- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bush senior, envoy

It was good to see George Bush this week, loping through the U.N. corridors with a small entourage and an easy manner.

Fit and feisty at 81, the former president is off to Pakistan in a couple of weeks as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special envoy to assess the needs of survivors of the Oct. 8 earthquake.

Mr. Bush will meet with President Pervez Musharraf shortly after the new year and expects to tour the devastated region. The United Nations estimates that 72,000 were killed in the disaster, and nearly as many were injured. Mr. Bush senior, who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1971 to ‘73, seems to have affection for the world body.

He spoke of walking down familiar hallways and revisiting the 38th-floor office, where he had called on two previous secretaries-general.

“I enjoyed my two years here back in the early ‘70s, and I learned a lot from the other countries with whom I worked and from the Secretariat itself,” Mr. Bush told reporters.

“And so I have a lot of very wonderful memories of my time here. You go down a corridor — ‘Oh, I remember going there. Went to a conference room. …’ So there are a lot of memories that affect this very short trip.”

He and Mr. Annan appeared to share an easy camaraderie during a joint press conference. When asked detailed questions by Pakistani correspondents, Mr. Bush cheerfully acknowledged that he didn’t know the answer — something he said he couldn’t do as president.

The former U.S. chief executive clearly expects the work to be part-time and stressed that he would not be as hands-on as former President Bill Clinton, a fellow tsunami envoy, nor second-guess U.N. staff about where to erect tents or run bulldozers.

Instead, he will have the dreary task of cajoling governments and other donors to make good on the nearly $6 billion pledged toward Kashmir relief and reconstruction. He also will serve as a fundraiser, spokesman and liaison among all the agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the World Bank and other lenders and donors.

Mr. Annan praised Mr. Bush’s “leadership, diplomatic skills and immense experience” in his work for victims of Hurricane Katrina and the South Asian tsunami.

“We need to ensure that pledges are converted into cash as quickly as possible,” the secretary-general said. “Given his contacts and the respect he has around the world, I think that is going to be extremely helpful.”

Mr. Bush, who, like Mr. Clinton, seems to be enjoying life after the presidency, said his wife, Barbara, would not be joining him on what may be an arduous trip.

“She does not travel quite as much anymore … as she did,” he said.

Emergency aid fund

Speaking of emergency assistance, the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday formally created a fund to speed emergency relief to victims of disaster, but diplomats cautioned that the effort would be hollow unless governments pledged the money to fill it.

U.N. officials say they need $500 million per year to provide immediate assistance to survivors of natural disasters, famine and conflict. But this must come from volunteer contributions and be replenished each year for the fund to offer meaningful help.

The world body created the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). Carefully audited and monitored, it will underwrite immediate distribution of humanitarian aid. So far, nearly $200 million has been pledged.

“For too long, humanitarian assistance for disaster victims has remained a reactive process,” Mr. Annan observed Thursday. “Different crises are funded unequally, with televised or strategically situated suffering receiving disproportionate attention.”

U.N. agencies, nongovernmental organizations and local charities all will be eligible to dip into CERF to provide critical materiel that is needed immediately and urgently.

Under current rules, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issues an appeal every time there is an emergency; last year, more than $6 billion was sought to deal with disasters.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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