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    James Bishop/File
    James Bishop. (File)

    James Bishop, director for humanitarian response at InterAction, a coalition of more than 150 U.S. nonprofit aid groups was online Friday, Aug. 21, 1998. Before joining InterAction, Bishop previously spent 33 years in the foreign service, including stints as ambassador to the Republic of Niger, Somalia, and Liberia.

    Bishop answered questions about the bombings in Eastern Africa and a number of other humanitarian crises occurring around the globe, major relief organizations are straining to provide aid to the world's needy.

    Arlington, VA: What type of aid is going to the war refugees of Kosovo

    James Bishop: Food,medicine and clothing. As winter approaches there also will be a need for shelter and fuel

    Arlington, VA: What’s the latest word on how Papua New Guinea is recovering from the tidal wave. Who’s helping people there?

    James Bishop: Most of the non-governmental assistance appears to be coming from NGOs in Australia, some affiliated with organizations in the US, e.g. CARE/Australia

    Arlington, VA: Mobs took over the empty embassy in Sudan last night, after U.S. forces attacked facilities connected to terrorist Osama Bin Laden. Can you do relief work in Sudan right now … and what’s going on with the famine there?

    James Bishop: The famine is in southern Sudan and little, if any, of the relief work there is likely to be impacted by yesterday's activities in Khartoum. There may be a problem providing assistance to internally displaced persons in the Khartoum area.

    Washington, DC: There have been a number of disturbing reports that the current humanitarian resources in and around Kosovo are completely insufficient to cope with what's happening there. To what degree is the current humanitarian setup in Kosovo insufficient? How bad are things going to get?

    James Bishop: The resources currently available are inadequate in the current situation, and the problem will become worse as winter aspirates in six weeks. For now however access to those in need is the more important problem as fighting and Serb roadblocks impede deliveries.

    Arlington, VA: News reports say some if not many people of Kenya are angry that the U.S. is not sending money and more relief supplies. To your knowledge are these reports true? What’s being done by the U.S. relief agencies to help victims of the East African bombings?

    James Bishop: There was some anger because more was being done for Americans than others. Unfortunately, with 4,000 people injured the needs went beyond local capacities. A number of American NGOs in Kenya and elsewhere in the region rushed supplies and personnel to Nairobi.

    Arlington, VA: Explain what’s happening in N. Korea with the famine. Can aid get inside that communist country?

    James Bishop: American NGOs have been providing food and other assistance since the summer of 1995. They also put pressure on the U.S. Government and other donors to respond without political conditionality. Many of the major American NGOs are engaged. See Interaction's web page for details at

    Washington, DC: Should humanitarian aid to countries harboring terrorists be conditional? Would U.S. inactivity give such organizations the ability to exert greater control and influence in these areas, thus creating a greater threat to our national interests? What is the ultimate price that civilians would pay if the US would withdraw aid?

    James Bishop: Humanitarian agencies believe that people who are suffering should not be denied assistance because they have the additional misfortune of being governed by irresponsible or corrupt rulers.

    Washington DC: How bad is the situation in Kosovo for local humanitarian groups? Are they having a significantly worse time of it than the internationals?

    James Bishop: Their situation is more difficult because they are more exposed to the local security services and a number of their personnel have been arrested.

    Ashburn, VA: Is there any type of coordination between these agencies within or outside of your coalition?

    James Bishop: Our coalition exists for the purpose of providing coordination. There are similar networks in Europe and we work together both bilaterally and through the UN.

    Washington, D.C.: It's been documented in several cases that aid from the United States often doesn't get to the needy, instead going to help soldiers fight their wars. How can one be sure that the money one gives goes to help the right people? Are there particularly notorious countries where the practice of diverting aid is common?

    James Bishop: Some diversion takes place everywhere, as it does in the US. InterAction member agencies subscribe to a code of conduct which is intended to make sure that there is no waste and no diversion within these organizations.

    Grenoble, France: Dear Mr. Bishop,

    I'm a U.S. citizen living in France and read several U.S. newspapers on-line daily. In France, the famine in Somalia has received, what seems to me, much more coverage than in the States. What do you think explains this indifference? Also, what can Americans do to help the millions of Somalians caught in a civil war and on the brink of starvation. What stance does the state department seem to be taking in this matter? And how are American agencies getting involved in relief efforts?

    Thank you.

    James Bishop: Somalia remains a very difficult environment in which to work because of the failure of Somalis to reconcile their differences. There is little media attention because few journalists are covering the story. There are US agencies working in the safer parts of the country but what they can do is limited by the risks to their personnel.

    Arlington, VA: What relief organizations are working with flood victims in China?

    James Bishop: I do not have an exhaustive list. But CARE, World Vision and Catholic Relief Services are either working there or channeling funds to affiliated organizations which are there.

    Bethesda, MD: Sir,
    Are there any efforts made to continue helping refugees in Bosnia and to what extent?

    James Bishop: Substantial efforts are being made both to provide for those who remain in refugee status and to resettle refugees still in the area or returning from elsewhere in Europe

    Los Angeles, CA: Dear Sir,

    I am an international student. My future goal would be assisting Asia's humanitarian activities. I was wondering how did you start off doing this meaning work?

