89. Memorandum From Harold Saunders and Samuel Hoskinson of the National Security Council Staff to the Presidentʼs Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Refugee Aid in India and Relief Assistance for East Pakistan


You have agreed in principle to the distribution of U.S.-supplied food to the East Pakistani refugees by Indian Government agencies, but have asked “what this means.”

The U.S. voluntary agencies and international humanitarian organizations simply do not have the capacity to distribute on a timely basis all of the 105,000 metric tons of wheat being sent to the refugees. Only the Indian Government agencies experienced in food storage, handling and distribution and actually running the refugee camps can handle the size that this job has become. The U.S. voluntary agencies and international agencies will continue to play a vital role in supplementary feeding and in coordinating international contributions, but the main burden for distribution must now fall on the Indians themselves.

In terms of mechanics, this means that we will at least in part be replacing the substantial amount of food that the Indian Government has already distributed from its tight emergency and price control stocks and which the U.S. voluntary and international organizations have diverted from their important normal feeding programs in India. They have done this in order to move quickly to stave off famine among the refugees until emergency supplies from abroad actually arrive in India (there is a several week lag). The rest of the food will upon arrival go directly to the U.S. voluntary agencies, international organizations with feeding programs and to the Indian Government agencies for immediate shipment to and distribution within the refugee camps. The U.S., as part of its food agreement, will insist that the UN High Commissioner for refugees have access to distribution records.

There is, of course, also a political angle with the Pakistanis but as the magnitude of the refugee problem has become increasingly clear it has receded considerably. U.S. assistance has all been in response to [Page 219] several international appeals by U Thant and under the general auspices of the program established by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Moreover, the Pakistan Government has insisted that they only have the army distribute any food we put into East Pakistan and can hardly, therefore, complain about Indian Government involvement with refugee feeding.

In short, what this boils down to is that distribution in part through Indian official agencies is the only approach mechanically possible under the circumstances. We will keep the UNHCR and the voluntary agencies intimately involved and insist on the best safeguards possible under the circumstances.


At the same time, Maury Williams has reactivated the cyclone disaster committee of last fall to prepare for the contingency of large-scale food shortages in East Pakistan later this year.2

Facts on the situation are still incomplete, but these seem to be the main elements:

  • —People throughout East Pakistan are probably already experiencing food shortages and the situation in the cyclone-affected areas is especially severe.
  • —The most critical problem is getting food off the ships, through the port of Chittagong and on to distribution points inland. Port operations are resuming only very slowly, the road and rail transportation out of Chittagong is disrupted and, for a variety of reasons including Bengali insurgent operations, inland water transportation is unable to make up the difference.
  • —The political situation may also provide a major impediment to food distribution since the West Pakistanis are clearly not well informed about some important aspects of the food supply problem, civil administration is in disarray and food distribution will probably be used to strengthen the regimeʼs political image.
  • —President Yahya has made a formal request to the UN for assistance and has agreed to the stationing of a UN representative in Dacca to help assess requirements and coordinate the sending of supplies from abroad.
  • —The US stands ready to resume shipments promptly of 170,000 tons of wheat under the existing PL–480 program, to sign an agreement for another 150,000 tons for the disaster area and to negotiate a [Page 220] new PL–480 agreement as soon as the food can be moved. The Pakistanis have requested 250,000 tons of food grains over the next six months. Right now, however, the limited pipeline is full and some 200,000 tons of PL–480 wheat alone has been temporarily diverted from East to West Pakistan. In addition, another 250,000 tons from non-U.S. sources are stored in West Pakistan awaiting shipment to the East.

So far we have provided about $2 million in grant assistance for boats and foreign crews to be used for distributing food and other emergency relief supplies. Negotiations are also under way with the Paks on a $4.9 million rehabilitation program for the area devastated last winter by the cyclone. This money is what still remains from the total of $7.5 million appropriated by Congress for cyclone disaster relief.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 597, Country Files, Middle East, India, Vol. IV, 1 Jul–30 Nov 71. Confidential. Sent for information.
  2. The Consulate General in Dacca reported on July 6 that there was a serious threat of famine in East Pakistan, and that prospects for averting widespread hunger were not good. (Telegram 2507 from Dacca; ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, SOC 10 PAK)