July 25, 2001
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$10 mn for disaster management in South Asia

Aziz Haniffa
India Abroad Correspondent in Washington

The US House of Representatives on Tuesday approved by a voice vote an amendment offered by Democrat Congressman Joseph Crowley to direct $10 million for efforts to prepare for natural disasters in South Asia.

Crowley represents Jackson Heights in Queens, which has the largest concentration of South Asians.

The amendment was co-sponsored by Washington Democrat Jim McDermott and California Republican Ed Royce.

McDermott and Royce are co-chairs of the Congressional caucus on India and Indian Americans.

The Crowley amendment adds $1 million to the International Disaster Assistance Fund for the USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.

The administration had originally requested $200 million for all OFDA programmes.

The amendment, which provides $10 million from the $201 million OFDA fund, will help South Asian nations such as India and Bangladesh prepare for various natural disasters.

"I am pleased that the House approved this funding that will help the nations of South Asia prepare for natural disasters," Crowley, a member of the House International Relations Committee, said.

He said, "India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are particularly prone to earthquakes, cyclones, floods, and drought. Efforts to further develop disaster management strategies will help save lives and reduce property losses in the region."

McDermott, in remarks after the vote, said, "I am happy that the House has done this today. I visited Bhuj and was an eyewitness to the devastation there."

"I have travelled to South Asia enough times to know that this is a highly disaster prone region," he noted.

He added that India and the South Asian nations need a mechanism to handle disasters.

McDermott, a physician by training, who has travelled to India 16 times, many of his early visits being to the red light districts in Bombay and Calcutta to investigate the HIV/AIDS pandemic said, "This amendment has started the process, and given us the capability to help our friends in the region to prepare themselves against natural disasters."

But he acknowledged that he was dismayed by $10 million allocated by the house.

McDermott pledged to 'work with our friends in the Senate as well as in the Conference Committee to increase this $10 million as the process moves forward'.

Congressman Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, the founder and former co-chair of the India Caucus, was another lawmaker who was in the forefront of securing these monies for South Asia disaster readiness and said during the debate that South Asia's geographic location makes it very vulnerable to disasters.

He pointed out that many states in India were continually ravaged by massive cyclones and droughts.

"India, and certainly no other country in the region," Pallone argued, "fully has the capability to institute disaster preparedness and response programmes in a manner that will be sufficient to deal with these disasters."

He noted that "several countries in the region have approached the United States government for technical assistance in order to establish their own agencies for disaster management."

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