    James Bishop: Interaction publishes a directory of volunteer and intern opportunities which provide one entry point. Call 202-667-8227.

    Nicole Hider: We are roughly half-way through this live online discussion with former ambassador James Bishop director of InterAction, a clearinghouse for world relief agencies.

    Send your questions by clicking on the Submit Question hyperlink.

    San Juan, PR: Is there some assistance for human hardships in Latin American countries as Chile, Bolivia? (poverty alleviation, etc.)

    How one can get involve in your initiatives?

    James Bishop: Development agencies conduct programs designed to improve the living standards on people in those parts of the work where poverty is a general condition. Most churches are affiliated with one of these agencies. Contact InterAction for more information.

    Dunkirk, MD: What are we doing to help the N. Koreans to improve their agricultural production, irrigation from underground water sources, etc. and to provide jobs for the people? We will need to fund them forever if they they can't learn to help themselves. Is this to costly? And we certainly don't want any selling of missiles.

    James Bishop: While the U.S. Government is prepared to allow American NGOs to conduct disaster relief programs and has provided very generous levels of food assistance, development aid is prohibited by the various sanctions imposed on North Korea as a consequence of the continuing state of war between our two countries and North Korean involvement in terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

    Los Angeles, CA: During the initial months of relief aid to victims of the North Korean famine, officials of that country insisted that packages of supplies bear no distinguishing labels that indicated their origin in South Korea. How does your organization handle similar efforts by regimes which receive your aid to alter the labeling of incoming supplies?

    James Bishop: Cannot think of another example. It is not a common problem. The North Koreans are particularly difficult.

    Lynchburg, VA: What would you say about general sentiment within American society towards assisting other countries compared to five or ten years ago. Does U.S. foreign policy have anything to do with it?

    James Bishop: There is an unfortunate gap between public attitudes, which polls indicate favor foreign aid, and congressional votes, which have resulted in a sharp cutback in U.S. Government assistance levels. We give less foreign assistance per capita than any other developed country.

    Baltimore, MD: What honest and effective methods have you used to link all international players and coordinate and make cost-effective their planning and delivery efforts by using modern technology? What technology experts do you have advising you?

    James Bishop: In the three years I have been in my current job we have gone from fax and telephone to email to communicate with our members and with counterpart organizations in other developed countries. We also are looking seriously at use of space based technologies to help find refugees in forested areas and for other applications.

    Arlington, VA: How do you think relief agencies could better serve their target populations?

    James Bishop: We have designed curricula to improve the professional competencies of NGO staff, helped them learn to use the Internet, established mechanisms to facilitate coordination and are in the process of establishing minimum standards for provision of services to disaster victims.

    Arlington, VA: Reports of starvation and an AIDS epidemic are coming from Cambodia. What do you hear about the situation in that country … and what’s being done to help?

    James Bishop: There remains considerable political violence and poverty. American development agencies are implementing programs to address poverty and illness, including AIDS, which, unfortunately, is increasing rapidly throughout southeast Asia.

    Arlington, VA.: How can you choose an aid organization that you can trust will deliver on its promises?

    James Bishop: The 160 InterAction agencies sign a code of conduct intended to give donors a real assurance that their funds will be used for the purposes for which they are contributed. These agencies are subject not only to peer review but to audited by the agencies which provide them money, and to investigation by the press.

    River Forest, IL: What's an NGO? I can't figure out the acronym.

    James Bishop: Non-governmental organization. Its more restrictive use is to designate an organization engaged in charitable work.

    Washington, D.C.: Mr. Bishop,
    How did you make the transition from being an ambassador to working for a humanitarian relief effort?

    James Bishop: I joined InterAction because at the end of a 33 year career in government I wanted a job which would give me the satisfaction of assisting folks in difficulty.

    Alexandria, VA: I've heard all sorts of estimates about the percentage of the U.S. budget that goes to foreign aid. What's the real number? Do other countries do more?

    James Bishop: Contrary to widely held views, foreign aid comprises only one percent of the US budget. Every other developed country is more generous on a per capita basis. Even on an absolute basis U.S. foreign aid ranks only fourth, behind Japan and several European governments.

    Washington, DC: How difficult is it to fund these aid operations? Where does most of the money come from--the federal government, donations? Any efforts to build partnerships or at least obtain grants from corporations?

    James Bishop: Congress has been generous in funding emergency assistance, as opposed to the development aid which might preclude disasters. Unfortunately, the number being discussed this summer for next year would reduce disaster assistance by 25%. Americans are very generous in contributing to private organizations. Few corporations feel they can justify foreign aid to their stockholders.

    Arlington, VA: Is any assistance going to the Chinese in response to the intense flooding there?

    James Bishop: The U.S. Government has provided a modest level of help and several NGOs are assisting as well. Most of the response is being mounted by the Chinese government.

    Nicole Hider: We’re out of time now … so let’s bring this online chat to a close. Our guest has been James Bishop, director for humanitarian response at InterAction, a coalition of more than 150 U.S. nonprofit aid groups. InterAction can be found on the Web at

    Thanks to all for participating.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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