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Remarks at Reception In Honor of USAID, FEMA, JTF-HD and FSM Disaster Preparedness Mid -Planning Conference Participants

Peter A. Prahar — Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America

July 19, 2010 — The U.S. Residence Kolonia, Federated States of Micronesia

Director Yatilman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a pleasure for Amy and I to welcome you to the Residence to thank you for your work in better preparing the FSM and the U.S. to deal with disasters.

We know disasters – both natural and man-made – happen.

We only have to remind ourselves of the thousands of men and women who are today battling the worst environmental disaster in American history: the Gulf oil spill.

And we can think back here to the terrible devastation caused by Typhoon Sudal.

However, we also know it is possible to reduce the impact of disasters by adopting suitable disaster mitigation strategies.

We can minimize the potential risks by developing disaster early warning systems.

We can prepare and implement developmental plans to provide resilience to such disasters.

And we have to be ready to mobilize effectively to assess the damage and quickly deliver relief and post-disaster rehabilitation services.

I think the record of the U.S. in providing disaster assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the FSM is one we in the U.S. can be very proud of.

As you know, on November 4, 2008, primary U.S. federal responsibility for disaster assistance to the FSM was transferred from FEMA to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

I’ve told USAID’s representative, Bart Deemer, that he and his agency have big shoes to fill.

But I am confident that USAID will continue to provide timely and effective assistance to the FSM in dealing with disasters.

I know it is USAID’s desire to ensure unity of effort among all levels of the government and all elements of the community.

Many of our FSM friends have worked with FEMA for years and know there is some apprehension about this change in the responsible U.S. federal agencies.

Let me address this concern head on.

Without taking away from FEMA’s extraordinary record, I firmly believe that the change in the “first line of defense” from FEMA to USAID has the potential to result in both more timely and higher quality overall disaster assistance to the FSM.

First, because USAID has a broader legal mandate than FEMA to establish its operations overseas, USAID can have professional staff on the ground here in the FSM and can pre-position emergency supplies and materials here, something FEMA could not do.

Similarly USAID, through the Asia Foundation, will be providing training to enhance local capabilities in the disaster relief field.

Second, unlike FEMA assistance funding there is no requirement for countries receiving USAID assistance to provide 25% matching funds as was the case with FEMA.

But finally, if the requirements of a given disaster exceed USAID’s in-theater Pacific capabilities, it can call on not only its own worldwide staff but FEMA as well.

So FEMA’s people and resources will still be available if needed.

Likewise, U.S. military personnel and resources will still be available on the same basis as previously if their unique capabilities are needed for disaster relief purposes.

I, therefore, look at USAID as a valuable addition to USG disaster preparedness and assistance capabilities.

I also know that USAID is taking a collaborative approach to the FSM and, through activities such as this conference striving to create and sustain broad and sincere relationships among individuals and organizations to encourage trust, advocate a team atmosphere, build consensus, and facilitate communication.

We are looking forward to the USAID sponsored “exercise” this October where USAID and FSM will test the policies and procedures of the Operational Blueprint - the playbook developed by the U.S. on how we will provide disaster assistance to our FSM partners.

I know we can count on you – the disaster management professionals in this room – to be practical, flexible, and professional in fulfilling this vital public stewardship role.

Amy and I again thank you for coming to the Residence this evening and I am looking forward to hearing from you this evening how your joint planning is progressing. Thank you.