This morning we celebrate a historic milestone for our bilateral relationship. Today's ceremony marks the start of a project between Vietnam's Ministry of National Defense and the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, to clean up dioxin contaminated soil and sediment at the airport left from the Vietnam War. Over the next few years, workers will dig up the contaminated soil and sediment and place it in a stockpile, where it will be treated using thermal desorption technology. This process uses high temperatures to break down the dioxin in the contaminated soil and make it safe by Vietnamese and U.S. standards for the many men, women, and children who live and work in this area.
The United States is gravely concerned by the multiple crises that are affecting the people of Mali: a political crisis following the military coup d’état of March 21, a security crisis as a result of conflict in the North and the actions of several armed groups, a food security crisis affecting populations across the country, all resulting in a complex humanitarian crisis that is affecting the people of Mali as well as its neighbors in the Sahel. 4.6 million Malians face severe hunger; 175,000 Malian children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition; and more than 450,000 have fled their homes because of ongoing violence coupled with food insecurity.
Many of us in this room and thousands of other across the globe have and continue to spend tremendous energy on improving our effectiveness in development. We choose smarter things to do, focusing on key competencies and appropriate roles. We measure relentlessly, inviting cold hard facts to challenge our warm, fuzzy assumptions. We have become hard-nosed in pursuit of our soft goals, and, when doing so, we have often invoked the ideal of 'How They Do It In The Private Sector.' ... Perhaps we need to explore how we could use an open source development model to connect our work to all people. Perhaps to genuinely win the war against extreme poverty, leverage social networks to deliver real democracy, and ensure every kid everywhere lives to see their fifth birthday and thrives in school in the years ahead, we need to both elevate development in the Situation Room of the National Security Council and in the hearts and minds of how millions of additional people express their own personal quest for meaning.
It is an incredible honor to be here and to be here with so many members of Diaspora communities from around this country and around the world. I’m one of you, and so, I’m pleased to be able to join. In fact, joining you last year and hearing about the businesses you’ve started, the volunteer programs you’ve supported, the innovations you’ve generated and the resources and inspiration that you’ve offered to your original home communities was one of my more personal and inspiring moments of the year. So, thank you for allowing me to participate.
Today, more than 62 million Americans, a full fifth of this nation are first or second generation Diaspora community members. That undoubtedly is what makes our country great. We all collectively represent a vast and diverse community, and we do so much both here and with our home communities and the countries from which we came that we’re excited to now have the opportunity to partner more deeply together to improve on the results we can accomplish when we do work together.
At USAID, we understand that our development assistance will never be fully effective unless we draw on the full contributions of the entire population, including previously marginalized groups such as the LGBT community, women, young people, ethnic and religious minorities, people with disabilities, and displaced persons.
Ten years ago, I took part in the first Tokyo conference on Afghanistan on behalf of the United States Government. In many ways, I have a strong sense of deja vu. In January 2002, in the wake of the fall of the Taliban, the world came together to pledge our mutual commitment to support the stability and reconstruction of a fragile and devastated Afghanistan. Working together as a community in support of the Afghan people and government, we have kept faith over the past decade. This fact is reflected in a 15 year increase in life expectancy for the Afghan people; the presence of some seven million students – of which nearly 40 percent are girls -- in schools; a huge decline in infant and maternal mortality; and a three-fold increase in per capita income.
We come together at a moment of great hope and equal challenge with respect to the refugee situation in Afghanistan. We celebrate the return of nearly six million people to Afghanistan from neighboring countries, a clear reflection of the progress we have collectively achieved in rebuilding and stabilizing the country. People are voting for a better life for themselves and their families. Indeed, this is an expression of confidence in the future, one that the United States government has been able to support with more than $700 million in assistance for refugees and returnees over the past decade.
In Tokyo, the international community and the Afghans will come together to discuss the best way to solidify the progress we've made in the past decade. The timing of this conference is significant because it some so quickly on the heels of the G8 in Chicago that focused on the 2014 transition. As we all know, there are really two transitions in 2014 - the transfer of security operations to the Afghans, and also the first democratic transfer of power in the history of Afghanistan.
Dignity and freedom were the banners of the peaceful revolutionaries. They came carrying dignity, and another banner as well, their humanity. They were searching for the humanity inside them; they lost their humanity because of oppression, corruption and injustice. They came sacrificing their lives, their money, their property, and their children – carrying dignity and humanity. The dignity they were asking for was not in vain. This is something God has granted them.
All religions in the world talk about the dignity of the human being. Islam talks about dignity for humans; this is a part of the Quran. Also, the same thing is in the Holy Bible. This dignity comes from humans as a means for rights. This dignity is a regional value that is carried by all human beings, despite their backgrounds or their beliefs. The youths of the Arab Spring and the women raise a banner of dignity, freedom and justice. Free people of the world – let us work for the dignity of all people.
And in the forefront of the Arab Spring, let us support dignity there; let us support dignity in your own countries. You may be surprised why I say your country instead of our country – because i always believed that humanity, that all of the people of the world are one nation. All of humanity is one nation, and all of the people are brothers.
I am very pleased to witness the signing of the Development Objective Agreements between the United States Agency for International Development and the Government of Ethiopia. These agreements cover the first year of the new five-year USAID Country Development Strategy and reflect the close consultation and cooperation of our two governments in all areas of social and economic development and in all regions of Ethiopia.
Last updated: July 17, 2014