Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that at the invitation of the Honorable Tom Lantos, Ranking Member of the House Committee on International Relations, he co-chaired the full committee hearing held on Wednesday January 26, 2004 on the tsunami tragedy and how the U.S. is responding. As Chairman of the Committee, the Honorable Henry Hyde presided and Faleomavaega served as his co-chair while Ranking Member Lantos represented the U.S. in Poland at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp where Jews were exterminated by means of poison gas.
“I thank Congressman Lantos for his invitation for me to serve in his place while he attended services held in Poland to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. We must never forget that some 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazi regime and even today we must stand up to evil and vow that there will never be another Holocaust,” Faleomavaega said.
“I also thank my good friend and esteemed colleague, Republican Chairman James Leach of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, for inviting me to visit South Asia and observe first-hand the devastation caused when a magnitude 9.0 undersea earthquake unleashed a series of tsunamis which left over 160,000 people dead and more than 5 million homeless.”
“According to a leading Indian seismologist, it is estimated that the energy released from the tsunami itself was 350 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 and the earthquake which caused the tsunami had the power of 32,000 hydrogen bombs. It is now estimated that more than 1.5 million children are sick, starving or orphaned as a result of the tsunami tragedy and my heart goes out to the victims and their families,” Faleomavaega said.
“During the course of our visit to the region, Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) was also in Sri Lanka and the Senator and I spent two hours in a helicopter flying over the devastated areas to assess the damage. In Sri Lanka, more than 30,000 people are dead as a result of this tragedy. Over 115,000 are dead in Indonesia, 10,000 in India, over 5,300 in Thailand making this the deadliest tsunami on record.”
To respond to this devastation, the U.S. government has pledged $350 million in humanitarian and recovery assistance. Thus far, over $112 million has been committed which excludes Department of Defense assistance. “It is my understanding that as of January 21, 2005 more than 11,000 members of the U.S. Armed Services are involved in relief efforts in the affected region. The U.S. military has delivered over 5 million lbs of relief supplies, including food and water, to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other affected nations.”
“Yet so much more needs to be done,” the Congressman said. “I commend the Governments of Thailand and India for recently announcing that they would provide relief and rehabilitation packages, including loans and subsidies, for those affected within their borders. Only two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet with India’s Home Minister and delegates from USINPAC, an Indian American organization committed to assisting in relief efforts and I am pleased by the response of India and the more than 27,000 Indian Americans associated with USINPAC.”
In his opening statement before the Committee, Faleomavaega also said, “I, too, am from the Asia Pacific region and, like my friends in India and other parts of South Asia, my constituents are also subject to the will of nature. As you may know, American Samoa lies 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii, covers a land area of 76 square miles, and has a population of less than 65,000. At any time, my people could also be subjected to the devastation caused by the recent tsunamis which are more common in the Pacific because of its earthquake-prone perimeter.”
“In 1948, two years after a tsunami killed more than 150 people in Hawaii, a Pacific Tsunami Warning system was established. Members States include Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Hawaii, major Pacific Rim nations in North America, Asia and South America but no such warning system exists in the Indian Ocean or for U.S. insular areas.”
“This why I intend to support legislation for the establishment of an early warning system in the Indian Ocean and why I also intend to re-introduce legislation that I introduced in 2002 to establish early warning systems for United States insular areas, including American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands,” Faleomavaega said. “Had an early warning system been in place for South Asia, so many lives could have been saved and this is why I believe we must make the establishment of an early warning system one of our top priorities for South Asia and U.S. insular areas.”
Faleomavaega also said that he is deeply moved by the efforts of American Samoa to provide assistance and relief to our brothers and sisters in South Asia. “I commend our local leaders and I thank the people of American Samoa for supporting relief efforts. I also thank the rest of America for its generosity. It is my understanding that U.S. private-sector contributions have topped over $360 million.”
Congressman Faleomavaega also commended Chairman Hyde and Ranking Member Lantos for their leadership in holding this hearing. “As Members of the Senate and House Committees on Foreign and International Relations will be primarily responsible for shaping the aid package which will go to assist the areas hit by the tsunami, I am hopeful that any legislation drafted will include a long-term commitment on the part of the U.S. to continue reconstruction efforts even after media interest fades. I am also hopeful that we will use this opportunity to renew our commitment to South Asia and improve our image abroad,” the Congressman said.
“Finally, as we work towards these goals, it is my sincere hope that we will also be cautious in dealing with Indonesia. For years, the U.S. has restricted foreign military financing for Indonesia and rightfully so given the horrendous human rights record of the Indonesian military. Even in the aftermath of the devastation caused by the recent tsunami, the media has reported that the Indonesian military has withheld food and other humanitarian assistance from those believed to be pro-independent. The U.S. cannot and must not turn a blind eye to these abuses or to Indonesia’s repression of the people of Aceh and West Papua and it is my sincere hope that Congress and the Administration will address these issues,” the Congressman concluded.