Roy says it is now around $58 million in assistance in
Kosovo to date. And of course there is more to come. But, certainly we
are not doing this alone. The European Union has joined the effort. I
met today with representatives of the ECHO Organization and heard what
are some of their plans. This will be a long, hard, and costly process,
but we will succeed.

QUESTION:   What type of humanitarian assistance will you provide in
the coming months?

MR. PARMER: We are going to have to provide food all the way through
the winter and into the spring because people have lost most of their
crops. They have been unable to harvest their crops, so we are going to
have to provide a bridge -- food assistance into the next harvesting
season. Food is going to be a major component. And by the way, that
flow of food seems to be coming in quite well now from various donor
organizations. We are also going to have to concentrate a lot on
shelter. There are a lot of homes that can be made usable for the
winter that are not usable now. I think a large concentration of
humanitarian relief into the winter months will be on the repair of the
destroyed houses, helping people rebuild their homes, to find places
that are warm enough, that can be heated, so that they can live.
Sanitation is always a concern, when you have a population dislocated
like this. The ability to access pure water and to have adequate
sanitation facilities is critical, as are adequate medical supplies.

I visited a clinic yesterday, a hospital, right outside of Malishevo,
that some of you may have been to, which was taken over by the security
forces, and, as best I can tell, totally destroyed. It would be
extraordinarily difficult and expensive to restore it as an operating
health facility. So, those are the major concerns -- food, shelter,
medical supplies, and sanitation.

QUESTION:   You said that you visited Malishevo yesterday. Reuters
reported yesterday that at 11:30 some people who had returned home fled
again because police forces entered the town.

MR. PARMER: I was there after that. I was there in the afternoon, and,
when we were there, there were no people in the town. There were
military forces there. I'd say about an infantry squad, about 12-13
infantry soldiers, and there was a machine gun position that had been
placed in the medical facility down town. To my knowledge, as of
yesterday, no one had returned home to Malishevo. But outside
Malishevo, toward Pagarusha half a mile down the road, people were
reentering their homes and looking to see what needed to be repaired
and making plans to come home, and when we came back yesterday evening,
the military unit was not in Malishevo, although there were two
Interior Ministry policemen there still behind the sandbags. it's not
perfect, and it is not happening immediately, but you could clearly see
that a great number of people were returning home. That seems to be the
report that we are getting from KDOM, from NGOs, and from a number of
journalists that we ran into on the road yesterday.

QUESTION:   (Off mike).

MR. PARMER: I did not see any local residents in Malishevo when I
arrived there at 12:30 in the afternoon, nor did I see any 3 or 4 hours
later. Roy Williams wants to expand on that.

MR. WILLIAMS: I think it's important to underscore the obvious -- we
are coming into a phase which is really a transition phase.
Unfortunately, there's going to be some movement back and forth. For
example, on Monday, when I was in Kisna Reka, there were about 3,320
people there. This afternoon there are about half that number, and some
of those are preparing to leave now. That doesn't ensure that they are
going to be able to stay wherever they are going at this point. Some of
them might come back. But I think what we are seeing is clearly a
trend, a very positive trend. Getting back to a question that someone
asked as to what we can do, I think that what the international
community clearly has to do, is to encourage that trend. We will be
focusing very heavily on shelter, and very heavily on medical support,
because these are the areas where the most damage has been done to the
society. This is a transition phase, but it definitely is in a positive
state right now.

QUESTION:   What about the KLA? Have you seen them, or have you been in
touch with them?

MR. PARMER: I haven't been in touch with them, but I saw a number of
KLA uniformed personnel in the areas that I drove through once we got
passed the (Yugoslav) army presence in Malishevo, and I stopped and
spoke to one or two of them, just as we did with other people on the
street. The ones that I talked to didn't say they were there on
military business. They were actually themselves looking at some of
their homes that had been damaged, and trying to determine whether it
was safe to bring their families back. But I did see a number of them,
yes. Thank you very much.


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